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

No comments:

Post a Comment