100 Years At Hamilton Farm: A Glimpse At Gladstone Through The Ages

Jun 14, 2011 - 5:31 AM

Imagine waking up in the dorms of the U.S. Equestrian Team’s Gladstone, N.J., headquarters in the 1960s. In the room next door is your teammate, Frank Chapot, a legend in the making. Waiting for you in the aisle way of the adjacent barn is your coach, the venerable Bertalan de Némethy, eager to steal your stirrups away.

The horses have already been fed in varnished stalls appointed with brass fittings—Snowbound, San Lucas and others who’ve been furnished to the team by the USET. The most obvious next step is to saddle up and train. It’s time to get moving. This is your academy.

Hamilton Farm, Gladstone, N.J., has been headquarters to the USET since 1961, but its history spans back another 50 years. In 1911, James Cox Brady, a Wall Street financier and heir to his father’s utility fortune, bought a 180-acre parcel of land alongside the farm of fellow Essex Fox Hounds member and pharmaceutical magnate Charles Pfizer. Over the next few years, Brady’s enthusiasm for the country life grew, leading him to amass upwards of 5,000 acres across Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset counties. On a clear day, he was said to have had a view of the Hudson River from the windows of his 64-room Gregorian mansion.

From its inception, Hamilton Farm was home to cattle, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs and sheep, but Brady prided himself on his prized breeding stock, including champion Hackney stallion Hamilton Model and influential Shetland stallion King Larigo. Clydesdales, Percherons and a string of racehorses rounded out the herd, and Brady had grand visions for the regal barn he’d build for them.

Palace Of Dual Purposes

By 1917, construction was complete on the most palatial stable of the era: a two-story structure in which tiled walls and terrazzo floors lined carriage, harness, tack and trophy rooms, living quarters, offices and an ornate rotunda entryway. Fifty-four stalls on two levels were floored with cord brick and barred with wrought iron, and accents of stained glass, oak and pine were found throughout the building.

By the early 1920s, Brady’s farm was flourishing. The Essex Fox Hounds regularly rode out from Hamilton, jovially partaking of pre-hunt stirrup cups in the stable’s gravel courtyard. But at the height of ascendency, fate intervened: In 1927, Brady came down with pneumonia and died shortly thereafter. His third wife, Helen McMahon Brady, was not the enthusiastic farmer her husband had been and sold off most of the livestock after his death.

But with the outbreak of World War II, a new purpose was in store for Hamilton. Uninterested in maintaining the stable herself, Helen offered the use of the facility to the government and financed its conversion into an emergency hospital for injured U.S. merchant marines. The harness rooms were changed into an operating suite, the hayloft became a recreational shuffleboard court, and the farm itself was dubbed “Hamilton Farm Hospital Base No. 1.” Throughout the course of the war, thousands of marines were treated at Hamilton before hospital operations ceased in 1947.

After the war, Harden Crawford, granddaughter of James Cox Brady, decided to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps by enlisting Brady’s former groom, Ted Williams, to teach her to drive a carriage. Crawford scraped up the hospital’s linoleum flooring, returned the stable to its former grandeur and earned a few driving ribbons along the way—but it was Williams who provided the vital link between Hamilton’s equestrian past and future.

A Stable Renewed

By 1950, the mounted cavalry of the U.S. Army—the original governing body for Olympic equestrian teams—had been absorbed and disbanded by armored divisions. The Army’s relinquished control of equestrian sports precipitated the formation of the USET, and by 1961, Whitney Stone, then-president of the 10-year-old organization, approached Williams, a fellow horseman, to discuss the establishment of a base for his itinerant team. Through Williams, an agreement was struck to lease the stable and surrounding acreage to the USET, initiating a new era of organization and teamwork.

The 1960s were heydays at Hamilton Farm. Bertalan De Némethy, a Hungarian cavalry officer and coach of the U.S. show jumping team since 1955, ushered in a program of strict training and discipline, drilling riders on the lunge without stirrups or reins. Under de Némethy’s eye, legendary riders like Frank Chapot, Joe Fargis, Kathy Kusner and William Steinkraus bunked at Hamilton and competed horses that were provided by the USET. In 1968, during de Némethy’s reign, Steinkraus won individual gold at the Mexico City Olympic Games.

Though the USET’s provision of horses to team riders was eventually phased out and specialized selection of individual riders and horses became the norm, the U.S. teams continued to train at Hamilton under the formidable guidance of coaches like Chrystine Jones Tauber and Jack Le Goff.

Modern Headquarters

In 1978, the Beneficial Management Company bought 500 acres of Hamilton Farm, including the stable and training facilities. For 10 years, the USET continued to lease the facilities, but in 1988 Beneficial Management donated the stable and surrounding acreage to the team, guaranteeing a permanent home base. Portions of the stable had already been converted into offices for the daily management of high-level equestrian sport, while some 500 acres adjoining the facility were developed into the present-day Hamilton Farm Golf Club.

In 2003, the USET merged with USA Equestrian to create the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the current governing body for the equestrian disciplines of dressage, eventing, jumping, driving, endurance, reining, para equestrian and vaulting. At the same time, the USET Foundation was established to raise the necessary funds for High Performance athletes to compete in international competition. The USET Foundation is still headquartered at Hamilton today.

The farm underwent renovations in 2010, including complete re-footing of the competition arena that had hosted numerous clinics and competitions over the years, including the Festival of Champions, the Talent Search—East, George Morris’ Horsemastership Training Sessions and Pony Club rallies. Prior to the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, the U.S. dressage team continued a tradition begun by their early-USET predecessors by holding their final training sessions at Hamilton and departing directly from Gladstone for Kentucky.

Visitors to modern-day Hamilton Farm encounter historical plaques and black-and-white photos lining the walls of the stable’s rotunda entryway. The trophy room boasts display cases depicting the history of the USET, while the second-floor Whitney Stone Library, with its tables, chairs and a large projection screen, is used for meetings and presentations by several equestrian organizations.

The facility is open to visitors and available to rent for social events and galas, and on the off chance that you encounter a rider schooling in the ring, you’ll be looking on a legacy begun by James Cox Brady some 100 years ago. Over the course of those 100 years, Hamilton Farm has hosted huntsmen, horsemen, marines and a foundation. Who can say what the next 100 years will bring?

As a youngster, Chronicle of the Horse staffer Abby Gibbon was mystified by a black-and-white photo of her grandfather competing in a jumper class in the 1960s. He wasn’t wearing a helmet! His saddle pad was non-existent! The wall he was jumping looked like it would knock you down, too, if you happened to knock it! In the past 50 years, the world of equestrianism has evolved, but one thing is still for certain: History is something we all share as horse enthusiasts, and we’ve got to explore it to learn from it. Armed with nearly 75 years of Chronicle archives, Abby plans to unearth articles we haven’t examined for too many years, shedding light on how far we’ve come – and how far we still have to go – as modern horsemen.

Have ideas for historical topics? Questions or curiosities? Please e-mail Abby – she’d love to hear from you!

Category: Blog Entry

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