The Lost Trotting Parks Storyboard Archives

The Lost Trotting Parks Storyboard Archives

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sunnyside Farm by Sulky -- March 1888

Charles Horace Nelson with
Champion Trotting Stallion, Nelson 4209

This article in an 1888 issue of Wallace's Monthly illustrates that at one point in time, Waterville, Maine was held in high regard for its contribution to the breeding of horses in the State of Maine. Hod Nelson's reputation as a horse breeder was recognized throughout the United States and Canada, and Sunnyside Farm was a destination for both horsemen and the curious. If you have any knowledge of Sunnyside Farm and Hod Nelson's famous trotting stallion, Nelson, please contact us by e-mailing or calling 207-242-7774.

Wallace's Monthly

By John Hankins Wallace


There are many fine places in the good old State of Maine, but I fail to recall a more lovely spot than the young city of Waterville, whose broad streets, kept in the best of condition, fine residences, all neatly painted and showing unmistakable signs of prosperity, its busy factories, and the great carworks of the Maine Central Railroad all tend to lend an air of business which is not always to be found either in Maine or more pretentious States. Within five minutes' walk of the depot stands the Elmwood Hotel, one of the best conducted houses that it has been my pleasure to patronize, and within its walls I found the genial proprietor of Sunnyside Farm, who with his charming wife has made it their headquarters for the past eight years. I do not propose to weary the readers of the Monthly by a description of my trip from New York to this charming place, only saying that the passage by boat and rail was most delightful, the time passing quickly away by the aid of cheerful companions. It's a cold day when one cannot join a whist party after leaving Boston, and with four good players I know of no game which is more sure to help pass the hours quickly and pleasantly.

As my object in writing this article is to give the readers of the Monthly a little light upon the farm whose caption can be found at the head of this page, I will proceed to introduce to them its proprietor, Mr. С. Н. Nelson, whose fame as a breeder, not only in the East, but throughout the United States and Canada, is as “familiar as a household word." Mr. Nelson is comparatively a young man, being but forty-five years of age, but his experience as a driver and breeder stamps him as among the foremost. Mr. Nelson is a native of the State which he so well represents among horsemen, having been born in Waldo County, and his early days were spent in a country grocery store which was owned by his father. When the war for the maintenance of the Union was being waged, he went to the front as a member of the Nineteenth Maine Regiment, and served with credit to himself and the State. Upon his return he again resumed his work in the store, but subsequently found that the confinement was telling upon his health, and thereupon decided to try his hand at breeding, which he began on a small scale, but the shrewd Yankee element in him soon placed him in a position to compete with older heads and more experienced men in the business.

When I asked Mr. Nelson to tell me something about his start in breeding, his answer was: "Well, the first thing in my mind was to secure a first-class brood-mare, and as a result I selected Gretchen, by Gideon, because of the great speed shown by Kate, her dam, and of the fact that she (Kate) had already dropped a fine roadster." That the selection was a most excellent one no one familiar with her produce will for a moment deny. Gretchen is now twenty years old, but as I saw her in the pasture capering with young horses, I should never have suspected her age. But I am getting a little ahead of my story. 

Therefore I will drop back to a description of Sunnyside— most appropriately named from its location, lying as it does on the side- hill, where the sun has full play from its first rising in the east until it sets in the distant west. Although Sunnyside comprises 540 acres of as fine land for hay and pasturage as lays out of doors, it is divided into two farms. On the one is a fine residence and three barns where most of the brood-mares and young stock are kept, and upon the other is kept the stallions for service, and where is situated two large barns and a substantial, old-fashioned house used for the numerous help about the place. Upon this latter place is also contemplated still another large barn, as the present quarters are getting decidedly too small for the growing business. That the farm is a popular resort for Maine horsemen is amply proven by the great number of people who visit the place, often running up to a hundred in a single day. Mr. Nelson purchased the farm in 1882 and settled down to business.

Prior to settling in Waterville, Gretchen was bred to Gen. Knox, and the result was Knox Girl, 2:31^, who since making her record has been used as a brood-mare. In 1873 Gretchen dropped Onward by Otis Morrill, who has proven a good horse and has Ben Butler, pacer, to his credit, with a record in 1887 of 2:29^. I do not propose to speak of all of the foals of Gretchen, but only of those that have more prominently come before the public. In 1877 she dropped Susie Owen, 2:26, by Daniel Boone, and who was sold, if I remember rightly, to Mr. George G. Hall, of the Adams House, Boston, for a good round price. In 1880 Gretchen was bred to Young Rolfe, purchased by Mr. Nelson of Mr. W. P. Balch, of Boston, who bred him, and the result was Daisy Rolfe, that proved a very fast young mare, but she was never fully developed for speed, as she was reserved for a brood-mare, and she now has a fine filly by her side by Dictator Chief. The following year Gretchen dropped Nelson 2:21*4, by Young Rolfe, and he has justly earned for himself the title of "Lord of the Seraglio"—I like that word because so many writers have patented the word harem, that something new sounds fresh. Young Rolfe was subsequently sold for $5,000 to Mr. John Sheppard, of Boston, and died in a race at Mystic Park in 1884. He left but thirty-two colts, if I am not mistaken.

