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Chesterbrook Stock Farm
A Unique Blue Grass Farm in the East
It seems odd that in eastern Pennsylvania there should be a farm so throughly and luxuriantly set in blue grass as to excite Kentuckians; yet more than one son of that splendid land of fair women and fine horses has cast covetous and lingering eyes upon the rich verdant turf of Chesterbrook. If a Kentuckian should be blindfolded and suddenly set down in one of the fields of this splendid estate, he might almost imagine himself in the sight of the statue of Henry Clay and Lexington, and from the lay of the land and the texture of the turf it would be difficult to convince him of his error.
Chesterbrook Farm, the stock farm of Alexander J. Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania railroad, is located in Chester county, Pennsylvania, twenty miles west of Philadelphia. It occupies a commanding position at the eastern end of the celebrated Chester valley, renowned far and wide for the fertility of its soil and its pastoral picturesqueness. No agricultural section of the country is richer in productiveness, nor presents more convincingly evidence of thrift and prosperity, and yet it is absolutely devoid of any suspicion of "fancy' farming. The farmer farms for revenue and not for exhibition purposes, yet he does it so intelligently that the products of the soil, in due course, transform themselves into stocks and bonds and mortgages.
The estate of Chesterbrook covers an area of seven hundred acres, every acre of which, except six, is permanently set in grass. The topography of the place contributes much to its charm. The farm is almost a parallelogram, the sides of which slope down from one wooded ridge to another some two mies distant, while the center of the valley and the farm is bisected by the Chester creek. the tract is subdivided into seventeen fields, ranging in size from a paddock of four acres to a field of sixty, each enclosed by substantial fences, supplemented here and there by hedge-rows of osage orange. Every field is abudantly supplied with water, either from the creek or springs. As the land descends with a gentle undulation to the creek, and ascends to the higher ground beyond, there are no marked contrasts of height and lowland, but it spreads out to the view as a canvas from a spool. The landscape presents one grand carpet of green, relieved here and there by a great red barn or picturesque old stuccoed house that was standing in youthful pride when the frost-bitten Continental soldiers were dodging the wintry blasts at Valley Forge hard by. Great shade trees raise their grateful shelter in the fields and bits of woodland have survived in groves as if to show the high grade of timber that the land once produced. From whatever view point the farm is considered the prospect is eminently satisfying, both in its natural and acquired features. Many travelers have declared that the green is the green of England, but the setting of the picture, distinctly American.
The underlying formation of the valley is limestone, and this is the primary cause of the luxuriant growth of blue grass. Fine specimens of it are found along the roadside and in places that have never been cultivated, which is evidence that it has a sporadic growth in this section, but it is not indigenous to the soil as in Kentucky. When Richard Penn Smith, manager of the farm, asked Milton Young, of the celebrated McGrathiana Farm, why blue grass thrived so finely in Kentucky, his characteristic reply was, - "Well, sah, I don't know any other reason except that blue grass is willin' to grow here!" It seems willing to grow in Chester valley also, with the proper encouragement.
The fields of Chesterbrook Farm were first set in the blue grass twenty years ago, when Mr. Cassatt acquired the property,and nearly all of them have remained unfallowed since. But it required much perserverance and unremitting labor to produce the magnificant turf of today. Every year since the date one field has been treated to sowing two quarts of timothy, one quart of alsike and one quart of red clover per acre. This is sown broadcast on the snow in late February, or early March, just as the pores of the earth are opening with the first thaw. When the turf is free of snow the chain harrow is passed over it to loosen the grass, and then it is rolled. A top-dressing with the manure spreader is administered every spring and fall, and every four years an application of forty bushels of lime to the acre is made. The grass both in quantity and quality is improving each season. It yields about one and a half tons of hay per acre and offers grand pasturing a week after the harvest. Two hundred and sixty-seven tons of hay were housed from a portion of the farm this season, apart from the pasturage afforded over two hundred horses, one hundred and fifty sheep, forty cows and fifty bullocks. the stock is turned on the grass May 1, and remains there constantly night and day until the snow covers the ground. During this period the only other food the animals get is a daily bite of carrots, which are esteemed for their medicinal qualities. Many of the fields are moved twice, and at the end of the season the dry grass is mowed and burnt.
In winter the hay is served cut. From the weaning time until he is sold the Chesterbrook colt has a diet of blue grass, and there can be no doubt that its nourishing qualities exercise a marked effect on his success in life.
