Friday Roundup

Friday Roundup: Outdoor Exploration and the Tale of Dr. Mackey and Lord Fairfax’s Boots

We’ve been having some yard maintenance this week at the Hexagon House, including treatments for a yellow jacket swarm and tree work. Don’t be surprised if the lot is blocked a day in the near future for stump removal, but the bulk of the work is complete. Thanks to the hardworking folks at the MSV, we should be safe from stinging insects and overgrown and dying vegetation when enjoying our lovely outdoor setting.

Trails at the MSV
The new floating bridge at the wetlands portion of the trails is now open!

If you haven’t had a chance to walk the new extension of the Trails at the MSV, why not take a quick jaunt around the floating wetland bridge next time you’re at the Hexagon House? There is a lovely circle around the pond that lets you get close to the wildlife, and two delightful humpback bridges to descend from the street level at Amherst to the pond. Plus, it’s literally just across the street!

Slide of a portrait of Dr. Robert Mackey, exhibited in the Kurtz Cultural Center for “West of the Blue Ridge.”

While working on the daily image posts to social media and preparing a future blog post series, we had a confluence of research topics involving National Avenue and the tale of Lord Fairfax’s boots. Part of our behind the scenes work right now is going into identifying images from Kurtz Cultural Center exhibits. It has been a hit or miss prospect, as most of the slides are not labeled with the object name or source. This is somewhat mitigated by cross referencing the exhibit item lists and sources and then going back to the holding organization to confirm the identification guess.

While trying to determine if one of the digitized slide images was of James Wood, we incidentally spotted another portrait that also needed identification. The image turned out to be Dr. Robert Mackey (also often seen as Macky). The name had just recently been brought to mind after the recent trips to the post office to drop off some Limestone books to new owners. The trip usually requires passing by the George Washington’s Outlot marker on National Avenue. At the very end of the marker outside of the venerable brick Italianate house is the note the lot was purchased by the said Dr. Mackey in 1805. (Mackey, it seems, was doing some gardening on the outlot during its ownership by George Washington, so it seems natural he purchased the property in due time.) The timing was coincidental to also captioning a neighboring building on National Avenue and doing a bit of light file diving for more information on the area.

Mackey himself has been somewhat overlooked in the history books, perhaps because his descendant Frederick W. M. Holliday later became Governor of Virginia and thus overshadowed him. Most references are of the passing type, as seen here: “[Frederick W. M. Holliday’s] maternal great-grandfather Dr. Robert Mackey was a surgeon in the war of the Revolution, and at its close located at Winchester, took high rank as a man and a physician, and was the ancestor of several prominent families, both here and in other parts of the State.” — Norris, History of the Lower Shenandoah Valley

Frederick Holliday was the last private owner of the boots said to have been worn by Lord Fairfax. While the local tradition is sketchy, allegedly Lord Fairfax traveled to Winchester to consult Dr. Cornelius Baldwin in his final hours on December 9, 1781. Upon passing away, the boots were left in Dr. Baldwin’s hall or given to him as a sign of affection and esteem. The more likely story, as recently documented in Virginia Baron: The Story of Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax, is that Dr. Mackey purchased the boots from the estate of Colonel Martin (believed to be the actual physician attending Lord Fairfax) in 1798. Mackey’s daughter Kitty married into the Baldwin family to explain the Baldwin connection to the tale. The boots subsequently passed through the Mackey descendants until they came into Holliday’s possession.

Until recently, the boots were unavailable for general viewing and seemed a bit like something out of a myth or existing just in dusty item catalogs (on par with the Sash of General Braddock). The confluence of names, locations, and images prompted another look to see if they had been added in the year or two since the last search, and finally, you may see these fabled boots entrusted to the Virginia Historical Society in their online collections.