Walking the grounds of Montpelier today you will see many buildings associated with the duPont family. Occupying Montpelier for the better part of the 20th century, the duPonts made countless modifications to the landscape including the installation of a racetrack, swimming pool, tenant houses, and several other barns and outbuildings. Many of these outbuildings were used for equestrian purposes. What remains however, is a number of small buildings often reduced to a general classification of shed or “coop”. By taking a closer look at historic photographs and the physical evidence present at each building, it became clear that these “miscellaneous outbuildings” actually served a very specific, and unique purpose.
The duPont family scrapbooks show us how prevalent dogs were at Montpelier throughout the 20th century. These scrapbooks contain over 3,500 images, with nearly 500 of those images showing dogs as their central focus. Many of these photographs date to roughly the same time period, with as many as a dozen different breeds appearing during the first quarter of the 20th century. With so many dogs appearing in the scrapbooks over roughly the same period in time, it is clear that the dogs of Montpelier were not all living in the main house. By taking a closer look at the buildings and landscapes present in the backgrounds of the scrapbook images, suddenly certain buildings began to look familiar.
Image of Marion duPont and dog from duPont family scrapbooks.
One familiar building led to the discovery of what we now know is the former Dalmatian kennel. This small, board and batten building with a gable end door sits just behind the preservation offices, and is currently used as our workshop. Taking a closer look at the building, small doors on each side match those seen in the scrapbook images. Looking carefully at the door jamb, a fragment of a tag and its ghost appears. From the letters visible on the fragment, the word “kennel” can be discerned. These tags identified taxable kennels in Orange County, and provide excellent evidence for the building’s use as dog housing. With this in mind, more and more images showed a now recognizable dalmatian kennel, or area immediately surrounding it. At the time of use, the dalmatian kennel and surrounding complex housed dozens of dogs, and was made up of several buildings. Included in this complex was an elevated dog house, which was used to cultivate the uniquely dalmatian ability to climb ladders (hence their popularity as firehouse dogs).
The Dalmatian Kennel as it appears today, and as a part of the greater historic complex
Documentary evidence supports the presence of a dalmatian kennel at Montpelier. Throughout the duPont scrapbooks there are clippings of articles detailing Marion duPont’s accomplishments. While these clippings are primarily later and note her accomplishments in horse breeding and racing, several articles of earlier dates mentioned dogs. It seems that during the first quarter of the 20th century, prior to the death of Marion’s father and her taking sole proprietorship of Montpelier, Marion was dedicating much of her time to breeding, showing, selling, and enjoying dogs. Trade manuals serve as another source of confirmation of this theory. One example, the 1917 CSR Blue Book of Dogdom, uses a photo of one of Marion’s dogs in the chapter explaining the Dalmatian Standard. Later in the volume, the book recognizes Montpelier Dalmatian Kennels, owned by Miss Marion duPont in the section detailing kennels by breed. For a woman to run her own kennel, and receive printed acclaim for doing so was no small feat at the time.
Recognizing the prevalence of dogs and dog breeding at Montpelier forces a new perspective of the early 20th century landscape. Once considered predominantly equestrian, photos and documents suggest that prior to Marion duPont’s long and accomplished career in horse breeding, she was in fact one of the most prolific American dog breeders of the early 20th century. By correctly attributing these remaining kennels, and remembering their function as part of a greater landscape, we can develop a better understanding of Montpelier’s evolution over time, and specifically Marion duPont’s role in shaping the property.
Three Dalmatians, duPont Family Scrapbooks
You can learn more about the dogs of Montpelier on our dog-friendly landscape walk!
Elizabeth Sweeny, MA
Architecture and Historic Preservation Specialist
Elizabeth Sweeny is an architectural historian in the Architecture and Historic Preservation Department at Montpelier. Her research focuses on agency and identity as it is expressed through the built environment.