Thursday, February 7, 2019

From Horse Breeding Farm to County Park

“They’re off and running folks!”

While these iconic words can still be heard at Monmouth Park Racetrack, the role of horse racing in Monmouth County actually goes much deeper. Although the sounds of galloping hooves are no longer heard at Thompson Park (aside from a few recreational trail riders), for nearly 100 years the park was used to breed and train thoroughbred racehorses.

Within the park, three major periods of the farm’s history have been preserved. From its colonial beginnings, this land was used as a rural farm. The Lloyd family purchased the farm around the time of the American Revolution. Thomas Lloyd would go on to build the largest house in Middletown on this property in 1786. This house and two barns from the Lloyd period still stand in the park today and are excellent reminders of Monmouth County’s early agricultural history.

The property continued to be used as a rural farm
until just after the Civil War, when a new craze began to sweep the northeast: horse racing. The “sport of kings” was introduced to the region by the southern gentry. For many wealthy businessmen in the area, they did not wish to merely watch these races; they wanted a part of the action! Members of the affluent landowning class began to buy horses of well-bred lineage, to breed horses on stud farms, and to train them to race. These elites became known as “Turfmen” and New Jersey became an ideal place for them.

Not only was New Jersey close to New York City, there was also plenty of flat, open land and a number of racetracks nearby. One of the masterminds behind the American Turf was David D. Withers. He purchased the rural farm in Lincroft and transformed it into Brookdale Stud Farm. Across the grounds, Withers began building new, large barns for the breeding of his horses. These barns remain the heart of Thompson Park today, serving as the Theatre and Activity Barns. The impressive 40-stall barn at the center of the park highlights the extent of his operation. Following Withers, the farm was purchased by Colonel William Payne Thompson in 1893.

At the turn of the century, Brookdale Farm saw yet another transformation. The Thompsons
Regret, the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, was trained
at Brookdale Farm.
renovated Wither’s house into a magnificent Colonial Revival mansion. Despite an early involvement in horse racing, the Thompsons soon began leasing the stables to others, allowing the Colonel to enjoy Brookdale as a country estate. When his son, Lewis, and daughter-in-law, Geraldine Thompson, received the property, they chose to use it as their permanent residence. During these years, famed trainers like James Rowe and Harry Payne Whitney worked the Stud Farm, producing a slew of champions and bringing national acclaim to the establishment. The first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, Regret, was bred and trained right here at Brookdale Farm.

By 1940, the heart of horse racing had moved south to the warmer temperatures of Kentucky, where horses could be trained year round. Despite this change, the Thompsons continued to play an active role in New Jersey society as philanthropists and politicians. Geraldine sustained this generosity in her donation of 215 acres to the Monmouth County Park System in 1968. Today guests can experience the serene beauty of Thompson Park as they walk the one mile Track Loop, where the horses used to train. Even though the horses are gone, visitors can still get a sense of history from the site and the impressive restored buildings across the park. For more information visit the exhibit located inside the Thompson Park Visitor Center. The first floor of the Visitor Center is open to the public on weekdays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Thompson Park

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Get a Taste of History this Winter

Though the temperatures are dropping, that doesn't mean you can't add some history to your schedule. Two of your Monmouth County Park System's historic sites are open throughout the year. Experiencing history, especially local history, offers a valuable look view of where we came from and how life and the community has evolved over time.

Historic Longstreet Farm

Step back in time with the sights and sounds (and smells!) of rural Monmouth County in the late 19th century. Nestled within Holmdel Park on Longstreet Road in Holmdel, Historic Longstreet Farm is staffed with historic interpreters who spend their days working the farm as it was done in the 1890s. Daily and seasonal chores demonstrate the various agricultural and domestic activities that were necessary to any working farm of this time period. From milking the cows to feeding the livestock, planting the vegetables to cleaning the animal stalls, our farm staff does it all, giving visitors the feeling of being sent back in time if only for a short while.

