Mary C. Fesak

Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2016

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Historic Preservation

First Advisor

Spencer, Michael

Major or Concentration

Historic Preservation


During the late-19th and early-20th centuries, nouveau riche families moved to the foothills of Virginia. These Gilded Age elites purchased old plantations and converted them into hobby farms. Because racing was such an integral part of their social life and culture, the elites built stables. Scholarly publications have largely ignored the stables constructed by these elites. The stables have only been identified and briefly described through national register nominations and cultural resource surveys. With so little attention being paid to equine structures, the manifestations of gender by women on the built environment have not been identified. Upper-class women increasingly participated in the male-dominated fields of race horse ownership and breeding as part of the expansion of women's gender roles during the Progressive Era. Case studies examining the manifestation of gender through the settings and layouts of the equine complexes and the aesthetics and interior layouts of the stables show that men used the public visibility and stylistic treatments of their stables to serve as statements of their masculinity and competitiveness. While perceptions of female propriety prevented women from constructing stables as public statements of their identities, their placements of their stables within their equine landscapes shows that they placed their broodmare barns in locations of prominence to assert that women could become expert breeders. The development of a context for the Virginia's early-to-mid 20th century equine landscapes could help the Department of Historic Resources identify and preserve these resources. Because these landscapes are often overshadowed by the properties' mansion houses, their historical significance is often overlooked by owners, scholars, and institutions. This study encourages preservationists to reevaluate their approach to preserving these layered landscapes. The evaluation of the influence of gender on the landscape contributes to understandings of women's history and their contributions to the built environment, changing narratives about the extent of male domination in the horse industry.