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Monday, December 11, 2017

Belair Mansion and Belair Stable Museum

Exterior, Bowie Mansion.
BY SAMANTHA DORSEY

Reception hall, ca. 1760.

Belair Mansion in Bowie, Maryland, was completed in 1747 for Maryland governor Samuel Ogle and his wife, Anne Tasker Ogle. Known by their contemporaries as tastemakers and avid horse enthusiasts, Belair originally functioned as a summer home, profitable tobacco plantation, stud farm, and comfortable retreat enjoyed by the likes of Benjamin Franklin. After falling out of Ogle hands in 1871 and into disrepair, Belair Mansion was rescued from ruin, in 1898, by the Woodwards, a New York banking family. They hired the famed architectural firm Delano & Aldrich update its infrastructure and appearance by adding plumbing and opposite wings between 1904 and 1914. Following the untimely 1955 death of the last Woodward owner, “Billy” Jr., the Mansion and estate were put up for sale. William J. Levitt, of Levittown fame, purchased the farm in 1957 and initially developed the land with an eye for profit rather than preservation. Later, Levitt honored the mansion’s historic value when he sold it to the City of Bowie for $1 so long as it remained in the public trust. Serving as the City Hall from 1964 to 1978, thereafter the mansion once again fell out of use but not the public eye. By 1980 a group of Bowie citizens created the Friends of the Belair Estate to assist the City of Bowie in raising funds to restore the structure to support a local museum.

Belair Stable Museum by night.
Photography by Gant Brunnett Architects

Today, guest’s journey through time as they pass through mansion rooms furnished with family pieces, Maryland goods, and reproductions that reflect its 250-year use as a private residence. Permanent collection highlights include Philippe Mercier’s The Seasons, (a series of paintings given to Samuel Ogle by Maryland’s Proprietor, Lord Baltimore), Ogle family silver, and original Empire-style Baltimore furniture. The collection is further enriched through loan agreements with generous family descendants and museums.

Within eyesight of the mansion is the Woodward’s U-shaped 1908 stable—now the Belair Stable Museum—built on the same land that once hosted thoroughbreds imported by the Ogles and their in-laws the Taskers in the eighteenth century. Made of brick, wood, and a unique red sandstone, it bears witness to several improvement campaigns made in pace with the Belair Stud’s rapid rise to fame. Filling its stalls with choice mares and stallions, the Woodward family established the county’s longest running stud farm, producing America’s only father and son Triple-Crown winners, Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935).

Gallant Fox and Earle Sande at the Preakness, 1930

Dining room, ca. 1820. Belair Mansion. Photography by C. Michael Poole.
Unkempt after the Stud was dissolved with the Woodward estate, the stable was slated for development until the city purchased it from Levitt for its commercial worth. Although opened as a community museum dedicated to the history of horseracing in 1969, the stable was not fully restored until 2001. One-half of its interior rooms now house impressive trophies, early twentieth century vehicles, and a library dedicated to the history of Thoroughbred breeding and horseracing—made available to visitors and researchers by request. Family relics, such as Benjamin Ogle’s circa 1793–1796 red-morocco leather stud book, rotate on exhibit. In sharp contrast to the exhibition rooms, the opposite wing houses a stablemaster’s apartment furnished with original 1923 furnishings and appliances. Free of stanchions or barriers, visitors leave with the sense that the great Belair Stud, indeed, never closed. Running perpendicular to the rooms, two enclosed shedrows are open to pilgrims looking to honor the Belair Stud bloodlines that run through many thoroughbred champions today.

BELAIR MANSION
12207 Tulip Grove Drive, Bowie, Maryland

BELAIR STABLE MUSEUM
2835 Belair Drive, Bowie, Maryland
Tuesday through Sunday, 12:00–4:00pm
For more information email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , call 301.809.3098, or visit www.cityofbowie.org/museum


Samantha Dorsey is curator of historic properties and museums, City of Bowie Museums, Bowie, Maryland.
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