The site is maintained as a living historical farm with the purpose of interpreting the agricultural activities in Monmouth County's rural past. This interpretation includes the breeds of animals and crops raised at this site in the 1890's. For your safety, as well as the safety of the animals, we ask that you do not touch or feed the animals. As a general precaution when leaving this site, you are encouraged to wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. For further information about the Farm's livestock, click here.

Open daily, year round from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., visitors may enter at their leisure free of charge. (Please note that pets are not allowed within the farm.) On any given day you're sure to see the staff working the farm, but other activities and demonstrations are also available as well. The Farmhouse is open for tours on weekends and holidays, March through December, from 12-3:30 p.m. or by reservation (for reservation information, call 732-946-3758).

Parent/Child Morning Chores is offered from 8-9 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month (excluding October). Open to ages 4 and up, participants assist the staff with milking a cow, collecting eggs from the chickens, and feeding the livestock. This program meets at the Visitor Center and costs $15 per parent/child pair, $5 each additional participant (cash or check only please). Participants should dress for the weather and wear closed-toe shoes.

Free December drop-ins at Longstreet Farm include the following:

  • Blacksmith Demonstration - During your visit to the farm, head to the Blacksmith's workshop to see this skill in action from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, December 9.
  • Christmas Candymaking Demonstration - On Saturday, December 8 from 1-3 p.m. Brandy McCann will demonstrate the art of candy making, creating tasty chocolate delicacies and other sweet treats from the 1890s Fannie Farmer's cookbook.
  • The Sounds of Christmas from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, December 9. Celebrate the holidays with a visit to the beautiful Longstreet farmhouse where you can enjoy the wistful music of Larry Moser and Mary Nagin as they play Christmas carols on the hammered dulcimer and fiddle.
  • Christmas Sing-Along from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, December 15. Rick Garland will be playing the piano in the Longstreet farmhouse for an old-fashioned sing-along.
  • Visit with Santa on Saturday & Sunday, December 22 & 23 from 12-3 p.m. Enjoy an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas where children can visit with Santa and then take a walk to the farmhouse to have a cup of hot cider. Be sure to bring your camera to capture this memorable visit!
For more upcoming winter activities at Historic Longstreet Farm, visit our website

Historic Walnford

Tucked away in westernmost Monmouth County and within the heart of Crosswicks Creek Park, Historic Walnford is filled with fascinating history throughout the year. Once home to the Waln family, the site offers a look into both the family and the evolution of Walnford over two centuries - from an 18th century industrial village and family farm to an elegant country estate. Visit the large, elegant home built in 1774 and farm buildings set in a picturesque landscape. The site is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, and the historic buildings are open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.

Free December drop-ins at Historic Walnford include the following:
  • Sleigh Selfies from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday & Sunday, December 1 & 2. We'll have our decorative red sleigh and a selection of historical hats and bonnets ready for your selfies. Create a charming Currier & Ives style image to share for the holidays! (Please, no professional photographers.)
  • Samplers: Historical Documents Written with Needle and Thread from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, December 9. View local 18th and 19th century samplers from a private collection. This special show and tell afternoon will include what has been learned about the young women who created the samplers and share the progress of the carefully executed stitches recreating an 18th century Waln family sampler.
For more upcoming winter drop-in activities at Historic Walnford, visit our website

Questions? Call our Park System information staff at 732-842-4000, ext. 4312, or email us at

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Hey...Who is That?

I am always hoping to see a rare or unusual bird, and migration season is a good time to be on the lookout. An experienced birder once told me that a good place to spot an uncommon bird is within a flock of migrating, common birds. So, every spring and fall I get out my binoculars and scan flocks of Canada Geese, Brant, Starlings, Cowbirds and more. This past week I got lucky! A flock of sleeping Rudy Ducks caught my eye and, as I scanned through them, someone looked different - a little bigger than the rest.

