Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: July 1994 Volume 32 Number 3, Pages 101–114

Where Champions Meet
The Devon Horse Show

Bob Goshorn

Page 101

It was 75 years ago, three-quarters of a century, that the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair was incorporated to carry on the tradition of the already famous and prestigious Devon Horse Show.

The first show was held twenty-three years earlier, in 1896, back when the horse was still the primary means of transportation. Horse-drawn vehicles were used to go into the village or to church and to haul produce to the market. As Christopher Hyde has observed, "Horses drew the vans that delivered eggs, milk, butter, bread, newspapers, ice, mail and meat to the door; they hauled the freight and the commuters to the station."

In this climate, a dozen local businessmen and horsemen met at the Devon Inn in April of 1896 to form the Devon Horse Show Association. Recognizing the need to develop good horses for their carriages and wagons and other vehicles, its object was "to encourage the breeding of harness horses by farmers in the neighborhood". Among them were Henry Coates, who was the president of the new Association; Lemuel C. Altemus and Henry Mather Warren, the vice-presidents; E. W. Twaddell, the secretary; and David B. Sharp, the treasurer. (Coates, whose farm was located on the east side of Leopard Road in Berwyn, was a partner in the firm of Porter & Coates, book publishers in Philadelphia specializing in the publication of children's books and the re-publication of works by English and American authors not protected by copyright.) Also included on the executive committee were C. Davis English, John W. Patten, A. B. Coxe, and R. Penn Smith.

Page 102

Start of the Devon Horse Show

In early May the Association sent an invitation to friends and neighbors, inviting them to a meeting at the Devon Inn. "Dear Sir:" the invitation read, "In order to effect an organization for the purpose of holding a Horse Show at Devon, a meeting of gentlemen, interested in the breeding, showing and ownership of horses, is called for Friday evening, May 22, 1896, eight o'clock, at Devon Inn. Please attend and invite others who may be interested."

Their efforts met with success. The first horse show, a one-day affair, was held on July 2, 1896. (The date was selected to avoid conflict with the Philadelphia Horse Show that was usually held on Decoration Day.) All entries for the show, which was to take place on the field of the Devon Polo Club [the present site of the show] diagonally across from the famous and fashionable Devon Inn, were to be received by June 27th. More than a hundred entries were received, from a number of local farms and estates, some from as far away as Radnor and Newtown Square and West Chester.

(Forty years later, Margaret Beaumont Lapp, who lived in Devon "for years before the name 'Devon' was applied to it by the Pennsylvania Railroad", recalled, "I will not attempt to list the many notable exhibitors in the first show but those I remember are Barclay H. Warburton, George H. Earle father of former Governor George Earle, Edward F. Beale, Lemuel C. Altemus, Bessie Dobson Altemus, his wife, J. S. Serrill, James T. Cobert, Helen W. Warren, William P. Troth, Dr. R. B. Okie, Samuel P. Huhn, and Dr. J. C. Bartholomew.

Page 103

There were 26 classes altogether in this first show, and they reflect the breadth and scope found in subsequent shows and still found in the show today. Included among them were classes for harness horses, for saddle horses, and for roadsters; for stallions "suitable for getting the general purpose horse", for brood mares with foals, and for yearlings. There were classes for trotting or pacing stallions, for saddle horses "capable of going the five regulation Kentucky gaits", for the best "high stepper", and for mares or geldings "suitable for road work before a gig, dog cart, or break-cart". There were classes for Hackney horses and mares, and for ponies. There were classes in which the entries were to be ridden by children, and also classes for lady riders, riding side-saddle, of course, and drivers. At the end of the show there was a class for heavyweight hunters, to be shown over regular jumps, and also an exhibition of jumping by lightweight hunters.

The number of entries in each class ranged from two to ten, the latter number entered in the class for the best roadster owned by a farmer. In addition to ribbons, prizes of $10 for first place and $5 for second place were awarded for entries "owned by farmers".

"It was seen early in the morning of July 2nd," it was reported, "that a beautiful day was in prospect", and the crowd "arrived early".

The judges for the show were Barclay Warburton, Dr. Thomas E. Parkes, and M. Peach, and it was noted that they "did their work well and promptly, and their awards evidently gave entire satisfaction to the spectators if not [in all cases] the exhibitors".

