Legacy of Hermitage Farm
Henshaw-Waters family history
Center pays tribute to one of
Oldham Countys horse breeding meccas
GOSHEN, Ky. (March 2005) When David Carter
first went to work at Hermitage Farm, he had no idea his career would
span 37 years on the thoroughbred farm. Characterized by its red and
black barns, the Oldham County, Ky., farm lies off of a scenic byway
along Hwy. 42.
Kentucky Edition Cover
Carter first worked at Hermitage in January 1941 but left
after a year and a half to enter military service. He returned in May
1948 and remained until September 1985 as a foreman.
He said of his job at the farm: Its something that grows
on you my father did the same thing. Carters
father, Frank, also worked at Hermitage Farm. Carter followed in his
footsteps. Two of his own sons were employed on the farm, establishing
a three-generation link to Hermitage Farm.
But Hermitage Farm has roots that span generations and tie it to Oldham
Countys rich farming history. The Henshaw-Waters family originally
owned the farm from 1825-1935. This family also owned the historic Locust
Grove farm in Louisville.
Hermitage is the focus of an exhibit that will run March 5 through May
11 at the Oldham County History Center in La Grange, Ky. On display
will be clothing from the Henshaw-Waters family, equine photographs
and miscellaneous artifacts surrounding the events that made Hermitage
A private opening reception will be held March 4, with appetizers and
a cash bar available. This celebration will include a bluegrass music
concert by the Cumberlands in the 1880s Presbyterian Church, located
next door to the Peyton Samuel Head Museum on the History Center property.
Hermitage Farm is 700 acres of lush, prime pastureland where thoroughbreds
can be found prancing across the fields or languidly grazing on a summers
day. The farm has a 60-year tradition of breeding stakes winners.
Warner L. Jones Jr., who had a distinguished career in the thoroughbred
industry, in 1935 purchased the farm from the Henshaw-Waters family.
Mr. Jones was a good horseman and a good salesman, said
Carter. Both qualities can be attributed to Hermitage Farms success
at breeding stakes winners.
Some of the farms outstanding horses include Dark Star (1953 Kentucky
Derby winner), Lomond (English 2000 Guineas), Shaadi (Irish 2000 Guineas),
Northern Trick (French Oak) and Gaily (Irish 1000 Guineas)
Dark Star was sired by Royal Gem, an Australian import. Jones had seen
him race in Australia while in the service. Royal Gems groom came
with him to Hermitage Farm and stayed for six months.
When it comes to horse racing and breeding, a lot of it is luck, said
Carter. Hermitage began as a traditional farm, with the owners raising
hogs, cattle and sheep. When thoroughbreds were introduced, Carter said
he chose to work with the horses. It has evolved into one of the most
famous thoroughbred farms, both nationally and internationally.
by Helen McKinney
Leet and David Carter hold a painting of a Hermitage Farm barn
created by artist Ann Carter. David Carter worked for 37 years
at Hermitage Farm. Leet, whose father worked on the farm, is helping
to organize the exhibit.
Hermitage is thought to be the place where orchard
grass was introduced as a crop in Kentucky, said Oldham County
History Center Executive Director Nancy Theiss. Warner Jones cultivated
the Hermitage as a first class thoroughbred operation.
The Queen of England even visited the farm in 1987 to view the breeding
stock. Hermitage was the first to break the $1 million barrier for the
yearling sales at Keeneland in 1985 with the sale of a colt bred from
Nijinsky II and My Charmer, for $13.1 million.
But in the horse industry, there is always a great risk of something
going wrong, said Hermitage Farm General Manager Bill Landes. You have
to jump through a lot of hoops, and a lot of horses dont
make it through those hoops.
When the birth of a foal has been anticipated for a year, failure can
be heartbreaking. A foal can be stillborn or breech causing complications
for the mother, or the yearling may not bring the expected price at
the yearling sales. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Farm managers, such as Tom Shartle and current manager Brian Nipenberg,
work every day out of the year to get the work done, said Landes. On
a farm, there are no such things as holidays; the horses must be cared
for on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Along with Warner Jones, former farm manager Scipio Napier was instrumental
in masterfully laying out the farm, said Landes. Napier
had a common sense and vision, said Landes that went beyond
his duties as farm manager.
Landes, originally from York, Pa., came to the farm in 1977 for a one-year
internship to learn the horse business. He remained by mutual agreement
with Jones and pure enjoyment for the job. I enjoy the people,
business, land and the horses. Theres no nicer place to work,
The farm is basically the same as it was when Landes joined the staff
in 1977, he said. This continuity is what Landes likes best about his
job and why he has remained there.
He views Hermitage as an asset to the county because it is a green space
that is privately maintained, with little demands on the county. Landes
said so many people enjoy the farm as they drive by each day. Throughout
the spring and summer, passersby watch the foals grow up, said Landes.
Betty Leet was able to experience everyday life at Hermitage firsthand
from 1946-1949. Her father, Clay White, was a foreman at Hermitage,
caring for brood mares and helping birth foals.
by Helen McKinney
Oldham County History Exhibit features many photographs
and artifacts from
the horse racing days
at Hermitage Farm
in Goshen, Ky.
It was a sweet place to live, said Leet. We
were free to roam the land, and enjoyed playing in the fields. We loved
Leet and Evelyn Peterson have volunteered their time to construct the
Hermitage Farm exhibit at the History Center. Jones had an office on
the farm. He was always present, except for when he left for races.
Leets father loved the horses as much as Jones.
One special recollection Leet has is of the 1948 Kentucky Derby. She
remembers her father running into the house and yelling, Turn
on the radio! Turn on the Radio! The Derbys on. There were
no TVs at her home the year Citation won the Derby. Leet said her father
was crazy about that horse.
The goal of Hermitage Farm is to breed mares and produce foals 11 months
later. Foals are raised to ages 15-18 months, then taken to market at
the Keeneland September sales. It is these yearling sales that have
made Hermitage a profitable farm.
Jones and current owner Carl Pollard have invested a sizable amount
of money and guidance in the operation of the farm, said Landes. They
supported the farm through the good years and bad years. Pollard took
over the farm in 1994, after having been associated with Jones through
a shared love of golf and horses.
Jones was gruff on the outside but soft on the interior,
said Landes. He was difficult to please but always appreciative. He
had a soft spot for children, said Landes. Jones is credited with
organizing the Oldham County Football League.
Originally from Jefferson County, Ky., Jones spent a lot of time in
the Lexington area as a young man. He noticed most horse farms were
surrounded by white fences, which needed painting every year. His solution
was to paint his fences black, thus the paint job would last two to
three times as long.
A distinctive feature of the farm is its five-board panel fence. Most
farms are fenced with a three-board fence, but Jones wanted something
different and better than his neighbors, so he added two more boards.
In 1977, Hermitage Farm was located out in the country. Now its
in the middle of suburbia. But most would agree that it is something
For more information on the History Center exhibit,
contact Nancy Theiss at (502) 222-0826 or visit: www.oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
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