Woodmont of Maryland & Woodmont of Virginia
The Woodmont Rod & Gun Club of Washington, DC, began its storied history around the year of 1870 in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of western Maryland near the town of Hancock. Robert Lee Hill, a kinsman of General Robert E. Lee, resided on the Woodmont Estate along the Potomac River, where he fished, trapped and hunted the abundant wildlife of this utopian wilderness, a veritable cornucopia of hunting and fishing opportunity.
Hill was preceded by a Scots Presbyterian frontiersman, Robert Ferguson Bridges, who immigrated to Washington County in 1816. They both harvested the abundance of this Utopic Paradise nestled in nature’s secret heart. Hill frequently visited Washington, DC, and legend has it that one day on a streetcar, the mountaineer sat next to a Virginian, Rear Admiral Robley Evans of the United States Navy. He told of the locale from which he hailed and the Admiral exuberantly accepted his gracious invitation to visit, hunt, and fish.
Robert Bridges, ca. 1895, with his sons (left to right from bottom): Henry Percival and Wilbur; second row: James Taliaferro, Robert Sr. and John Breathed; third row: Robert, Eugene Addison and Llewllyn. The elder Bridges expected his children to live by the Golden Rule, no matter their profession.
Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth (right) was a guest of Henry Bridges at Woodmont.
Impressed mightily with Sidling Hill Mountain and the possibilities the place presented, the Admiral was able to gather a group of Washington’s elite politicos and by 1881, he formed The Woodmont Rod & Gun Club. He then convinced his sportsman comrade, President James Garfield, to try his sporting hand, equipped with a fly rod, deployed upon the majestically flowing eddies of the Potomac River as it flowed toward the Capital City. The lure was set for a Presidential Retreat, precursor to Camp David. Other presidents would follow: Arthur, Harrison, Cleveland, Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Along with the presidents, the future held hunting spaces for such greats as: Babe Ruth, Gene Tunney, Amos & Andy and a myriad of other celebrities and high-profile guests.
The Bridges’ mountain legacy was continued through the Scotsman’s son, Robert, a strict adherent to Presbyterian Calvinistic beliefs. He became an entrepreneur of some distinction in the marketing of dry goods, hydraulic cement, and silica sand by the year 1878, the same year his son Henry Percival was born.
The sand mines in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, across the Potomac River from Hancock, were immensely prolific for Robert. An attorney and businessman, Henry detected an opportunity, and he bought the mining rights from his father’s estate in 1911 and eventually developed a New York Stock Exchange-traded corporation. His mine’s abundance of silica and the wealth it created for Henry and his investors would save the confines of Woodmont from the ravages of the timbermen’s axes.
Tragedy struck in 1903, when a catastrophic fire destroyed the original club house. Only the Presidential rocking chair was spared the fire. Henry was an entrepreneur who saw opportunity for his vision of a sportsmen’s Utopic Paradise and a conservationist’s dream to become a reality, too. In 1906, he gathered luminaries of kindred spirit, who had financial capacity, included: Eugene DuPont, Richard K. Mellon and Henry A. Roemer who purchased back the 3,500 acres from the timbermen and moved forward with his entrepreneurial/conservational visions.
Workers at the Berkeley Glass Sand quarry in West Virginia. Henry knew there was profit in the rubble.
Henry P. Bridges, Eugene DuPont and others hunting at Woodmont. No matter their status, club members and their guests were expected to follow the rules.
The Annual Stag Dinner of the year 1931 was a special event, held in the newly completed 18,000 square-foot club house, along with third-floor cold dorms, a six-car garage with a cold dorm above it; the total capacity was fifty-five men in attendance. Henry’s conservationist dreams were bearing fruit by now; a twelve-foot fence encompassed the 2,000 acres of Woodmont’s confines of Sidling Hill Mountain. It was home to a deer conservation program that produced 300+ pound bucks, an Eastern Wild Turkey fenced breeding enclosure, where turkeys flocked, brooded, and were caught and released to the wildernesses of the Woodmont Preserve. Thousands were crated and shipped to state game farms for the purpose of his conservationist repopulation efforts.
The allure of discovery and his family heritage was too great for Professor Bridges, and he spent many an hour as he studied theology in The Great Room at the hearth of a six-foot long fireplace, hunted the confines of Woodmont, a place repopulated with indigenous game due to his grandfather’s conservationist works, and enjoyed his grandfather’s spirit and accomplishments in a place of Utopic Paradise. In the back of his mind, someday he knew, he would own and operate a similar place named Woodmont.
At the time of Henry’s death in 1957, he had raised over 60,000 turkeys, created a Master-Buck program, stocked his upper and lower lakes with trout and bass and enjoyed a Sportsman’s Utopic Paradise place, called Woodmont. His grandson, Professor David Bridges, visited Woodmont as a young lad, and in the year of 1986, he attended seminary in Pittsburgh, a few hours’ drive from Woodmont.
The Woodmont Rod and Gun Club in 1930. The building combined a sense of nature with modern amenities for members and guests.
Henry P. Bridges with one of his hunting dogs. Henry kept setters and pointers at the Woodmont kennels.
Henry P. Bridges, the “Sage of Woodmont”
The years came and went; finally destiny met fulfillment on September 14, 2017, as Professor Bridges dwelt on the bucolic farm encompassed by his 261 acres of Woodmont of Virginia, located in Callaway, ensconced in the same Appalachian Mountains, farther south of Woodmont of Maryland. The Woodmont family traditions continue with his raising and training English Setter bird dogs, hunts for quail, turkey and deer, a fishing pond, the addition of a cattleman’s dream barn and corral facility for raising grass-fed Black Angus and a massive vegetable garden, like the ones of the halcyon days of Woodmont of Maryland. Both Woodmonts were and are self-sufficient in terms of food production.
The next generation and reiteration of what the ethereal Spirit of Henry P. Bridges’ Woodmont embodied has a new vision and mission, which his twice-published author grandfather would appreciate: a Woodmont Writers Enclave!
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