Ribbons were won by forty-one different owners. The Darby Brook Farm and Dr. Charles E. Turnbull each won seven ribbons, while E. W. Twaddell's stables garnered six. (In the class for smaller pony stallions Twaddell scored a clean sweep, his entries finishing first, second, and third in that class.) Lemuel C. Altemus and George H. Earle Jr. each won four ribbons.

The outstanding horse in this first show, though, was J. C. Young's brown gelding Governor Brown, who won the blue ribbon in three classes and shared first place in another class with its stablemate Senator Quay, in the class for the best pair of harness horses.

The 1897 show was also held at the polo field, but in 1898 it was moved to the "spacious" lawn of the Devon Inn, where it was also held in the next two years.

In 1898 the show became a two-day affair, held on June 7th and 8th. By 1898 there were entries from places as distant as Lionville, Northbrook, Ercildoun, and West Chester, and the show had begun to become "a very interesting event to the society people who have horses". At the same time, it was noted that "its original purpose was to encourage the farmers to breed proper stock for riding and driving, coaching, hunting, and polo playing" and that there were still "numerous classes for farmers, and the way several strapping young toilers of the soil rode their big bony plough horses over jumps was a sight most edifying". It was also further noted, "The hobnobbing of the belle of the town with the rugged rustic, was one of the picturesque incidents which demonstrated how beneficial such efforts are in bringing human elements together for the attainment of proper and humanizing cultivation."

Page 104

Program of the 1899 Show

The continuing importance of the classes for younger riders as a feature of the show was also noted with the comment, "The turnout of young ladies, little misses, and young masters was remarkable and the skill they displayed in riding and driving bespeaks wonderful improvement in the general average of adult horsemen and horsewomen a few years hence."

But, unfortunately, "a few years hence" there was no Devon Horse Show. After the show in 1900, for reasons not known, it was not held again until 1910, when it returned to the Devon polo field. The president of the Association was now John T. Windrim, of Devon, with J. Gardner Cassatt, of Kelso Farm in Daylesford, the vice-president. Much of the credit for the success of the revival of the Devon Horse Show, however, is usually given to "the untiring efforts" of William T. Hunter, who owned a farm near the grounds and was treasurer of the Association.

When the show resumed in 1910 it was, as, Hyde described it, "already large" and "veering from rusticity to brilliance". (This is reflected in the composition of the Board of Governors and their selection of honorary vice-presidents of the Association. Among the honorary vice-presidents, for example, were Philander C. Knox, Charles Custis Harrison, Charles Lea, Dr. Charles M. Penrose, George Wharton Pepper, and Edward T. Stotesbury, while William C. Bullitt, Victor Charles Mather, A. J. Drexel Paul, M. A. Rosengarten, Welsh Strawbridge, and William Wayne were among the 32 members of the Board of Governors. Only D. B. Sharp, E. W. Twaddell, and Henry M. Warren were "holdovers" from the group that originally formed the Devon Horse Show Association in 1896.)

Page 105

An important element in the success of any show, of course, are the spectators. Not only do they contribute revenue, but also, as Hope Montgomery Scott, who as Miss Helen Hope Montgomery was a juvenile rider at the age of nine in the show in 1912 and has been associated with the Devon Horse Show for more than 60 years, the past twenty-three as its executive vice-president, several years ago commented, "It's important to the riders that there be a big audience. I felt that way, too, when I competed. I wanted a big hand when my horse went well."

To provide greater comfort for the spectators for the 1910 revival of the show a grandstand in four sections -- they might perhaps more properly be described as bleachers -- was erected on the west side of the show ring, along Dorset road. The 1910 show was also the first to have the famed Devon boxes, described by Phil Maggitti as "a new status symbol", forty-six of them, covered by a canvas awning. (Hyde has suggested that it is "a safe bet" that a number of direct or collateral descendants of the original occupants of these boxes are still boxholders today, and Lenore Seal Ian has noted that a list of the occupants of these first 46 boxes reads like "a Who's Who of Philadelphia society".) Over the next few years a boardwalk was installed in front of the grandstand to protect the ladies' skirts and men's trousers from the mud when it rained.

