Harvey S. Ladew’s passion for fox hunting started early in life and is what lured him to the Maryland countryside in the early 1920’s. Born into wealth and privilege in 1886, Harvey S. Ladew grew up in Westbury, Long Island. As the area became more suburbanized in the 1920s, it became less and less agreeable to the sport of fox hunting. Friends of Mr. Ladew had heard “…great tales of the wonderful hunting country in Harford County and thought it would be fun to try it.” Ladew spent several seasons hunting in Maryland, not only enjoying the hunt, but the variety of social opportunities that accompanied the sport.
His increasing fondness for the Maryland countryside and new friends inspired him to buy the house and property known as Pleasant Valley Farm from the Scarff family in 1929. It was no coincidence that the 200+ acre property was adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club. He sold his home in Long Island and moved to Maryland – “…where I have been happy ever since,” he wrote in the 1960s.
Pleasant Valley Farm included a frame farmhouse, which had been built in two sections during the last half of the 1700s and the first half of the 1800s. The house contained an entrance hall, with two rooms on the left and two rooms on the right on the ground floor and four bedrooms upstairs. What it did not contain, however, was plumbing or electricity.
Ladew renovated the old and added on the new. With the help of architect, James W. O’Connor, and interior decorators, Billy Baldwin, Jean Levy and Ruby Ross Wood, he converted the rustic farmhouse into a comfortable and luxurious country home. It is important to note here, that although his team was internationally renowned, the house was essentially the creation of Ladew himself.
Ladew traveled extensively and whatever made an impression on him, he remembered. He also was quite fond of searching for “treasure” in antique and second hand stores. On one of his travels he purchased a Chippendale partners’ desk, which is so named because it seats two. When he took delivery of the desk, he discovered it was too large for either his office or drawing room. Upon hearing of his dilemma, a friend said “Why not build a room around it?” And so he did.
The Oval Library is considered by many to be their favorite room in the house. It contains over 2,500 books and visitors are always delighted when the secret door is revealed. Helen Comstock included the library in her book One Hundred Most Beautiful Rooms in America.
The house is a living legacy and a wonderful tribute to the style, elegance and wit of the man who created them. Visitors enjoy docent led tours through the Manor House with the last scheduled tour at 3pm on weekdays and 3:30pm on weekends.