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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tell us what you think. Post below so local and county officials can hear your thoughts.
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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.
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.
What many locals don’t know is that the The Dead River is a tributary of the Passaic River.