Pilgrims to the home of “Father of the United States Constitution” may be surprised to discover the grave of one of the most successful racehorses in history. A short trot from Madison’s Temple of Liberty, which he used for quiet contemplation, is the final resting place of Battleship, the only horse to win both the Grand National and American Grand National steeplechases.
Sired by famed racehorse Man o’ War, Battleship was the beloved steed of Marion duPont Scott. Overcoming injuries and low expectations, Battleship won the coveted Grand National in England in 1938, and returned to the U.S. for a star-studded welcome that included Mayor LaGuardia and Randolph Scott. After a long stretch as a breeding stallion, he died in 1958 and is now buried next to his relatives and fellow race horses, Annapolis and Accra.
The grand estate wasn’t always a horseracing haven. The Montpelier plantation was originally owned by James Madison’s grandfather and later became a nexus for the rich and powerful who sought the advice of America’s fourth president. Madison’s wife Dolley was famous as a hostess with the mostest and was credited with being the life-force behind Madison’s political success.
Following the former president’s death, Dolley’s fortunes withered, and she was saddled with mounting debts, including gambling losses incurred by her wayward son John Payne Todd. After 121 years of Madison family ownership, she sold Montpelier, and it passed through seven owners before the duPont family bought it in 1900.
When Scott died in 1983, she willed the estate to the National Trust to be preserved as a monument to Madison. In 2000, extensive renovations began, including reducing the expanded 55-room mansion to its original 22 rooms. Today, visitors can tour the home and see the room where Madison wrote the original outline for the Constitution. From his library window, Scott’s racetrack is still visible.
Know Before You Go
The grounds are accessible for a fee at the visitor center; house tours are available for an additional fee. The estate also continues to host the Montpelier Races every year on the first Saturday in November.