The product of Chesterbrook is first of all hackneys. At the head of the stud is imported "Cadet", whose progeny are scattered over the world from the stock farm of king Edward VII, where Field Marshall, a son of Cadet, heads the stud, to the veldt of South Africa and the plains of Australia. The "Cadet" strain has found singular favor in this country, and more improvement in the style and quality of the high grade driving anf saddle horses may be attributed to him than to any other sire. Not only to the thoroughbreds has he imparted these sterling qualities of form and behavior and endurance, but to the saddle and road horses, bred by crosssing with thoroughbred running mares, the characteristic excellence of the great sire attaches. All true horsement appreciate the worth of Cadet, and the recoreds of all the principal horse shows bear testimony to the prize-winning abilities of the members of his family. He is in the prime of his vitality now, having been imported from England in 1892.
In the palmy days of racing when the Chesterbrook colors were the admiration and the fear of the turf, the blood of "The Bard" was a patent of nobility to any colt. Even in this present year, so prolific in record breaking, a son of "The Bard" has succceeded in reducing the figures of the running track record. This magnificent son of Longfellow, sired in 1883, is still the bright particular star of Chesterbrook, and while none of his sons are run under his owner's colors, they are eagerly picked up by discerning turfmen, and are winning on many tracks both glory and purses. The training stables and track are still maintained, and the preliminary training of the youngsters takes place on the farm.
Seventy brood mares of all kinds, some of them dams of great distinction, as Heel and Toe, Equipoise, Minnie Andrews, Dawn, and Felicia, provide a splendid motherhood for the fifty foals, which is the average for each year. The fillies are bred at two years old. The running colts are sold at two or three years of age, as their promise of development attracts the buyer, and the hackneys are broken at three and placed on the market well trained at four.
While the breeding and training of thoroughbred horses is the principle industry at Chesterbrook, it does not limit the owner's work in the field of improving the country's live stock. Mr. Cassatt is a member of the Guernsey Breeders' Association, and his herd of these celebrated cattle is especially select. At its head is "Albert" - a king in his class and a handsome specimen of a high bred animal. Blue ribbons galore attest the merits of the cows and calves of the herd. A fine flock of thoroughbred Shropshire sheep fill the complement of stock on this interesting place. It has been said that the most successful breeders of horses should also breed cattle and sheep, and the truth of this assertion is demonstrated at Chesterbrook. Some of these thoroughbred animals are well shown in the pictures on these pages.
Ten spacious barns, each one constructed with a special care to the comfort and convenience of its occupants, afford shelter to the stock during winter. All the barns are supplied with the purest water froma reservoir on the place, and all the feed is handled and prepared by improved machinery.
The horse barns are surrounded by winter paddocks for exercise, and there is an indoor riding track for winter training.
No better examplification of the thoroughness of the owner can be found than the excellent roads that traverse the farm. Constructed in the most substanital manner, of macadam, the roadway is as firm as asphalt and the side drains as carefukky kept as the gutters of a city boulevard. There are some six miles of road on the farm.
One of these roads terminates at the "Old Davis House" - an old stuccoed colonial residence, one hundred and seventy five years old. It has never been modernized, but stands now just as it has through seven generations of Davises. On the farm it is designated as "The Squire's," because the master makes his headquarters there when he visits the farm. Within its hospitable walls many noted men have found unique entertainment at meals often prepared by the hands of hosts or guests, and served without the aid of waiters.
Eleven miles away is Cheswold, the country seat of Mr. Cassatt, at Haverford, and his favorite mode of recreation is a ride or drive between the two places. Few days pass at Chesterbrook without a visit from the owner. Not that his presence is required for business reasons, since the management of the estate is as thoroughly systemized and organized as the great corporation of which the owner is the head, but from love of the horses and cattle and a devotion to the life out-of-doord, the busy railroad president finds himself irresistibly drawn to the fair fields that his industry and practical knowledge have developed. The affairs of his estate are less burdensome, but none the less absorbing, than the great problems that come before him daily in the larger fields of finance and transportation.
A new zest is added to the delights of the farm when the hunting season opens. Foxes abound in this section, there being no less than four broods on Chesterbrook Farm alone. The conformation of the country lends itself peculiarly to cross-country riding, and it s a favorite scene for the runs of the Radnor and othe hunts with which the owner of Chesterbrook has always been identified.
Transcribed from Chesterbrook Stock Farm by Francis Nelson Barksdale in Country Life in America, December 1901, by Mike Bertram 5/11/2023. The text of this article also appeared in the TEHS Quarterly, vol. 28, #4(October 1988).A copy of the magazine was donated by Meg Wiederseim to the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.