Plane pasture: From aviation to steeplechase

Early in the 20th century, a horse trying to graze on the property now owned by the Foxfield Racing Association likely would have been buzzed by a newfangled flying machine.

Charlottesville's first airport opened on the site in 1929, two months before the big stock market crash. Dixie Flying Service's first passenger took off for New York on August 21, according to John Hammond Moore in Albemarle: Jefferson's County 1727-1976.

Christened Wood Field in honor of Robert "Buck" Wood, a local aviator who'd died in France in 1918, the airport was the creation of former UVA student Ed Sturhahn and pilot J. Hamilton Brown.

According to Moore, by the end of 1931 Dixie Flying Service had carried 1,052 passengers to locales such as Hot Springs, White Sulphur Springs, Washington, Richmond, and Danville– with only two forced landings.

By 1933, however, the airport and Dixie Flying Service had fallen victim to the Depression.

The property had belonged to the Vandevender family for generations, says Raymond Woolfe, who designed the Foxfield race course. Grover Vandevender, a founder of the Farmington Hunt, ran a "famed" riding school there, Moore writes.

And his friend, Mariann de Tejeda, promised him before he died that she'd build a race track on the property.

De Tejeda, a California native, bought Foxfield and hired Woolfe to build the course. "It was a nightmare piece of ground," says Woolfe. "It had a whole series of drains that groundhogs had gotten into, and we had to dig up 150 acres."

In 1978, Foxfield's inaugural race was run, and horse-lovin' Charlottesville joined Churchill Downs, Saratoga, and Belmont Park as home to a member of the National Steeplechase Association.

 

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