HERE'S VERY LITTLE to dislike about Newmarket Plantation in Caroline County. It just took some sweat and ingenuity to bring out its brighter points.
Robert 'Robby' and Ada Caruthers felt an immediate attraction to the place when they visited it almost four years ago. He was looking to re-establish ties to family that live in the immediate area; she wanted to expand her veterinarian practice.
"Our first impression was un-believable," said Ada Caruthers, a native of New Jersey who first started practicing her trade with Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland prior to starting her solo practice, Oak Lawn Horse Clinic, in 1993. "We visited several other sites, but none compared to Newmarket."
They acquired the 450-acre plantation located in Milford from Gary Gray, who is Robby's cousin, and Bill Webb. The two men initially planned to develop the property into a golf course.
Although the main house was in disrepair, the plantation was rich in historical and equine importance.
Colonel John Baylor obtained the property through a land grant in 1726 and it remained in his family's possession until 1996. Besides twice serving in the Virginia House of Burgess and fighting with George Washington during the French and Indian War, Baylor will be most remembered for being one of the colony's earliest importers of thoroughbred horses.
Beginning his stud farm in 1754, Baylor had over 100 horses at Newmarket by the time of his death in 1772. Fearnought, his prized acquisition, spurred interest in course racing and helped make Newmarket a social center for Virginia's prominent families.
Races were held at the Old Mansion, located approximately three miles away in nearby Bowling Green.
Little more than a stone's throw from the main house near the dirt driveway is the renown 'Circle of Oaks' site. Eleven of the 15 trees that were planted in 1730 remain standing and they encircle the grave site of the mother of Lt. Colonel George Armistead, who was born at Newmarket and gained lasting fame as the defender of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812, and served as the inspiration for 'The Star Spangled Banner."
Besides the main house, which was built in a Gothic revival style, the land's other structures include a tenant house, an original slave house, a tobacco barn, an original brick stable, an original three-story brick barn, a maintenance shop and a corn crib.
Besides giving his two children--9-year-old Katie and 4-year-old Robert "Ashton" Caruthers III--plenty of room to explore and grow, Newmarket represents a business enterprise for Robby Caruthers. He hopes to harvest approximately 40,000 bales of hay and 80,000 bales of straw later this spring. Some of the product will be sold directly to horse farmers, while a large portion is purchased by feed stores or retail stores throughout the state.
"The kids were born on the farm in Hanover County and they love the open space and outdoors. I cannot imagine living anywhere else," he said.
For nearly 18 months, though, Caruthers labored long hours to return the main dwelling to a decent standard of living. He was aided by Nathan Wenrich, a local builder, and by his aunt Marjorie Gray, who provided worthwhile suggestions on decorations and how the house should look when completed.
"The house was in pretty bad shape," said Caruthers, who was not totally unfamiliar with Newmarket, having visited friends when he was a youngster. "The plumbing was outdated, there was no heating, insulation or air conditioning. We almost had to tear the house to pieces and build it back."
Ada Caruthers began riding horses at an early age and said becoming a horse vet was a longtime goal.
While her husband can claim two great, great-grandfathers and a great-great-grand-uncle who fought in the Civil War, she has a distant cousin who works as a horse breeder in Russia.
"I've been very busy. I've more than doubled my practice since moving here [in November 2000]," said Caruthers, whose ambulatory practice serves Caroline County as well as five neighboring counties and the city of Fredericksburg. Besides horses, she has treated approximately 50 llamas.
Her greatest fear this summer is the possible reappearance of the West Nile virus. There have been no confirmed cases in the county thus far of the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes.
Robby Caruthers nagged his future-wife-to-be to join him for a lunch outing while she was treating a sick horse at his farm in Hanover County. She finally gave in to his request.
"Robby said he needed to marry me because he was related to everybody in Hanover and Caroline counties and I wasn't from the area," she concluded.