I pulled out the binoculars and sure enough, there was a stranger with the flock! I took a few photos to use once I got home and could pull out my bird book. Bingo! A Eurasian Widgeon. A new bird for my life list and an uncommon visitor to Monmouth County.

Eurasian Widgeons are native to Europe and Asia, migrating seasonally between the two. While there are rare sightings of these beautiful birds in North America each year, they are not considered native to the New World and there have been no record of them breeding here. There have been some reported cases of them interbreeding with American Widgeons. The Eurasian Widgeons seen here are likely from eastern Siberia or Iceland. There are only three species of widgeon in the world, the Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope), the American Wigeon (M. americana) and the ChiloĆ© Widgeon (M. sibilatrix). The males of all three are very colorful while only the females of the ChiloĆ© Widgeon are also. They are dabbling ducks, eating from the bottom of shallow water by tipping their heads down rather than diving. Therefore, a good place to look for widgeons is along the edges of shallow water.

The next time you are able to observe a flock of migrating birds, scan the flock. Look for an individual that is slightly larger or smaller, has different color feet, or just looks different than the others. You might get lucky and spot a new bird for your life list!

Story and Photos by Park System Naturalist Ruth Carll
For more nature happenings in the parks, be sure to check out the Nature Now page on our website.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thompson Park Day is Coming!

Celebrate the changing of the seasons at this year’s Thompson Park Day! This Monmouth County Park System tradition offers everything an autumn event should: pumpkin painting, arts & crafts, kids' races, entertainment and much more! Best of all, it’s a chance for families to acquaint themselves with the year round charms of Thompson Park, a perfect place to for hiking, running, canoeing and other outdoor activities. All are invited to attend this family-friendly tradition and to stroll through the sights, sounds and smells of autumn. Held from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, October 14 at Thompson Park, 805 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft, Thompson Park Day is the quintessential fall event! 


Canoeing: Grab a paddle and hit the water in one of our canoes. Thompson Park's Marlu Lake is the perfect place to enjoy a paddle. All equipment is provided; canoeing will be weather permitting. (free)

Pumpkin Painting: Pumpkin painting is a great way to get into the Halloween spirit! This activity is great for all ages and simple enough for even the youngest in the family. (Two tickets are required for this activity.)

Pie Eating Contests: Bring your competitive spirit and your appetite! Adults and children chow down on delicious pumpkin pies while the stopwatch runs. Will you win the contest or even set a Thompson Park Day record?

Strut Your Mutt:
Think you have the cutest or spookiest dog in Monmouth County? Here's your chance to prove it. The Friends of the Parks' annual Strut Your Mutt Canine Halloween costume contest has become a popular event for dog owners to show off their creative talents, celebrate their pets, and share in the fun with other dog owners! The four-legged competitors are judged in
categories for funniest, scariest, prettiest, most original, and best canine/human combo. (Registration and fee of $15 required.)

Scarecrow Contest: Make the season extra special by building your own scarecrow! The Park System provides the framework and stuffing; you supply the face, outer covering (clothes, etc.), and imagination. Prizes will be awarded and the scarecrow is yours to take home. (Registration and fee of $12 required.)

But these are only a few of the fun activities you can enjoy. We'll also have Zany Zombies, archery, rides, the climbing wall, a photo booth, Golfzilla (weather dependent), mini golf, nature activities, grab & go ceramics, and so much more. Some activities may require purchase of tickets and/or a wristband. Check our website for full details. 

Theatre Barn Stage Entertainment

Kids on the Block Puppet Show is scheduled from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., this educational puppet show helps children learn about disabilities, as well as broader themes of friendship, community-building, the importance of expressing feelings, and celebrating differences.

The “It’s the Wolf!” Puppet Show at 1:15 p.m. is an interactive puppet production. Straw, sticks, bricks, and a huffing and puffing Big Bad Wolf bring hilarity and mayhem in this adaptation of the classic story, The Three Little Pigs.