On the east and south sides of the show ring there were reserved parking spaces where V.I. P. spectators could park their carriages (and, later, their automobiles) to watch the proceedings.

In the center of the ring a pillared pavilion was built for the judges' stand, and at the north end of the ring was the band stand.

For the first time, the show was held over the Decoration Day (or Memorial Day) weekend, a now three-day event on May 30th and 31st and June first.

In 1913 William T. Hunter became chairman of the show, and in the following year it attracted more than 1000 entries and was described as "the largest outdoor show in the United States, and very probably in the world". Most of the entries were still from local stables, however, coming to Devon early in the morning and returning home that same day after showing. For those from greater distance it is reported, Hunter graciously provided stalls and board in his nearby barn, putting his own horses out to pasture to accommodate them. (As a further service to others from some distance, he also made arrangements to standardize the prices for stabling at the local livery stables and the stables at the Devon Inn, and for feed to be available on the grounds at a fixed price.) His farm office became the Devon Horse Show office.

Commenting on the 1913 show, it was noted in the West Chester Daily Local News on May 30th, "So crowded did the park become at noon that late comers were forced to find seats in the bandstand at the end of the big oval. Doings in the ring," it was further observed, "proved interesting, but not thrilling."

Page 106

In 1915 a slightly controversial innovation took place when some of the lady riders rode cross saddle rather than side saddle. Although over the years since then the latter has declined markedly in popularity, there is still a class at Devon in which the lady riders ride in the older, more traditional, style.

With the entry of the United States into the First World War, in 1918, the show was cancelled by the Devon Horse Show Association. At the same time, however, there were some, principally Dr. Thomas G. Ashton and William H. Wanamaker Jr., who felt that there was sufficient support and the prospects for localparticipation to hold a show, even though it might be on a smaller scale, as a benefit for some wartime charity. They then encouraged Mrs. Charlton Yarnall, the chairman of the Main Line branch of the Emergency Aid, to permit her organization to be the beneficiary of the show.

In just a few weeks a small show was organized and held on June 6th, 7th, and 8th. "In these times," Dr. Ashton explained in the program for the show, "we believe Horse Shows should be held for the benefit of War Relief Work and for accredited organizations engaged in all kindred measures. History reveals no older friend of man than the horse and it is certain that the show horses of our country can do no better work than [to] serve him still by helping to increase those funds so essential to the comfort and well being of the men 'over there.' "

The three-day show earned more than $9000 for the Emergency Aid.

Its success led to a whole new approach for the Devon Horse Show.

In the following year, the war over, it was decided that the show should continue as a benefit for a worthy charity, with the Bryn Mawr Hospital designated to be the beneficiary. To augment the proceeds, it was also suggested, by Mrs. Archibald Barklie, that a Country Fair be held in conjunction with the Horse Show, with the ladies given an opportunity to take an active role in the project.

To carry out this proposal, as noted earlier, in early 1919 the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Inc. was created, succeeding the Devon Horse Show Association. Shortly afterwards the new corporation purchased the old polo field and facilities as a permanent home for the show; in an agreement dated April 14, 1920 the 11.899-acre plot was sold by John Livezy and his wife Martha, of Philadelphia, to the corporation for $22,500. [Deed Book P 15 421]

Again under the direction of Dr. Ashton as show chairman, assisted by William H. Wanamaker as secretary, the horse show took up right where it had left off in 1917.

Page 107

(Two years later, in the 25th anniversary show, there were almost 1500 entries in 174 classes. Some of the entries came from stables as far away as New York state, Massachusetts, and Illinois. In that same year the show was officially recognized by the American Horse Show Association, which it had helped form in 1917, and it took its place in the great eastern show circuit.)

At the same time, the Country Fair, under Mrs. Barklie's supervision, with assistance from Mrs. Yarnall, was also a great success. During the spring of 1919 a village of small frame buildings with thatched roofs was built along the north side of the grounds to house the various shops and booths of the Fair.

