By David Smith
History is all around us, most of the time it’s sleeping quietly, until someone scratches the surface and brings life to a story long ago forgotten. This is the story of a woman from who lived over hundred years ago and who owned the famous North Hill Farm in Berryville, Virginia. A person who fought discrimination, demanded equality and devoted her entire life to the sport of thoroughbred racing. The reason this story is important today is because on May 27th 2011 she will be inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. Memorialized as a Legend in the sport she loved and the sport in which she battled so hard against discrimination to be recognized. This is the story of Lily Livingston.
For the last four years I have been researching the history of a farm near my home in Cream Ridge, NJ. As it turns out Rancocas Stud as it was known had a gloried history. In the days when the Gilded Age tobacco millionaire Pierre Lorillard owned Rancocas Stud Farm, he shipped horses thousands of miles to England because he wanted to beat the best horses in the world and in 1881 Rancocas Stud’s Iroquois became the first American horse to win Epsom Derby. Pierre Lorillard died in 1901 and Lily Livingston (1865 – 1945) received the farm in Pierre’s will. Pierre loved Lily and Rancocas Stud and he knew she would be the best person to care for the farm.
Lily Livingston led an extraordinary life at the turn of the last century. At a time when women did not have the voting and legal rights as men, Lily was the owner and operator of a large fleet of race horses and one of the largest thoroughbred farms in the world. But in the 1910s a perfect storm in the form of the Moralist Movement was successful in banning horse racing in many States. Lily’s Rancocas Stud in Jobstown, New Jersey once one of the greatest farms in racing history was in trouble. The massive farm of 2000 acres was an economic burden; Lily had to make a decision. Lily’s farm manager Dr Carter was a University of Toronto Veterinarian graduate and he recommended Lily move her breeding operation to Canada. (Toronto Star Weekly 09-21-1929) Lily purchased Pontiac Farms on the shores of Lake Ontario in Cobourg in 1908. Pontiac Farms quickly became a farm of more than 500 acres with many outbuildings all painted in the familiar peacock blue, the predominating shade in the stable’s racing colors. It was said the “establishment is not only one of the finest breeding farms in Canada, but will bear comparison with the largest and most completely equipped thoroughbred nurseries of the continent.” (Daily Racing Form 04-02-1928)
When Lily moved to Cobourg it was known as the “Newport of the North”, and the Cobourg Horse Show was one of the top equestrian events in North America. Cobourg was the perfect setting for Lily to live the “Edwardian” lifestyle she loved. Today Pontiac Farms is almost entirely forgotten. But the remnants of this grand farm are still in existence at the Lakeshore Pentecostal Camp just 3 miles east of Toronto.
Lily’s first goal when she started racing in Canada was to win the Kings Plate. But, this was perceived as a threat by the racing establishment of the 1910s. The Ontario Jockey Club made various changes to the Kings Plate eligibility rules, one being a starter must be owned by a British Subject. Lily spent over ten years trying to rescind this rule. Meanwhile she remained passionate about having her name associated with a Kings Plate winner. She finally decided to sell her best horses at public auction; with the expectation another owner would be able to win the race, thus noting Pontiac Farms as breeder. In the 1915 Kings Plate race Pontiac Farms finished first and second as a breeder with Tatartean and Fair Montague. In the 1918 Kings Plate race, Pontiac Farms finished second with Ladder of Light and in 1919 Ladder of Light went on to win the Kings Plate for a second time for Pontiac Farms as a breeder. In the 1921 renewal of the Kings Plate the Ontario Jockey Club revised their rules and allowed non Canadian residents to enter in the race. (The Plate a Royal Tradition 1984, Louis E. Cauz) Lily Livingston entered Moll Cutpurse who finished third with the turquoise, silver braid and black cap colors of Lily Livingston
In 1927, “the Queen of Canadian Turf laid down her crown” to focus on breeding only and gave up her race stable. “For many years Lily Livingston held her own in a predominately man’s game.” (Toronto Daily Star 06-04-1927) Pontiac Farms was the leading farm in Canada with the most starters between 1925 and 1935, and second only to the powerful Seagram Stable in earnings of over $260,000 and wins of 291. (Canadian Thoroughbreds 1935 and since 1925, published by the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society 1936)
Pontiac Farms was a harmonious, peaceful place filled with joy for many years. Lily’s nephew Emerson “Emmy” Barnes and Dotty Barnes and their children Beverly, Ralph and Ann grew up helping with the raising of hundreds of animals on the farm. The famous Canadian children’s author Marshall Saunders chose Pontiac Farms because of its idyllic setting to write Bonnie Prince Fetlar based on the hundred or so Shetland ponies that lived on the farm. Lily Livingston cared deeply about the poor and the returning wounded soldiers from Europe. She offered Pontiac Farms to the wounded soldiers of WWI to use in the summer months to convalesce after their hospital treatments. (Toronto Star Weekly 09-21-1929) Lily Livingston was also a foster mother to hundreds of jockeys over the years and promoted women riders. (Toronto Daily Star 06-06-1917)
By 1930 Lily was winding down her racing empire. Lily asked her close friend Eleanor Jackson to find a grand estate in the South. The historic North Hill Farm at the site of the Castleman Ferry on the beautiful Shenandoah River in Berryville Virginia was available. Lily purchased the North Hill Farm from Maurice Castleman in 1935 and lived in Berryville racing jumpers and thoroughbreds until her death in 1945. Lily’s Hall of Fame status adds to the allure of North Hill and its famous owners Milton Ritzenberg who raced horses at the highest levels all over the world, David Castleman, who the Route 7 Bridge over the Shenandoah River is named after today, and Lily, a Hall of Fame Legend of Thoroughbred racing in Canada.
Over the last couple of years I have come to admire Lily and her accomplishments. I thought she deserved induction into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. What better way to honor her than have her forever recognized as a Legend in the sport she loved. I am thankful to Lou Cauz of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame for spearheading this effort and reviewing all of the documentation I sent him. So, on May 27th 2011, sixty-six years after Lily’s death, she will be inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. I will be there with twenty or so very proud great, great nieces and nephews. I know in spirit Lily will be there too, with a big smile. If you like to attend the event or find out more about Lily contact the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Dave Smith lives in Cream Ridge, NJ. North Hill Farm is located south of Route 7 at its intersection with the Shenandoah River.