Storied History

Hermitage Farm had many owners
before Warner Jones made it famous

Famed horse breeder Jones
produced many winners there

GOSHEN, Ky. (January 2017) – Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Ky., was originally a 3,000-acre Virginia Land Grant given to Gen. Hugh Mercer of Virginia. The Mercer family sold it to Capt. John Henshaw, whose son, Philip Henshaw, inherited the farm.
It was Philip Telfair Henshaw (1797-1835) who drew up plans for the house at Hermitage, which he modeled after his home in Virginia. During construction, he took his family with him to Virginia to visit his childhood home. Sadly, he became ill not long after arriving and died.
His widow, Sarah Anne Scott Henshaw, returned to Hermitage to raise their three children and see to the completion of the house in 1836. She died in 1863, during the Civil War.

Photo courtesy of the Oldham County Historical Society

Lucy and Richard Waters were among a string of Hermitage Farm owners. They gave the farm to their son Phillip Edmund Waters, pictured below.

During the mid-1800s, more than 40 slaves lived and worked on the farm. One, known as Aunt Hannah, was the principle weaver, and slave George Page was central to many of the farm activities.
Sarah Anne and Philip’s daughter, Lucy Mary Jane (1831-1899), married Richard Waters (1825-1891). Lucy was his second wife and had been a neighbor. After marrying, they moved into Hermitage due to Lucy’s mother’s failing health. Richard raised cattle, sheep and hogs and grew orchard grass.
He also supervised the construction of U.S. Hwy. 42 around 1880-81. When it was finished in 1883-84, Richard bought Locust Grove and lived there until his death in 1891.
Lucy and Richard Waters had five children. They gave Hermitage to their son, Phillip Edmund Waters, who married twice and had 13 children. Descendants of the Waters family continued to live at Hermitage until 1935.
Goshen School had its beginnings at Hermitage. Around 1870, there was no school nearby for the local children to attend. A few of the Waters’ neighbors who had school-aged children asked to send their children to Hermitage to hold school in a log house on the property. One Waters descendant described it as “a very rustic room but quite comfortable, a large open fireplace and plenty of wood for cold weather.”
The Oldham County Historical Society has in its possession the Henshaw-Waters collection, which once belonged to Elizabeth Waters. She was born at Hermitage in 1906.
Nancy Stearns Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center, said Hermitage is a well-known farm and has contributed greatly to the economics and industry of the county. It tells “such a rich story about the traditions for which Kentucky is known.”
Warner Jones Jr. and his wife, Harriet, purchased Hermitage in 1954. Under Jones’ direction, it became one of the most notable thoroughbred farms in the nation. During his career, he raised 156 winners.
Jones must have had horse racing in his blood because one of his great-grandmothers was a Churchill.

Photo courtesy of the Oldham County Historical Society

Famed thoroughbred horse breeder Warner Jones Jr. is pictured here during his stint as owner of Hermitage Farm.

Churchill Downs in Louisville was named for John and Henry Churchill, who leased 80 acres of land to their nephew, Col. M. Lewis Clark. Clark was Jones’ great uncle and was president of Churchill Downs when it opened in 1875. Clark was also the grandson of famed explorer William Clark.
Jones’ father’s family started Frankfort Distillery, maker of Four Roses whiskey. Jones’ wife was a descendant of one of Louisville’s foremost families, the Seelbachs.
Warner Jones Jr. is the only person to breed winners of the Kentucky Derby (Dark Star, 1953),
Kentucky Oaks (Nancy Jr., 1967) and a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race (Is It True, 1988). In July 1985, Jones broke the Keeneland yearling sales with a record sale of $13.1 million for Seattle Dancer, a colt sold for himself and fellow breeders William S. Farish and William Kilroy.
Jones served as chairman of Churchill Downs for eight years before stepping down in 1992 due to illness. He had overseen a revitalization of the track during his time there and was first elected to the board in 1941 when he was only 25 years old.
Jones died in 1994 at age 78. Hermitage Farm was sold to his close friend, Carl Pollard. Queen Elizabeth II had visited the farm in 1986, attesting to the farm’s nationally recognized name.
Jones’ widow, Harriet, was no stranger to the horse industry. She bred and sold (through Three Chimneys Farm) a Mr. Prospector colt for $3.7 million at the 2000 Keeneland July sale. This was the third-highest price at the sale.
Pollard, Jones’ friend and golfing buddy, continued the successful thoroughbred tradition at Hermitage Farm. Very involved in the industry, he was the board chairman of Churchill Downs at one time.
Pollard had retired from Columbia Health Care Inc. and had been an officer for the Humana Corp. Inc. He owned the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Winner and the Juvenile Champion Filly, Caressing.
Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown purchased Hermitage in 2010. They had previously purchased 180 acres of unimproved acreage at Hermitage in 1993 before assuming ownership of the remainder of the 700-acre farm. The couple operates the eclectic 21C Museum Hotels and Kentucky Bison Co., the latter located in Goshen.

They have launched a project to convert the famed thoroughbred horse farm into a tourist attraction to feature Kentucky-based foods, bourbon and horses.

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