And right here I want to speak of the stallions kept at Sunnyside. Business grew to such proportions that the services of more stallions were required, and from time to time new purchases were made of popular breeds, until today Mr. Nelson has thirteen fine horses on hand, eleven of which are at public service, while one, Onward, is on the sick list, and Artist is kept for private use.

Of this number Nelson heads the list, and his services are in such demand that his book was full long before the opening of the stud season. He was foaled in 1882; got by Young Rolfe, 3517, son of Tom Rolfe, 306; dam Gretchen, by Gideon,145; grandam Kate, pedigree yet in doubt, but being traced. Every horseman is familiar with the performances of Nelson, and when in 1885 he broke the three-year old half-mile track record, by trotting the mile in 2:26^ at Lewiston, Me., he was looked upon as a wonder. In 1887 he lowered his record to 2:21^ at Boston. He is a grandly-built horse, standing 15.3/4 hands high, and of most excellent proportions—a beautiful bay, with black points, excellent head and neck, long, full, round barrel and with indications of great lung power; breast wide and full; good stifles; fine legs and feet, and with a full mane, and a tail which " trails upon the ground," he is a picture well worth seeing. Many believe that he is capable of beating the stallion record, but whether this be so or not can only be shown by a trial, and this will undoubtedly be given him in 1889, as it is the intention of his owner to retire him from service and make the attempt. If I am not misinformed, Mr. Nelson is the first gentleman in America to breed, raise and drive a stallion to a record equal to that of Nelson. Of his trotting qualities I can do no better than quote his owner:

“His gait is like a piece of well- balanced machinery, and he needs neither weights nor boots. His rate of speed is such, I think, drawn from the stud one season, he could trot in 2:12 to 2:14. As he never gets sore, like most horses, his gait is so friction- less he is at all times ready to go without that long jogging to warm him out. He was not hitched to a sulky until the last day of July in 1887, and the last of September trotted Mystic in 2:21; a damp, slippery track, and could have trotted several seconds faster if he had been obliged to, and this after a heavy season in the stud."

The second horse in the stud to be mentioned is Dictator Chief, 2:25^, by Dictator, 113; dam Judy, by Plato; grandam said to have been a thoroughbred mare. Like Nelson, he obtained his record, in 1887, upon a half-mile track, at Lewiston, Maine. He, too, is a grandly-built horse being nearly 16 hands high; is a bright bay with black points and star. In build he is fully the equal of Nelson, and is quoted by one of the best-known Kentucky breeders as "probably the best son of Dictator." I saw several of his colts in motion, and all showed unmistakable signs of becoming fast trotters, even to the young sucklings that seem to know " nothing but trot." His colts are in great demand, and among these there has been sold Gretta, foaled in 1887, out of Gretchen, for $1,500, at six months; Naska, out of Knox Girl, at eleven months, for $1,000, while others have been sold at proportionately large prices. His books were filled early in the year.

Another fine stallion in service is Wilkes, 8571, by Alcyone, 732; dam Molly, by American Clay, 34; grandam Fanny Fern, by Star Denmark. He is a finely-proportioned horse, 15.2 hands high, clean-limbed and strong, of excellent action, and is becoming popular among the breeders of Maine.

The next on the list is Col. West, 4208, a coal-black horse, of commanding presence, by Egbert, 1136; dam Lida Patchen, by Mambrino Patchen, 58; grandam Miss Seavy, said to be by Delmonico, no. He was bred by Col. R. West, at Lexington, Ky. He is all style, and if his progeny resemble their sire, he will make a stallion well worthy of the patronage of those who desire style as well as speed.

Another excellent - looking son of Young Rolfe is Brilliant; dam Fanny Knox (clam of Bay, 2:27), by Gen. Knox; grandam Dolly Parker, by Blue Dick. He was foaled in 1883, and is consequently limited in his service. He is a beautiful seal-brown, with black points and star. When in motion he carries himself well up, and is decidedly "dudish " in appearance.

A fine-looking three-year-old is Mechanic, by Dictator Chief; dam Laura, by Onward (Nelson's); grandam by Mayhew, son of Gen. Knox. He is one of the first get of Dictator Chief, and if his action when in motion is a criterion to go by he will make a mark in the trotting world.

Artist—by Dictator Chief; dam Belle Morrow, by Belmont; grandam Helen Neal, by Mambrino Chief—is a fine- looking three-year-old, and will doubtless make a good stock-horse. 

