If Chestertown has a home- grown aristocrat, Wilbur Ross Hubbard is it. He owns Widehall, the fanciest house in town. He is the best dancer in town. He maintains the best, make that the only, private pack of fox hounds in the Kent County. He is not only the town's most experihenced fox hunter, he is--at the age of 86--the oldest active master of hounds in the world.
Ride all day, dance all night. That's what people in Chestertown have been saying about Wilbur Ross Hubbard for most of the century.
Back home in Chestertown after a spring tour of private ch.ateaux in the French countryside, Hubbard recently consented to an interview. He is a small, handsome man with pale blue eyes and a full head of white hair. Though his shoulders are stooped with age, he appears remarkably fit. He still rides to the hounds several times a week. Never married, he continues to dance at a swirl of high- society balls and cotillions in Baltimore and New York.
During a well-practiced tour of Widehall, Hubbard spoke of his mother, Etta Ross Hubbard, a Ross of Ballangow Castle, Scotland. She was the first person in town to show an interest in historic restoration. In the first two decades of this century, she restored Widehall, which was built in 1769. During the res- toration, Hubbard said, townsfolk did not understand what his mother was up to.
"The neighbors would say, 'Mrs. Hubbard bought that old house and she's filling it with old furniture,'" Hubbard said.
The Georgian mansion, with formal gardens that sweep down from the Ionic pillars of the back porch to the Chester River, is now a museum of Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture, antique Oriental rugs, needlepoint valances, mahogany staircases and sterling silver door locks. The mantel over one fireplace is crowded with a dozen silver fox-hunting horns.
"This is my display," said Hubbard, "being a master of hounds I am terribly interested in horns."
The money to pay for the restoration of Widehall came from Hubbard's father, Wilbur Watson Hubbard. He owned and managed Peerless Fertilizer Company, which for years was a major employer in Chestertown. It has since been sold.
The senior Hubbard built nearly a score of houses in Chestertown for black employes of the fertilizer plant. They were located "uptown," away from the fashionable river front, in a troubled section of town that blacks used to call "Santiago." Over the years, the houses--which never had indoor bathrooms --deteriorated into the town's worst eyesore.
Wilbur Ross Hubbard sold them, along with the land they were built on, to the city in the late 1970s. He says the houses deteriorated because the residents did not take care of them. Referring to blacks, Hubbard says, "They just are not constructive people who take care of things."
Hubbard attended private schools (a preparatory school in Paris, Yale, George Washington University Law School) and served as a lieutenant in the horse-drawn artillery during World War I. Throughout, he honed his interest in horses.
"My mother always said that when I was old enough to walk and talk a little, she came into my bedroom, found a maid down on her hands and knees and I was riding her," says Hubbard. "My mother used to say, 'You've been riding every since.'"
After law school, Hubbard moved to Baltimore and became president of four agri- businesses. Although he was one of Baltimore's most eligible bachelors, he did not marry.
"I asked three girls to marry me and they all married big handsome men," said Hubbard. "The one who wanted me--one even proposed to me--I knew that I would not be happy with them."
After he retired in 1961, Hubbard moved back to Widehall and became increasingly interested in historic preservation. He restored the Customs House, an 18th-century Federal-style brick building which stands across High Street from Widehall. He also founded a local group called Preservation, Inc.
Hubbard's willingness to spend money on historic structures runs in the family. His late sister, Miriam Hubbard Morris, who died last year, owned "The Lindens," an 18th-century Georgian mansion in Washington. Morris, a noted authority on American furniture and decorative arts, bought The Lindens in 1934 in Massachusetts and had it reassembled on Kalorama Road. Last January, an auction of her furniture fetched $2.3 million at Christie's in New York.
In his tour of Widehall, Hubbard chose to speak more of his family's longevity than of their money. His mother lived to be 96, his sister to be 90. Hubbard, who has never smoked and drinks "very little," attributes his health to his mother's "genes" and to his father's advice about "living sensibly."
"My dad said, 'Son, I advise you to not be a prude. Use moderation in all things, but don't refuse to go out with the boys.'"