The Haskell Hunt: A Piece of History in My Backyard

 

Local legends abound everywhere. Here in my corner of the world we have our own stories.  As a local, it’s hard to live in Monmouth County and not hear about the haunted woods of Whipporwhill Road. Tales of witches and hauntings abound. Even my own husband and brother-in-law of creepy stories from their teenage years.  Tales found even in Weird NJ, a semi-annual magazine dedicated to folklore and legends here in New Jersey.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time in those woods, on horseback. I can honestly say this superstitious girl has never seen a hint of anything supernatural. The only creepy thing that has ever happened was the wasp attack. Just a lot of wildlife. However, some stories and local legends have a lot of truth.

 

In truth, the two most haunted roads in Monmouth County border the prior Amory Haskell estate, Woodland Farm. Lucky for me, I know a little bit about it because that is where my barn, Lancaster Equestrian Stables, is located.

 

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This property is historically important to the equestrian culture in New Jersey. Thoroughbred racing season in Monmouth County means Monmouth Park racetrack, the Haskell Invitational, and Amory Haskell.

For those of you who don’t know, Amory Haskell brought thoroughbred racing back to New Jersey after prohibition. He was the first President of the Monmouth Jockey Club and a huge reason that thoroughbred racing is so popular in the Garden State. While he was best known for horse racing, Amory and his wife Annette were avid fox hunters. In honor of their passion, The Haskell’s began to host an annual hunt on their property beginning in 1932. Not only was this a fox hunt, but held several horses races, and one large party.

There was a mile-long track where they would hold horse racing.  Amory Haskell would invite up to 300 guests to eat outside watching the riders while they enjoyed champagne and fine dining with white linens, candelabras, and service staff. A truly elegant affair.

My trainer, Robin Brennan, found this gem on YouTube of old Haskell Hunt footage. It’s truly a step into history.

Amory Haskell passed away in 1966. As the decades progressed, the hunt went from a society affair to a more informal tailgate event like we see currently in Far Hills. Attendees would pay for a spot to park their cars and all proceeds were donated to charity.

 

This property may or may not be haunted, but it holds an immense amount of local history. Riding around the Kentucky-style indoor is a step back to another era. A series of paddocks for the horses in the valley is the site of the former hunt track. While a judge’s stand still remains, aging and overgrown, you can use your imagination to picture the cheering and thundering of hooves.

 

In the end, those “eerie” woods are peaceful and lovely. Riding along up the old driveway or through the brush, you can step back into an important part of equestrian history in New Jersey.  A  careful and adventurous rider may even traipse through the ruins of the old house, which burned down several decades ago.

An aerial view of the Haskell mansion before it burned to the ground.  
An aerial view of the Haskell mansion before it burned to the ground.
My trainer Robin and I goofing around on a trail ride at the Ruins. 
My trainer Robin and I goofing around on a trail ride at the Ruins.

The Haskell Hunt continued on until 1996, the tradition continuing after Amory Haskell’s death and the land was sold.  Locals from the area still speak about the hunt and their memories associated with it.

Sadly I did not move to the area until a decade after the hunt closed, nor did my friends the Lancaster’s live and work on the property until 2000. But the sense of history and pride remains. I can almost hear the pounding of hooves and clink of champagne glasses when I walk into the paddock to retrieve Delight for a lesson.

Morning view of the paddocks. 
Morning view of the paddocks.

When you visit the property, my favorite place, you are stepping back into an important part of history. Not just for New Jersey but for equestrian sports.

*Please keep in mind this is private property. No trespassing is allowed.

 

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29 thoughts on “The Haskell Hunt: A Piece of History in My Backyard

  1. Wow! that is interesting history . i gained alot. thanks

  2. I’m not a fan of foxhunts so glad they don’t anymore. But if there were ghosts here, the horses would know it – and likely react.

    1. I’m not a fan of hunting in any form, but I like the “idea” of a hunt with dogs, horses, and cross country jumping. There is a hunt club locally that uses scent instead of live animals.

  3. Another piece of history I had never known. Interesting post. I too remember hearing stories and tales of haunted tracks behind our community as a teen. Never saw anything, but creeped my out just the same. Love your grounds. Looks so peaceful.

    1. In winter, it is a true wonderland. But summer has many benefits as well. It’s my happy place.

  4. Honestly, haunted or not, this sounds amazing! I love the history behind all of this!

    1. History is one of my favorite subjects!

  5. I thought you going to tell a story of how the horses were spooked in the woods. I enjoyed the history lesson. There are many stories of ghosts in the South, especially near Charleston and the coast.

    1. I do love a good ghost story!

  6. It certainly is pretty there! Although I have an overactive imagination and if I knew it was near “creepy woods” I would probably be a little skittish if I was actually there.

    1. Being up in the ruins for the first time was a little weird. There is also an abandoned cottage and burned out barn all overgrown. It’s very cool exploring. I figure if the horses don’t spook, I’m probably safe.

  7. What a gorgeous spot. It’s cool someone found footage of the hunt. Maybe the tradition could be revived.

    1. It’s so beautiful- I love being there. Who knows what the future will bring? There is another Hunt that happens in New Jersey every fall, but I have yet to get there.

  8. Every place has its history. Most places. Up here, there may be some interesting wildlife history but we are the first people living here. Before that this was a hunting property and a farm but that’s about it.

    1. That is very cool in its own right.

  9. Interesting history! I wonder if it really is haunted!

    1. With so much history I woudn’t doubt there are some ghostly adventures going on, but I have never had an indication. At night it is quite dark and the coyotes make some eerie noises though.

  10. How neat that your barn is located on such a historic spot! I loved reading about the stories of the fox hunts and race tracks. I can just pictures it. It seems like something out of a movie.

    1. It would definitely make an awesome movie!

  11. Outside of being a great place to ride with a wonderful story behind it. It would be cool host a ride, tell the history etc.. on Halloween. Maybe even even channel Armoy Haskell with a medium. Just a thought.

    1. Oooh, creepy! I love it. I will definitely mention it to the barn owner.

  12. OK. I’m going to have to tell my step-dad about Monmouth County. He’s so into haunted stories. The woods of Whipporwhill Road sound fun! lol

  13. Sounds like a very special and spooky place to go. A definite place not to perhaps visit on Halloween though. I love all these sort of legendary stories, they make place “vintage” I guess.

  14. It looks like a beautiful area. And, not too far for us to drive with the pack. I love learning about the history of places I visit. Glad the fox hunting no longer takes place.

  15. Thanks for telling us about this place! I love ghost tales and tales of the unknown. Great history!

  16. I love reading about history. It’s so interesting to see how an area was years ago. I grew up in an area that is rich in Revolutionary War history, and my dad would always drive me around to see various sites.

  17. Wow, what an amazing video find! So cool to see this and now you will have something to think about as look over these paddocks.

  18. WOW! Love the vintage film in this post! Interesting to read a piece of horsey history too! 🙂

    1. Thank you! My trainer found the video, which I was so excited about. Those are now paddocks and I spend a lot of time looking over that valley while riding. It’s really cool to see what it used to be.

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