A number of socially prominent women, many of them the wives of the men who were associated with the horse show or directors of the hospital, took advantage of this opportunity to be a part of the festivities and served as volunteers at the fair. Originally everything offered for sale was donated: handiwork and crafts made by the volunteers, flowers and plants from their gardens for the flower booth, candy and fudge -- it was the introduction of the famed Devon fudge and lemon sticks -- for the candy booth, tea and lemon or cream or mint for the tea cart, salads and other delicacies for the cafeteria. (The Barclay Hotel in Philadelphia donated a stuffed salmon for the occasion.) One early volunteer, some years later, recalled, "All the volunteers made the food at home, and took it to the Horse Show. Some of the ladies would make potato salad, chicken salad, or hard boiled eggs."

"Things were also much more formal in those days," she also recalled. "All the ladies wore long dresses, white gloves and, of course, a hat. The first time one of the ladies came into the place without a hat," she added, "... she might as well have come into the place stark naked for all the fuss it caused." Tea was served at the Tea House from sterling silver urns and poured into delicate china tea cups set on lace tablecloths.

And their efforts enabled the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair to make a donation of more than $26,000 to the hospital in its first year. It was an auspicious beginning.

Following the construction of the village for the Fair, attention was now given to providing stabling on the horse show grounds for the horses that came from some distance. The first step in this project occurred shortly afterwards, when William DuPont built the first barn, a structure of creosoted wood, to the northeast of the show oval. During the 1920s other exhibitors were encouraged to build barns or stables of the same style and construction, and by the end of the decade the eastern side of the grounds, along Valley Forge road, was completely lined with barns to provide stabling on the grounds.

With the increasing popularity of the hunter classes -- there were 89 entries in one class in 1923 a special course for the hunters, with its fences, stone walls, water and broad jumps, was constructed between the oval and the rows of barns.

Page 108

This outside course, as it was known, was altered in 1936, with the horses now running in a clockwise rather than a counter-clockwise direction, to avoid an "awkward" turn into a stone wall in the original course. Its use was discontinued, in part for reasons of safety as spectators would sometimes walk across it while jumping was in progress, in 1969 and it was replaced by a second show ring, the Gold Ring, to the south and east of the main oval. The fences for the hunter and jumping classes are now set up especially for the event in either the Gold Ring or the main oval in front of the grandstand.

In 1923 the four-section awning-topped grandstand built in 1910 on the west side of the oval was replaced with a new one with a wooden roof. Although the new grandstand was not as long as the old one, it was higher and could accommodate more spectators. (In 1969 another grandstand was added, to the south of the 1923 grandstand; it not only provided additional seating for spectators, but also increased the number of boxes available. Underneath this grandstand a permanent clubhouse for the entertainment of exhibitors and visitors was also constructed. Both grandstands were rebuilt and expanded in 1991.)

At the same time that the old 1910 grandstand was replaced, the judges' stand was moved to the northern end of the oval.

In 1924 Edward F. Beale, who lived at "Deepdale" in Strafford, was elected president of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, succeeding T. DeWitt Cuyler, who had held the office since 1920. (Beale, the president of the Pennsylvania Salt Company, was also a trustee of the Bryn Mawr Hospital, a member of the Valley Forge Park Commission, a vestryman at St. David's Church in Radnor, and, for fifteen years, president of the Radnor Hunt Club.) He continued as president of the horse show for eighteen years, until the Second World War, and in 1946, a year before his death, was named honorary president. During this same period, from 1919 to 1942, Tom Clark served as the show's general manager.

In 1928 the number of entries in the show had grown to over 2000, and the show was extended to four days. In the mid-1930s it became a six-day show, though with the introduction of evening classes in 1946 it fell back to five days for a couple of years. By the late 1970s it was expanded to an eight-day event, and in recent years it has been a nine-day show. In 1975, for the first time, events were scheduled on Sunday also.

In the early 1930s the show, perhaps surprisingly, was not interrupted or seriously affected by the Depression. Although there was some decline in the number of exhibitors and spectators, the Horse Show and Country Fair was held each year, and it was reported in the Phoenixville Daily Republican on May 29, 1935, "There is no more colorful outdoor horse show in America than the annual Devon exhibit and Country Fair. By tomorrow night [the end of the show] nearly 50,000 people will have attended the six-day event and much of the lure must be attributed to the charm of the setting. The flag-bedecked stables, grandstand and charity sales booths which surround the show ring proper add a fine flair of color to the natural beauty of the location. Stables from every horse center in the nation show at Devon[.]"

