Architecture / Kentucky / Slice of Americana / Travel

The End of The Trail: Hamburg Place Horse Cemetery

Shopping centers all across America have the same homogeneous mix of big-box and trendy fashion stores, but their marketing departments would have you believe that their mall is unique.

hamburg-pavillion

However, in Lexington, Kentucky there’s a sprawling, multi-use commercial area called Hamburg Place that, for a couple of reasons, actually is unique. First, in the not so distant past, it was a famous and very successful horse farm. And second, in the middle of all these shops, restaurants, cinemas, homes and condos is a horse cemetery.

The Lexington Tourist board brochure claims that there are over 400 horse farms surrounding the city. So it’s no surprise that an expanding urban area would outgrow its boundaries and swallow up a horse farm or two. But, Hamburg Place was no one-horse, horse farm.

john-e-madden

In the early 20th Century the well-known farm was owned by John Madden. Nicknamed “The King of the Turf,” Madden had a genius for spotting horses with undeveloped talent which he then trained to become equine superstars.

The front entryway of John E. Madden's farm Hamburg Place in Lexington, Kentucky as it appeared in 1911.

The front entryway of John E. Madden’s farm Hamburg Place in Lexington, Kentucky as it appeared in 1911.

He bred winners: five of the Kentucky Derby; five of the Belmont Stakes; and his most famous horse, Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner.

Sir Barton and jockey Johnny Loftus, 1919 Preakness Stakes.

Sir Barton and jockey Johnny Loftus, 1919 Preakness Stakes.

Impressive stats no doubt, but to put this achievement in perspective, the Triple Crown includes three premier races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. In 141 years of racing, there have only been 12 Triple Crown winners. Madden’s children followed in his footsteps and Hamburg Place continued to be a powerhouse of producing exceptional racehorses.

sir-barton-way

All of Madden’s horses are long gone, but their memory lives on as street names in the shopping area as well as the surrounding residential neighborhood. So your drive to shop, eat, or see a movie at Hamburg is a veritable Who’s Who of thoroughbred horses in the 20th Century. You’ll travel: Sir Barton Way, Old Rosebud Road, Grey Lag Way, Star Shoot Parkway, Flying Ebony Drive, Pink Pigeon Parkway, and Alysheba Way – exceptional horses all.

hp-horse-cemetery

But a more tangible reminder of what once occupied this 1300 acres of rolling pasture land is The Hamburg Place Horse Cemetery.

The attractive, limestone-walled burial ground is meticulously manicured and sits between a small tree-lined creek and Sir Barton Way. The developers have taken great pains to make the site pleasant, but intrepid researches will discover that this location is the graveyard’s second home. In what for some may be a sad irony, it was moved slightly down hill from its original location to make room for a Walmart Parking lot.

Urban expansion inevitably happens at the expense of rural areas, and there are convincing arguments on both sides. Townies love the convenience and country folk fear the incursion on their lifestyle.

The last stanza of Denton Loving’s nostalgic and touching poem Horse Cemetery, laments both the passing of horses and the disappearance of farmland:

“These days, I walk the boundary lines
without my father. How many years longer
will cattle pasture here before the land
is sub-divided and lived off of
in yet a different way? I worry
someday there might be a boy like I was
who can’t believe this place was once a farm
with fields of cattle and a way of life
that faded like the sun over the western woods
where there was once a horse cemetery.”

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

so-long

41 thoughts on “The End of The Trail: Hamburg Place Horse Cemetery

    • Thanks for the comment Shubham and dropping by the blog. I’m certain that there are interesting stories about people and places on the fringes of most cities. The city expands and slowly but surely, things change in the countryside. ~James

  1. We can always count on the two of you to find the most unique spots on the planet. A horse cemetery and a shopping mall? Well that’s not a combination one sees to often. To be honest I didn’t know there were horse cemeteries. Always learning going on over at Gallivance. Hugs to both of you. xo

    • Thanks Sue. This post topic is a good example of one of those interesting things that sat right in front me and I had no clue. I’ve driven by this horse cemetery many times and never took the time to find out what it was. I just had to take off the blinders (pun intended) to see, and do a bit of digging to find the story. As you know, there’s a lesson here for all bloggers. ~James

    • Joyce, it’s interesting to think about what might be buried beneath these huge paved areas. People were living on the land long before Walmart and shopping centers, so who knows what could be buried. Love, JH

    • Thanks Darlene. Not everyone is crazy about the concept and impact of large shopping malls, so they’re seen as a mixed blessing. But at least in this case, the owners and developers made a good effort to conserve a part of the history that made the horse farm important. ~James

  2. Pink Pigeon?! The poor horse saddled with a name like that! Thankfully he overcame the handicap 🙂

    A very unique concept – and likely one that surprises all newcomers to the area.

    • Thanks Rusha. As I said before, this cemetery is one of those “right in your own backyard” sights that’s easy to miss, and yet interesting when you make a bit of effort. It really is a nice spot, and the shopping area nearby has all you need and then some. ~James

  3. How interesting….and unusual. These horses have such intense hard lives, at least in their final resting place they are truly honored.

    My husband once lost “fortunes” at the horse races by backing one named “Lady Peta”..

    Peta

    • Intense hard lives – well put Peta. You don’t have to spend much time around thoroughbred horses to see how hard they work and the focus that it takes to be competitive. And sorry for the loss at the track. However, one thing that I’ve learned about betting on horses is that the worse thing to happen is to have a strategy pay off. Then I believe that it actually works, when in reality, it doesn’t. ~James

    • Sorry you missed the cemetery LuAnn, but don’t feel too badly. It’s so unexpected in the location and is easy to miss. You know the area and the importance that thoroughbred horses play here, and it’s good to see that the developers took the effort to preserve this tribute to all these outstanding horses. Hope all is well on your end. ~James

    • Thanks Laura. Not only was Madden a genius trainer of horses, but he had a great deal of respect for them. In fact, the mall is called Hamburg Place which is named after his first successful horse Hamburg. When he sold this horse, he used the money that he made to buy his horse farm. ~James

      • Our area in the prairies also has a horse ownership culture but more related to ranchland work and just equestrian sports….a lot less prestigious racing than maybe your area. I am in Alberta, our city hosts the annual largest Canadian rodeo… We haven’t gotten into horsey cemetery. I would be surprised if we do.. we’re in an economic downturn right now!

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