This brings me down to the more recent purchases by Mr. Nelson, and which consist of some excellent-looking and finely-bred stock, among which is Herolight, by Starlight, 6835; dam Boadicea, by Hambletonian, 10, etc.; bred by A. B. Darling, at Ramsey's, N. J.; Pickering, 3094, by Hambletonian, 10; dam Lady Fallis, by American Star, 14; grandam by Long Island Black Hawk, 24; foaled 1872; in 1887 got a record of 2:30, and is undoubtedly the last of the get of Old Hero that will drop into the 2:30 list. Still another purchase is May Prince, by Kentucky Prince, 2470; dam Queen of May, by Hambletonian, 10; grandam Lady Overton, by Abdallah, i. As Kentucky Prince has seven to his credit in the charmed circle, with a prospect of greatly increasing the number the coming season, the purchase of so fine a representative of this popular sire was a good stroke of business on the part of the proprietor of Sunny- side. Still another representative of a popular family is Red Hawk, 8508, by Red Wilkes, 1749; dam Judy (dam of Dictator Chief, 2:25^), by Plato; grandam by Louck's Kentucky Whip. He is a bright bay, with dark points and white hind ankles. His general makeup is excellent, and there is no reason why he will not make a worthy son of a worthy sire. 

I should be doing an injustice, not only to the horse. but also to his namesake, if I failed to (¡mention Griffin, 5075 (registered as Barnard), a fine- looking and acting son of Messenger Duroc, 106; dam Gimp, by Princeps, 536; grandam Favorita, by Abdallah, 15; great grandam by Mambrino Chief, it. As all breeders are familiar with achievements of Messenger Duroc, and Princeps with eighteen in the 2:30 list to his credit, it would be superfluous for me to go into details as to the family of Griffin; but suffice it to say that he is a magnificent looking young horse of great speed, and if I do not misjudge will make a very fast record at no distant day. 

With the foregoing facts before the reader, I think no one will doubt me when I assert that there is not another breeder in the country who has such a variety of fine-bred stallions from which the breeders of Maine may select. Nor is the selection confined to Maine, for while I was in town a mare arrived from Massachusetts, by Alcyone, to be bred to Nelson, and several breeders in Kentucky made flattering proposals for the services of Nelson, provided the stallion was taken to that location. 

When one's pen gets under way it is hard to tell where to draw the line, and in this case it is peculiarly difficult, but a halt must be made somewhere, and after referring to a few of the broodmares on the farm, I will bring this article to a close. 

I have already had considerable to say relative to Gretchen, but it would be hardly justice to drop such a great mare without mentioning others of her foal. Besides those already mentioned, she has dropped Sadie L., by Young Rolfe; June, by the same horse, now the property of W. F. Redmund, of New York, and who has just dropped a foal by Dictator Chief. She is also the dam of Edna, Richmond and Netta, by Dictator Chief, and again in 1888 has been stinted to the same horse. 

Knox Girl has dropped Dora M., by Young Rolfe, and other good ones by the same horse, and also by Dictator Chief. Bell Merrow, by Belmont, foaled 1873, is the dam of Artist, by 

Dictator Chief. Among the other fine- bred and looking brood-mares may be mentioned Daisy Rolfe, by Young Rolfe; Jessica, by George Wilkes, who is the dam of a filly by Jay Bird, colt by Grand Sentinel and others; Jersey Lily, 2:34^, by Lord Nelson. I could go on ad libitum, but will draw the line at Aubine, a magnificent brown mare by Young Rolfe, dam Knox Girl, by Gen. Knox, grandam Gretchen. Aubine made a record of 2:27% in 1887 as a five-year-old, and after being stinted this year will be sent for a still lower record. There are also many more fine colts and fillies on the farm, quite a number of whom are by Young Rolfe, and who will " speak for themselves " later on. In closing this article I should but do an injustice did I fail to mention a few of those who help to make Sunnyside such a popular resort for breeders. In Mr. C. W. Gilman, secretary to Mr. Nelson, that gentleman has a most able assistant, and with 

his system of book-keeping breeders who make purchases from Sunnyside will have but little trouble in obtaining all the information which they desire relative to stock obtained there. I never saw stallions in better condition, and this, Mr. Nelson assures me, is due to the services of David Rouan, who spent many years handling horses in New York. 

Mr. George Blair is Mr. Nelson's able assistant in preparing the horses for their work upon the track, and is a most indefatigable worker. Most of the exercising is done on the fine roads of the city, but there is a good half-mile track a short distance from the farm, which is leased by Mr. Nelson, and here the finishing touches are made. The breeders of Maine have certainly the facilities for producing trotters, and the proprietor of Sunnyside is to be congratulated upon his pluck and foresight in establishing his great farm. 

Image courtesy of Harness Racing Museum, Goshen, NY

Article located by Anne Palmer, Waterville, Maine