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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
James & Terri