What’s to Happen with Lord Stirling Stable and its Park?

What is to happen with the Lord Stirling Stables post COVID-19
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The Lord Stirling Park including the Lord Stirling Stable (LSS) in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township is part of the Somerset County Parks Commission in Somerset County.

NOTE: As with all Mr. Local History retrospectives, we often update the post when we learn stories and are sent photos from our community. We will continue to grow this piece as information becomes available.

Mr. Local History Project

State of the Stable from Somerset County, July 20,2020


  • Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge, New Jersey
    Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge, New Jersey

In 1968, the Somerset County Parks Commission purchased what first became the Somerset County Riding Stables in Basking Ridge. Harold Case was its first manager as he boarded their first 23 horses and hired three men to support lessons in the park. There were five instructors.

Now called the Lord Stirling Stable, the entire Somerset county park area covers 1,015 acres including the Lord Stirling Stable, Environmental Education Center and the Boudinot-Southard Farmstead. With over 18 miles of trails, the LSS park and stables are unique and historic built into the fabric of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township. Recently, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 27 horses have been sold to the Pond Hill Horse Ranch in Vermont and the entire LSS organization is closed to the public. Everyone is wondering what’s next.

The serenity and beauty of one of the fields I happened to experience in 2018. Credit: Brooks Betz

Rumors abound on the fate of the Lord Stirling Stable: One rumor stated, “The horses were sold off for meat!” Another warned, “The county is going to sell the property for development!” With rumors swirling, Mr. Local History thought it was important to share the story of this historic and sensitive ecosystem on the edge of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and provide some insight into what most likely will NOT happen.

In compliance with an executive order issued on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, by Gov. Phil Murphy, the Somerset County Park Commission closed ALL county parks to the public, including all trail systems within the parks.

The financial crunch from the pandemic not only closed the Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge for the rest of 2020, but also resulted in the sale of 27 horses kept at the shuttered Somerset County Park facility. For the balance of 2020, LSS is boarding only 21 private owners’ horses at Lord Stirling Stable. Reports have stated that the Lord Stirling Stable has been losing upwards of a half million dollars a year for the last decade. Somerset County supports the stables through revenue from the county’s golf course system. No full-time stable employees have been furloughed, but all part-timers were released according to Parks Director Geoff Soriano.

The area has held a role in Bernards Township history for as long as there has been a Bernards Township.

James Alexander is First Noted Land Owner

James Alexander, father of William Alexander (Lord Stirling), seems to have drawn what has since been known as the ” Stirling Property.” He was also associated with John Budd, of Philadelphia, in lands which extended north into Morris County. The land was listed as No. 121, James Alexander, Sept. 17, 1741, 786 acres in six tracts In Harrison’s Neck. That land belonged originally to John Harrison, agent of King James III of England in 1717, who bought it from Chief Nowenoik of the Lenapes, a real estate package of 3,000 acres for $50.  The remainder of the Township’s land was bought later that year by William Penn.  

The second piece to the Stirling tract was acquired by James Alexander, March 28, 1728, 272 acres on east side of North Branch of Dead River. A third plot, No. 142, was bought by James on July 10, 1744 containing 65 acres at Basking Ridge where his son William built Stirling Manor in 1761. The manor and its buildings are just to the east of the Lord Stirling Stable.

The MLH Project considered creating what we feel was the finest estate in New Jersey at the time. There is an almost exact duplicate of Stirling’s Manor for Governor William Franklin in Perth Amboy. Nothing of the original building remains today.
Lord-Stirling-Property c.1770. See the Passaic River called “North Branch” on the right. Click to enlarge. The Stables would be to the middle left of this map about 120 years later.
Mr. Local History Archives - Astor Estate
The late June Kennedy, Bernards Township’s first historian, noted that the horse stalls were bigger than regular horse stalls because they were actually dairy stalls for cows going back to when they were part of the Astor dairy farm.
Source: Warren Echoes Sentinel – February 24, 1966.

Astor renamed the farm New Haven Farms and worked for years breeding cows and selling his milk to the Bernardsville Creamery.

1964: Somerset County Parks Commission Negotiates

In 1964, the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders began negotiating the purchase of the Astor farm for open space. The transaction finally closed in 1967 with a purchase of over 460 acres covering from the Somerset Hills Airport (current day Lord Stirling Village Condos) all the way north to the Basking Ridge Country Club and to the Great Swamp to the east.

The estimated $900,000 purchase consisted of 400 acres of the total 750‐acre purchase which later became Lord Stirling Park. Mayor John Drew of Bernards Township who was in the audience when the purchase was announced proclaimed, “Open space is what the residents wanted.”

The 450+ acre parcel had served as the dairy farms and already contained various barns, box stalls (some with individual paddocks), silos and even a residence for the stable manager.

In 1968, Harry O. Case of Far Hills was chosen as the first stable manager. His key responsibilities were to procure the first 20 horses, saddles and gear. With an estimate of $500 per horse, Case was awarded an annual salary of $8,000 along with free housing on the stable grounds.

Funding the Purchase

Funding The Purchase Makes a Difference to What Can Be Done With the Lord Stirling Property Today

The Passaic River Great Swamp parklands, also known as the Passaic River Area Park, became Lord Stirling Park. The park was named with assistance from the Basking Ridge Historical Society (now the Historical Society of
Somerset Hills) in honor of William Alexander, Lord Stirling, a Revolutionary War patriot who served with distinction under General George Washington and whose estate was located on a portion of the tract.

