Hamburg Place, Lexington

The envelope for the key to my room tells me that my hotel “sits on some of Lexington’s oldest thoroughbred farm land. It spans some 1300 acres, and was once an integral part of the Madden Family’s (sic) ‘Hamburg Place Farm.’”

John Madden named his farm after his champion two-year-old colt; according to Maryjean Wall, Madden purchased the son of Hanover for $1,200, and, racing in New York, Hamburg won 12 of 16 races in his first year on the track. Madden then sold the colt for, according to the Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, $40,001. With that money, Madden purchased the land that would become his horse farm.

Madden was a successful owner, breeder, and trainer who began his career racing standardbreds but who proved equally – if not more – adept with Thoroughbreds. He owned and trained Plaudit, winner of the 1898 Kentucky Derby; his New York Times obituary indicates that he bred six Derby winners (Plaudit, Old Rosebud, Zev, Sir Barton (the first winner of the Triple Crown), Paul Jones, and Flying Ebony), though other sources indicate that he bred only five; he bred four winners of the Belmont Stakes, and five members of the Hall of Fame. He was leading trainer from 1901-1923 and leading breeder from 1917 – 1928.

Madden holds a particular place in Backstretch hearts because in 1902, he took in Imp, the filly who won 62 of 171 starts and was the first distaff winner of the Suburban, when no one else wanted her.

In the recently published How Kentucky Became Southern, Wall writes of Hamburg Place,

The farm was renowned for its pastoral beauty, for its novel equine graveyard, and for the champion horses among its stallions and broodmares. Serenity prevailed in this place, where one writer, seeing the farm at twilight, described an ethereal scene “with fresh, soft air” to breathe as “the mists of darkness were gathering, with the afterglow rose above them.”

The farm was also featured prominently in Madden’s 1929 New York Times obituary:

Hamburg Place could truly be referred to as one of the show places of the country. There he maintained a cemetery for the horses, with their names and histories engraved on tombstones, and monuments. Also on the vast acreage was a shelter for horses whose racing days were over, but for whom he held great affection.

Hamburg Place, the first Old Friends?

Hamburg, the champion colt, now gives his name to a section of Lexington that is the embodiment of suburban sprawl, home to dozens of chain hotels, stores, and restaurants. It is as soulless now as it was splendid then.

At least some of Hamburg Place’s famed monuments were saved; in 2005, a number of equine graves were moved to make way for the construction of a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s, and two years ago, Maryjean Wall took me to them.

If you walk to the back of the parking lot and go down a little hill, you’ll find the graves of Imp and of Plaudit, among others, and a statue of Madden – one that appears to be suffering from neglect.

I saw them on a cold late winter afternoon two years ago; despite (or maybe because of) the shadows and the looming behemoths of the big box stores above, the little cemetery still felt sacred, still felt tangibly important, due in no small part to its isolation and solitude.

Aside from the street names of the shopping center – Plaudit Place, Sir Barton Way – that recall Hamburg’s greats, this little plot is the only remaining trace of Madden’s magnificent Hamburg Place. Many visitors to Lexington find themselves in Hamburg, taking advantage of the hotels, restaurants, and stores. If you are among them – or if you live here – detour off the congested, commerce-driven local roads, and stop for a moment here. It is a beautiful antidote to the frenzy that surrounds it, and a simple, if wholly inadequate, monument to the farm whence it came.

Sources and further reading and photos

More photos of the Hamburg cemetery.

Decades-old horse graves moved for shopping center,” USAToday.com, July 26, 2005.

Focus; Lexington; Intruders in Famed Bluegrass.” New York Times, May 22, 1988.

Grave Matters: Hamburg Place, Lexington, Kentucky.” Thoroughbred Heritage: Turf Hallmarks.

Hamburg Place Horse Cemetery,” Waymarking.com, November 16, 2007.

Introducing Imp,” Brooklyn Backstretch, December 1, 2009.