Page 109

In the following year Elizabeth Grinnel wrote in "The Sportsman", with perhaps some hyperbole, "Good as it [the show] was in the old days, it is now practically pefect." In the same manner, in the Daily Republican in May of the following year it was observed, "For over 40 years the Devon Horse Show has been a symbol for the best in eastern equine exhibitions and that this year will be no exception will be attested to by all who will visit the grounds and witness the keen competition."

By the twentieth anniversary of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Inc. in 1939 it had become truly national in scope. The entries in the previous year included 18 horses from the stables of Mrs. W. H. Roth, of Redwood City, California, a dozen horses exhibited by Miss Judy King, of Atlanta, Georgia, and three purebred Arabian horses from the Evanco Farms in Florida.

During that same year the main oval was completely refurbished and underlayed with tile drains in preparation for the 1939 show; too often the ring had become a sea of mud during the late spring rains that usually at some time fell during the show and which led to the perennial suggestion that "in case of rain, entry fees will be suspended". (It was not without some foresight that in 1899 it was noted, "In case of rain the exhibition will be postponed to the first clear day following".) The improvements in the ring, incidentally, were not completely successful, and in 1971 the oval was again refurbished, this time with better results.

At the 1939 show the ring was named the Wanamaker Oval, in recognition of the contributions to the show by William H. Wanamaker. In a special ceremony, a plaque bearing the names of Dr. Thomas Ashton, Mrs. Archibald Barklie, and Wanamaker was unveiled by Miss Dorothy James, daughter of Governor Arthur H. James. (In 1982 the oval was renamed the Dixon Oval, in honor of F. Eugene "Fritz" Dixon, and is known by that name today.)

Just as the First World War had caused a cancellation of the 1918 show, so the Second World War brought a cancellation of the show in 1943, 1944, and 1945, though the dates for it were reserved each year to keep the show "in good standing" with the American Horse Shows Association. (In at least one of these years a dog show was held in its place.)

With the war ended, the show was again held in 1946, and again it resumed where it had left off.

By now the Country Fair was no longer solely a "do-it-yourself" project of the volunteers. Space in the village was also rented to merchants, and, as Jane Wister noted in The Philadelphia Inquirer on May 27th the following year, there was "a sell-out" of this rental space. "Tiny shops." she reported, "replicas of fashionable metropolitan ones, will be well-stocked and attractively decorated. Flanked by these fascinating awninged houses, the winding paths will tempt the passerby with an amazing array of cosmetics, jewelry, china and glassware, book shelves with best sellers fresh from the press and an art shop where one may have a pastel done on short order[.]" But in addition, of course, there were also the traditional garden shop, a sandwich shop, the candy stand, an ice cream stand, pony rides, the Fish Pond, the cafeteria, a daily luncheon fashion show, and other attractions staffed by the "vast army" of dedicated volunteers men, women, and children. (Last year more than 3000 volunteers contributed to the success of the Country Fair.)

Page 110

In 1946 Charlton Yarnall was elected to succeed Beale as president, with William H. Wanamaker Jr. and Isaac H. Clothier the two vice presidents. Three years later William C. Hunneman Jr. succeeded Yarnall, and in 1953 William H. Ashton, son of Dr. Thomas Ashton, in turn, succeeded Hunneman. When the show resumed in 1946 Freddy Pinch, a Devon veteran who had first ridden in the show in 1912, became the general manager.

Less than three weeks before the 1952 show, in the afternoon on May 7th, a disastrous fire broke out at the show grounds. It started in a pile of rubbish, and it was suggested in the West Chester Daily Local News the following day that it may have been ignited "by a spark from a passing locomotive" on the railroad. Whatever the cause, the blaze, fanned by high winds that sent flames 100 feet into the air, completely destroyed the permanent stables along Valley Forge Road, with facilities for 274 horses. Five fire companies, from Berwyn, Paoli, Wayne, Newtown Square, and Ardmore, and some 150 firemen were on the scene and prevented its spread to the remaining stables, with accommodations for 220 horses, and the grandstand. Fortunately, no horses were stabled on the grounds at the time, though some were expected to arrive within a few days.

