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Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Spring Hill Race Course, photo by Valerie J. Thompson

     Before there was Churchill Downs there was Spring Hill Race Course, owned and operated by Henry W. Farris of Crab Orchard, Lincoln County, Kentucky. The outline of the race course can still be seen on a Google map. It is also a prominent feature shown on the Beers and Lanagan 1879 Map of Lincoln and Garrard Counties, (below)

Spring Hill Race Course
     Henry W. Farris mentions the Spring Hill Race Course in his will and the date it opened. The following is the thoughtful and informative will.

     Lincoln County, Kentucky. Will Book Book 3, page 140. 141

     Henry W. Farris Will
                                                                                         Crab Orchard, Ky March 12, 1884
     On the 14th day of August 1809, I was born near the Walnut Flats in Lincoln County, Ky, and on the 14th April 1814 Jane Elizabeth Farrar was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. On the 7th June 1832 I married her in Mecklenburg, where she was born, making 51 years that we have lived happily together, having eight children and one son, William Dabney who died quite young. Out of our eight living children we have five daughters and three sons, Alexander Scott, Ann Elizabeth, Laura, Alice, Mary, Duncan Kenner, Hattie, and Henry Bacon. We have 18 living grandchildren, Scott has two, a son and daughter; Ann Elizabeth Guest has three sons, and two daughters; Laura Moore has four sons and one daughter; Alice Dobbin has three sons; Mary Hoskins has one son; Hattie Ewell has one son and one daughter making the 18, and two adopted grandchildren, Calvin and Betty Hoskins making even 20 living grandchildren all of which I dearly love, and know no difference between them. We have had a great many ups and downs in life. In 1835 we settled in Crab Orchard, built the greater part of the brick corner house, which we occupied as a Hotel for many years. In 1836 I opened what is known as the Spring Hill Race Course, which has been used as such ever since. We have lived at Crab Orchard ever since, except six years that we lived at Woodlawn near Louisville. From the time I laid out the course, I have spent a considerable amount on the premises and what I want to come at is myself and wife have a deed recorded in the Clerk's office at Stanford, which shows for itself, and my wish is that my wife take full charge of all the premises and effects that I own,and manage to the best advantage as long as she lives, and to add as much as possible to the value of the property as she thinks proper and as the property is not susceptible of being divided between out children, it is my request that she make such arrangements that after her death to have everything sold that we possess to the highest bidder and after paying all our just debts divide the remainder equally between our eight children, all of them having been kind and thoughtful to me consequently I don't wish to make any differences between them. My reason for requesting my good wife to keep the property in a good shape as possible to add to its value is from the force of circumstances having two daily trains each day both ways from Louisville to Knoxville and the healthy location and prospect of a boom at the Springs makes me believe that property, and particularly this description of property will increase in value greatly. I am not forgetful of constantly breathing an humble prayer to the Lord for the many blessings bestowed upon me and family, and have full faith that my prayers are considered. 
                                                                                                      Henry W. Farris
Bettie C. Farris
E. T Stephenson 
R. G Bronaugh
A. J. Foley

     Henry W. Farris was a Justice of the Peace for Lincoln County, but he was most noted as a turfman, owner of Spring Hill Race Course, and horse breeder.

Death Notice for H. W. Farris, Interior Journal, Friday 20 June 1884. Pg 1
     Died at 10 o'clock p.m on the 17th inst., H. W. Farris, an old and highly esteemed citizen. He was for years an honored member of the county court. He had been confined to his room and most of the time to his bed for several months of heart disease and although his death has been almost daily expected, it was still a great shock to his family. He was sitting up in bed talking with his family in a very cheerful manner, when his heart refused longer to perform its function and without a moments warning his spirit was ushered into the presence of the God who gave it. When we say that he was one of the kindest of neighbors, truest, best of friends and most indulgent husband and father, we speak from our personal knowledge. His remains were interred in the family burying ground, witnessed by a large crowd of friends and relatives. We extend to his aged and bereaved widow our heart felt sympathy.

Semi Weekly Interior Journal, Sept. 7, 1897.Pg 6

     "Henry Farris was the original owner of Crab Orchard race track, over which, Mrs. Higgins says, some of the best horses this country ever produced have run, among them those of Harper Bros. who used to be habitual visitors to this race course and to which people from long distances came - in fact, the races here then were about like the races at Lexington and Louisville now are - a big thing." Semi Weekly Interior Journal, Sept. 7, 1897, page 6

"Kentucky's thoroughbred run on other ground, and the once gay track of Crab Orchard now never feels the shock of the flying courser's feet. It was owned formerly by Mr. Henry Farris, but I understand has lately been sold to Col. J. W. Guest. A little money mixed with that noted turfman's influence may make it what it was once." Semi Weekly Interior Journal, Friday, December 24, 1886.  Note: James W. Guest was married to Henry W. Farris' daughter, Ann Elizabeth. 

     According to the Chicago Tribune, August 8, 1897 "Old Times on the Turf, Spring Hill Course in Kentucky Recalled" - "The oldest existing running track in America, and the one over which the first regularly managed race was run, was Spring Hill course near Crab Orchard Springs in Lincoln County, Kentucky, for many years the most leading and noted summer resort in the South. Here were trained and first raced Josh Bell, the first thoroughbred to sell for as much as $4000, and his full brother Jim Bell, the first horse to run a mile in 1:40." Henry W. Farris trained and sold Josh Bell and others of the Bell family. Spring Hill was still being used as a training center at the time the article was written. Read the full article here:

"Crab Orchard Springs and the Spring Hill Race track were about the 'sportiest' places outside of New Orleans, in the South, or perhaps in America."

"...associated with the history of the track are the names of such well known old time horsemen, as Harper, owner of Longfellow; Dan Swigart, James Ford, Murphy, Hunter, Henry Farris,  the Logans, the Guests, and so on."

"Two old buildings practically unused are still standing at Crab Orchard as relics of the antebellum days"

Old Farris Place, photo by Valerie J. Thompson

     Just behind the building shown above is a small cemetery in the trees. Only a few stones are readable, that of Nathan Guest June 4, 1807 -1851 or 1854; Lydia Welch 1782-1855, James Welch 1773-1810. This cemetery is listed as the Collier Cemetery for some unknown reason, and photographs of the stones are shown at

  "The remains of the famous  Wagner - the hero of the celebrated Wagner-Grey Eagle race - are buried within the circle of the Spring Hill track." This race was held at Oakland in 1839. Wagner's owner, John Campbell put a lot of money into the stables at Spring Hill and spent a lot of time there. General Lee's horse, Traveler, was of Grey Eagle stock. 

The old Spring Hill Race Course is now "little more than a pleasant memory".