The Curse of the Silver Pearl Swashbuckling Spooktacular at 2:45 p.m. is a pirate variety magic show starring Boot Buckle Bob pirate extraordinaire and offers skull juggling, plank walking hilarity, egg tossing vanishes, music and plenty of audience participation and laughs! Arghhhh you ready?

The Little Rockers Band from 4:15-5 p.m. brings a fun, fresh way to introduce your children to music. The Little Rockers Band is a popular local group that introduces music in a variety of ways.

To learn more about Thompson Park Day or other Park System activities, please visit or call the Park System at 732-842-4000. For persons with hearing impairment, the Park System TTY/TDD number is 711. The Monmouth County Park System, created in 1960 by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, is Monmouth County’s Open Space, Parks, and Recreation agency.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Explore & Discover Your Park System Trails

When you hear the word “trail” what comes to mind? Is it a winding dirt path under towering trees, or a wide paved path alongside a winding river or pond?

The National Recreation and Park Association conducted a survey among 1,005 adult Americans, and 36% stated they use a trail for hiking, running or walking. That’s one in three Americans visiting their local parks with friends, family members or pets to destress.

Monmouth County is truly a great place to live, being recognized as having one of the most beautiful park systems throughout New Jersey. As residents, we cherish our trails as the perfect balance between land and sea. These trails offer simple strolls along ocean, forest and river views, while others take you over isolated valleys. Some are easy and moderate flat paths, and others are more difficult taking you up and down hills; you pick your path!

Whether you’re running, walking or biking, Park System trails are ideal places to learn about and practice healthy lifestyles; connect with nature, history and culture; and relax in a setting removed from the noise and distractions of daily life. More importantly, spending time outdoors grants future generations the gift of learning to appreciate and enjoy nature. Being on trails allows children to step away from screens and get outdoors to use their imagination. Above all, it becomes a fun way for families to get fresh air, exercise and explore the great outdoors together.

Choosing a trail can be the most overwhelming part of getting outdoors. The Monmouth County Park System has over 16,000 acres of land and 139 miles of trails. That’s a lot of area to cover! It's important to find a trail that is best suited to your age and level of fitness. Here are some of the most popular trails in Monmouth County that inspire us to get out and discover:
  • If you haven’t been to Hartshorne Woods Park, you’re missing out on the best hiking and biking trails near the shore! A true Monmouth County favorite, Hartshorne Woods is a hilly, forested 787-acre site with over 14 miles of extensive trails for all levels, some of which offer amazing views of the Navesink River. 
  • Holmdel Park has a reputation as it is the site of a variety of cross country meets. The shady woods and rolling hills are the perfect setting for exploring over nine miles of trails. Be forewarned of “The Bowl” which has become infamous throughout the running community. While on this section of the trail, one first descends down around this long hill. Then, after the last turn, one travels up a steep 150-foot incline. It's the perfect challenge for the seasoned runner.
  • Tatum Park features over six miles of trails through rolling hills and open fields where you're sure to spot a variety of species of birds. Run or walk through the winding paths that take you through the oak forest and meadows of tulip trees. 
  • The scenic Manasquan Reservoir is popular for its five mile loop trail offering excellent views of wetlands, wooded forests and wildflower meadows. The area is home to 200 species of birds, including a Bald Eagle nesting pair. A favorite for all ages, the trail is wide and flat enough for strollers, bicyclists and horseback riders. 
  • The beautiful 988-acre, family-oriented Shark River Park has become a staple through the seasons. Nine miles of trails pass through several habitats, including a coastal river and floodplain, gravel-capped sandy hills, a cedar swamp, and several sphagnum bogs. 
But these are only a few of the trails that will get you discovering the outdoors. Learn about all the Monmouth County Park System trails so you can get out an explore all year round.

Now that we’ve shared some of our best trails with you, we’d love to hear from you! Tell us about your favorite trails and share photos with us of your adventures on our Facebook page. We'll see you in the parks!