On the following day Hunneman announced that telegrams had been sent to all the exhibitors, informing them that "the entire show will be carried on as per schedule [to start on May 24th] in line with the sporting principles of the show". In a little over a week bulldozers cleared away the debris from the fire, and arrangements had been made to have tent stalls erected where the stables had been and along "a considerable portion" of Berkeley Road. (Actually, tent stabling was not that unusual; Hunneman also pointed out that "tent stalls are used at almost every outdoor show in the nation, Devon being one of the few with extensive permanent stabling". Tents were also used at Devon each year when there were more than 494 horses that needed stabling.)

Despite the general prosperity of the postwar years, however, in the early 1950s both the attendance and the number of exhibitors at Devon began to decline dramatically. Many observers cited the growing number of horse shows and show circuits that were starting up throughout the country as one of the reasons for this, but Hyde also noted that the "lack of exhibitors [at Devon] was due to ... an impression among exhibitors, whether right or wrong, that only members of a clique could be in the ribbons consistently" and a feeling that there was "a certain amount of Old Philadelphia snobbery left over from the twenties".

To encourage the leading exhibitors from all over the country to return to Devon, a special hospitality committee was designated and a concerted effort was made by the officers and other representatives of Devon to visit other shows to assure exhibitors that, as Hyde put it, "things had changed."

Page 111

Coaching Marathon

At the same time, innovations were added to make the show more attractive to spectators, in what Hyde described as "the democratization of Devon". Western classes for quarter horses and cutting horses were introduced, along with demonstrations of barrel races and bareback jumping. (Unfortunately, the cutting horses also cut up the ring.) The Coaching Marathon was revived in 1952, with eight coaches and their four-horse teams entered to drive the 8.6-mile course from the Radnor Hunt Club to the show grounds. (In 1966 it became a Carriage Marathon, open to all horse-drawn vehicles, and it is now one of the most popular features of the show.) In 1958 chariot races, the chariots drawn by teams of four Shetland ponies, were held. Three years later the jumping classes of the International Equestrian Federation, described as "easier to understand and more exciting to watch" than the A.H.S.A. classes, were incorporated into the show. As Maggitti put it, the show "went from staid to stylish".

The Budweiser Clydesdales and Curtiss Candy ponies were invited to give exhibitions. Other innovations at one time or another included a rock concert, an antique automobile show (!), ostrich races, and baseball and golf exhibitions. A midway, with a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and other amusements, popcorn and cotton candy, was added to the Country Fair.

A public relations campaign to get more publicity in the newspapers and on the radio and television was also undertaken, and local radio and TV stars, among them Dick Clark, Sally Starr, and Chief Halftown, made personal appearances. (When a new administration building was erected to the north of the show ring in 1964 it included special facilities for the press and media in the upper level.) Other celebrities, among them Gypsy Rose Lee, Howard Cosell, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autrey, and Roy Rogers were also invited to make personal appearances and, in some cases, to make a trophy presentation.

Page 112

In the late 1960s and early 1970s one day at the show each year was designated "Pennsylvania Day", and it was customary for the governor of the commonwealth to be present on that day.

But while these various innovations added interest, it was still the horses that were the main attraction and the reason people came to the show. And Devon continued its reign as the largest outdoor horse show in the country.

In the meantime, beginning in 1958, and for the next seven years after that, Bill Ashton served as show chairman, with Lawrence B. Kelley serving as president. Two years later Kelley was named vice-chairman of the show, and succeeded as president by James K. Robinson Jr., and in 1966 Robinson became show chairman and Thomas F. Bright became president. When Bright was killed in an airplane accident in 1971, Richard E. McDevitt became the president, and continues to hold that position at the present time. With the death of Freddy Pinch in 1964, Jim Fallon was named manager of the show and John Burkholder, who had worked with Pinch for a few years, took over as general manager.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident in the history of the Devon Horse Show -- more so, even, than the time when James Robinson personally lifted up and carried Gypsy Rose Lee to the judges' stand to present a trophy in 1958 because the mud in the ring was so deep -- occurred in 1964. Known as the "exhibitors' revolt", it was the aftermath of "the suspension of one of the exhibitors after he had been found guilty of "cruelty" to one of his horses, and also the strict enforcement of recently adopted but little publicized changes in the rules and in particular the "one minute" rule which gave a rider one minute to approach the first jump after entering the ring. In the closing event of the night on the day the exhibitor was suspended, the Local reported the next day, "After three riders rode their mounts into the ring and over the jumps in the conventional manner, in came a rider dressed in cowboy hat and chaparrals [sic] and holding a stop watch in her hand, [and] then leaving the ring without taking a jump. The next rider and horse arrived at the entrance gate, but did not enter. Another rode into the ring and around it without taking a jump; one rode into the ring and over three jumps bareback. Some half dozen riders in all, took part in this unusual demonstration which was greeted first by bewildered silence, then by a mixture of boos and applause." (Four of the riders were later placed on probation by the A.H.S.A. for their actions.)