J.E. Madden Dies; Was Noted Turfman,” New York Times, November 14, 1929.

John Madden Hall of Fame page, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

The first filly to win the Suburban Handicap: Imp, 1899.” Brooklyn Backstretch, July 3, 2010.

Stallion Hamburg Dead.” New York Times, September 11, 1915.

Wall, Maryjean. How Kentucky Became Southern. The University of Kentucky Press, 2010.

12 thoughts on “Hamburg Place, Lexington

  1. This actually is a response to your March blog on the inner track (http://www.brooklynbackstretch.com/2010/03/18/aqueduct-a-history-of-the-inner-track/):

    Having read that, and with NYRA now running two-thirds of the time on the inner track as it is, I wonder why NYRA doesn’t now look at moving the inner track surface to the main strip. The long-running stigma of the inner track seems to now be a thing of the past (though a few older owners I think still hate running horses on it), it’s widely considered to be the safest of the surfaces in New York, and doing so would allow for three things:

    1. Having seven-eighths and one-turn mile races, which are very popular with fans during the winter months.

    2. Allowing for the inner track itself to be converted back to a one-mile turf course.

    3. Possibly allowing for the existing turf course to be converted to a seven-eighths of a mile harness track, which could be used for a late summer-fall harness meet at Aqueduct (with there possibly in the fall being thoroughbred and harness racing at the Big A at the same time A LA what happens at Woodbine in the fall) that could work in tandem as a circuit with The Meadowlands, provided The Big M is able to work through its current issues, or if The Big M isn’t be in a position to take over a lot of what The Meadowlands has been as the World’s #1 harness meet, including possibly The Hambletonian if the Hambo Society agreed to allow it to be run over a seven-eighths track (which I think is the best-sized track for harness racing) that at Aqueduct could easily be wide enough to allow for 12 starters across and TWO passing lanes in the stretch.

    Just my thoughts on this.

  2. This is so beautiful. Joni Mitchell has a lyric in a song that says: “They took Paradise & Put up a Parking lot” & another that says: You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone”. Well, I hope they protect this gorgeous spot forever.

  3. priceless!beautiful piece stretch……amidst the hustle and bustle of life,love and da name of da game(horseracing)this is perfect prescription for whatever ail’s us on this wintry monday morning…..made me feel warm ,successful and secure…..informative,historic,rejuvenative befitting of da season…….like your work and perspective “stretch”;your imput is highly appreciated…….happy holidays!

  4. Interesting article Teresa, I did not know that Mr. Madden bred 5 (or 6) Derby winners! I DID know that his grandson bred Alysheba, and after looking at your pictures, I see that his mother Bel Sheba is buried there. I also didn’t know about the equine graveyard. I will have to check it out on my next visit to Lexington. Lots of history there! Thanks for all the links.

  5. When I moved to Lexington, many of my new friends talked about “going to Hamburg.” I was so thrilled at the thought that Hamburg was open to the public, and that so many people wanted to go there. Imagine my shock and sadness when I took in the Steak N Shake, Backyard Burger, Meijer and PetSmart…

  6. Thank you all, so much, for your comments and kind words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories. I am always heartened to know that other people out there like to delve back into racing history…

    DJLoo: I’m ignoring you.

    Walt: Thanks for passing along ideas about reconfiguring the Big A.

  7. I just happened up on this site while trying to find out how many stores are located at Hamburg. I work in Lexington and always loved driving by the horse farm, although I had no idea of what treasures lay within it, and out of my sight from the road. I would have loved to see the place as it used to be. I’ve no interest in horse racing, but do love the solitude and peace that only nature can provide. I’d have loved walking in the grass and amongst the graves and breathing in the beauty that will never be seen again.
    I enjoyed your article very much. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Kay, for this note. Like you, I wish that I could have seen the farm in its heyday. That tranquility that you mention is such a contrast to the hubbub of Hamburg! Thank you for taking the time to write a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s