Travel Articles

Virginia Hunt Country- Marriott Ranch

By: Rich Van Haste

Ask your average American to picture a ranch and they will likely recall wide-open spaces somewhere out west, far from northeastern cities. Certainly that vision holds more than a grain of truth. But veteran travelers know that once you escape Boston, New York, or Washington DC and their respective halos of suburbs one is confronted by rural spaces inside of an hour's drive. Places we now consider to be well within the sphere of back east, were the edge of civilization a few centuries past.

One place like that is Marriott Ranch in Hume, Virginia. Hume is about an hour's drive out I-66 from my home in the nation's capital. Marriott is a working cattle ranch, but today it is also a venue for family vacations and corporate meetings. As the name implies, J.W. Marriott bought the property when he made his home in the District of Columbia. He was originally from Utah and wanted a weekend retreat where he could enjoy the sights and activities of his youth. Marriott often hosted President Reagan on the property as well as foreign dignitaries. Today the ranch is owned by the Marriott Corporation, but it is still used by the Marriott family on holidays.

The history of the land goes back much farther. It lies just east of the Appalachian foothills, with Old Rag and Skyline Drive visible on a clear day. The Rappahannock River runs through the property and it was this location that locked the ranch into history. As a young man George Washington made multiple trips into the wilderness to practice his original occupation as a surveyor. These journeys took Washington straight across the ranch. The main house was built by James Marshall, brother of Chief Justice John Marshall. The Marshall brothers grew up nearby and played on the land as children. As an adult the Chief Justice visited the house many times.

Over the years the ranch left the Marshall family and came into possession of a branch of the Rothschilds. This led to the next famous resident Baroness Johanna von Reininghaus Lambert. The Baroness was a Rothschild and a Jew. At the start of World War Two she fled to the United States and took up residence in a small house on the property that is today known as the Baroness Cottage. After her departure at the close of the war Mr. Marriott bought the estate in 1951.

At his death J.W. Marriott willed that the ranch would continue to raise cattle. It is one of the largest privately held tracts in Virginia with around 1,500 head at any given time. In addition the Marshall House, Baroness Cottage, and Carriage House serve as a bed and breakfast. They host family vacations as well as corporate meetings and have pavilion space available for large picnics and outings.

The available activities are numerous. I visited in winter and my management team was offered the choice of horseback riding, a tour of the local winery, a jeep tour along (and through) the Rappahannock, and skeet shooting. During warmer weather there is riding and roping instruction. That there is a professional kitchen and (really good) staff on site did not surprise me. That they offer an iron chef competition as an activity did.

The beauty of Marriott Ranch is that it has something to offer everyone. The rider has horses and trails to his hearts content. The non-rider has just as much to do. I could have spent three more days studying the history, tasting the wine, and skeet shooting. At the end of our days there we had wonderful meals and relaxed by the fire. It was hard to believe we were only 45 miles from Washington but far enough away to see stars.