As mentioned earlier, in the 1960s a long-term program of adding to the facilities on the horse show grounds was begun, including the previously mentioned administration building in 1964 and, in 1969, the south grandstand on the west side of the oval and the construction of the Gold Ring in place of the old outside course. Three years earlier, in 1966, the first grandstand, with additional boxes, was erected on the east side of the oval; it was followed in 1981 by a second east grandstand and in the following year by a third grandstand on the east side.

A new barn, with stalls for 20 horses, behind the first east grandstand, was built in 1975, and in 1982 additional stabling was constructed on land that had been obtained east of Valley Forge Road, between Lancaster Avenue and Berkeley Road.

Page 113

Three years ago, in 1991, the main grandstand was rebuilt and enlarged, and this year [1994] a project to renovate the stables closest to the barn behind the first east grandstand is planned.

The economic importance of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair extends far beyond the Bryn Mawr Hospital. In 1988 the show was described by the executive director of the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau as the single largest event in the area, excluding conventions. She also estimated that the exhibitors at the show spend more than two and a half million dollars for hotel accommodations, meals, transportation, and fuel during the nine-day event.

Thus the Devon Horse Show has developed, from a one-day farmers' show back in 1896 to a three-day show supported by Philadelphia society, to a combined horse show and country fair benefitting the Bryn Mawr Hospital, national in its scope, to a nine-day show with broad appeal and a number of attractions and a midway incorporated into the fair.

On the 27 acres of show grounds are 82 buildings, all painted in the traditional Devon blue and white. They include forty-four buildings in the village in the Country Fair area; twenty-eight barns with stalls for 490 horses (plus an additional 320 temporary stalls in three large tents); two show rings, and ten other buildings or structures, including the five grandstands with 272 boxes and the administration building.

Since 1919 and the incorporation of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, a total of $7,565,424 has been donated to the Bryn Mawr Hospital, of which some $340,000 was given last year alone. The funds have been used for the recovery room, outpatient testing area, fetal monitoring equipment, a C-T scanner, and the new oncologic and psychiatric units.

So, as suggested in the Inquirer back on May 27, 1937, fifty-seven years ago:

"Once again we launch with joy another Devon Show,
That it is the best of all, exhibitors all know.
Happily we ask you, Praise unto the noble horse,
A toast we all endorse.
Welcome friends, a welcome royal.
To the show be ever loyal;
So let Devon's joy begin
And may the best horse win."

Page 114



[Author unknown], History of Bryn Mawr Hospital [Exhibit in corridors of Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr]

Conversation with Sarah Cavanaugh, Unionville, Pa.

Cox, Raymond, "Devon Through the Years ... 1896-1971 : A Short History of Devon" [in Devon Horse Show program, 1971]

Deed Records, Chester County Courthouse, West Chester, Pa.

Devon Horse Show Committee, Miscellaneous Horse Show Programs, Devon, Pa.

Flood, Irma, "Segments of Local History" [in the Suburban and Wayne Times, May 17, 1973]

Hyde, Christopher, A Week Down in Devon : A History of the Devon Horse Show. Radnor: Chilton Book Company, 1976

Maggitti, Phil, "Devon, An Informal History" [in County Lines, May 1984]

Newspaper Clipping File, Chester County Historical Society, West Chester

Scallan, Lenore, "What's in a Box? Plenty!" [in County Lines, May 1989]

Suburban Publications, "The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair" [Supplement to The Suburban and Wayne Times, May 21, 1987]


Page last updated: 2014-05-14 at 16:42 EDT
Copyright © 2006-2014 Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to make copies for personal use only.
All other uses require written permission of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.