On June 27, 1967 it was reported in the Bernardsville News that the Somerset County Parks Commission secured the funding to purchase the entire 750 acre Passaic River Park in Bernards Township for $900,000. The purchase planning actually started back in February 1966. Funds were secured with the financial assistance from the following organizations:

The Bernards Township property was finally purchased by the Somerset County Park Commission on December 21, 1967 to fulfill the Park Commission Master Plan designating that a riding stable be built in the northern part of Somerset County.

Lord Stirling Stable opened in the spring of 1969 with 30 horses.

Lord Stirling Stable brochure

As they say, the rest is history.

The Friends and Artists of Lord Stirling Stable

The Friends of the Lord Stirling Stable is a non-profit group that supports the effort of the stables. Annually, The Friends raise close to $20,000 that they donate to assist in the operations of the Stable.

The Friends of Lord Stirling Stable on Facebook
Lord Stirling Stable – a painting by Ellen Cagnassola which was uploaded on August 20th, 2015.

What’s Next for the Lord Stirling Stable?

Even in 2020, with the property losing $500,000 a year and losing golf revenue to support, with that kind of funding, there is a VERY low probability that the Somerset County Parks Commission could ever sell the property for development. There is a however a higher probability that the Somerset County Parks Commission (SCPC) could lease the land and stables to a private entity.

There are a number of key restrictions for governments who
fund purchases with Green Acres funding. See FAQs

Comments:

Tell us what you think. Post below so local and county officials can hear your thoughts.

Make a difference? Write a letter.

Save LSS.
Here’s a statement made by Astor’s attorney at the closing on Dec. 21,1967. Makes a great quote as a reminder to the purpose of the purchase. These are the people who decide what happens to LSS. 2020 Board of Chosen Freeholders
Shanel Y. Robinson, Director 
• Sara Sooy, Deputy Director  
Brian D. Levine • Brian G. Gallagher • Melonie Marano

Make a difference – Write a letter!

Learn More…

Mr. Local History posts on research we’ve done that involves the Lord Stirling property or it’s history.

  • 1792: The Passaic River’s Great Falls in Paterson was harnessed for power.
  • The City of Paterson was created as the first industrial city in America by Alexander Hamilton.
  • 1964: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was established instead of an airport (we have a story about that as well).
  • 1967: The 430 acre John Astor farm and the John Astor stables are sold amd signed over to Somerset County for $624, 054. Astor was not present.
  • 1970: Passaic River was listed as the second most polluted river in America.
  • The indoor ring is 80×240 feet.
  • 2020: Present: Local organizations and partnerships are working to educate people about restoring, protecting and preserving the natural heritage of the Passaic River Watershed.

Additional Footnotes:

The Passaic River and the Passaic River Park in Basking Ridge

We take a trip back first to what Lord Stirling Park was before being Lord Stirling Park. Back in the 1960’s the Basking Ridge area was known as the Passaic River Park.

The Passaic River starts in Morris County just north of Basking Ridge and travels along Somerset, Union, Essex , Passaic and Bergen County before concluding in the Newark Bay. The river begins in Mendham and is 80 miles (130 km) long and with a drainage area of 935 square miles (2,422 square km), the river has been intensively developed as a source of power and water.  The river begins in Mendham just west of the Tempe Wick Reserve off Tempe Wick Road,
The Passaic River has played a historic part in our history. Pictured here is the Passaic High Bridge between Bernards Twp and Millington Twp c.1900.

What many locals don’t know is that the The Dead River is a tributary of the Passaic River.

The Paterson Falls are along the Passaic River. Not sure if you knew. Credit: Brooks Betz 2019
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5 Thoughts to “What’s to Happen with Lord Stirling Stable and its Park?”

  1. I think it should be turned into a museum
    Like the Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina.

    http://Www.thinkmomi.org, an emerging museum in NJ could be interested in a public-private partnership.

  2. Interesting thought. Interesting concept. Be interesting to see what the LSS mission statement really is……. or should be moving forward.

  3. sandra dagnall

    I think they should look at the successful Bucks County horse park on how to make money from private horses great trails 👍some cross country jumps. Is the outside ring(s) in good shape with good footing? Any lights? A Friday night jumper show with open to the public food trucks would not only bring in money but would be a way to get more people interested in taking lessons. Care classes teaching grooming and tacking up. So people who may just love horses but not want to ride would be part of L.S. a IEA team. A competitive middle and high school teams this is a big part of the today’s industry. A few years back the Y did a program of a “free month” for anyone in a certain grade..to boost its membership

  4. Carolyn Gaziano

    If you would like the stables to continue as a a County Stables in 2021, please write to the County Parks Commission and the County Freeholders and/or attend Freeholder meetings and speak during public comment. Let them know that you, Somerset County Residents, want them to re-open LSS in 2021 and ask them to include funds for operating costs and the purchase of new school horses in the budget. You can also sign up for Informational County emails on the Somerset County website.

  5. debbie b limoli

    Living in NJ my whole life I can honestly say that Lord Stirling Stable is my favorite place. Both of my children (one of whom is handicapped) took riding lessons there. With over 50 horses and 450 acres of trails, lessons day and night, handicapped – jumping. Family fun days, hay rides, dog walks, pony rides and birthday parties.The friendliest people you will ever meet. It is truly a awesome treasure and my happy place. One of my mane (pun intended 🙂 reasons to stay in NJ. To lose this stable would be such an insurmountable loss with repercussions for generations to come. Also perhaps their is a wealthy NJ corporation or philanthropist who might pick up some of the cost? SOS save our Staple!

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