How Pierre Lorillard brought the Gilded Age to Jobstown

In the 1870s the Rancocas Stock Farm was renowned throughout the horse racing world for its prize-winning thoroughbreds and luxurious, state-of-the-art facilities.

The Rancocas Stock Farm, built In the 1870s by Pierre Lorillard IV on the present-day site of Helis Farm in Jobstown, was renowned throughout the horse racing world for its prize-winning thoroughbreds and luxurious, state-of-the-art facilities. Beyond the ironwork carriage gate, which can still be seen at Helis Farm, Lorillard installed a race track, training barns, stables, paddocks, and a Crystal Palace-like glass nursery for colts and fillies.

Lawrence Lincoln Gratz – age seven

One witness to all of this was little LL Gratz, the youngest son of a farmer who lived down the turnpike from the Rancocas Farm. While the tobacco heir Lorillard astonished Springfield Township with his massive construction projects, LL Gratz marveled at his race horses.

LL (Lawrence Lincoln) Gratz was my great grandfather, born a year after the Civil War ended and named for the Great Emancipator. LL was the second youngest of five children and in a family photograph from the early 1870s he appeared as a dark-eyed, handsome little boy dressed in a starched white collar, jacket, and tie, staring soberly at the camera. Like most of Jobstown’s residents the Gratz parents were farmers, and LL’s mother Phebe Scott Gratz came from a family that had farmed Springfield Township for close to two hundred years. LL was seven when Lorillard began to build Rancocas Farm and to bring in his thoroughbreds. According to family lore, the small boy fell under the spell of Lorillard’s racing champions while watching them pound around the racetrack next to the turnpike. 

Lawrence Lincoln (LL) Gratz

Many Americans shared LL Gratz’s fascination, in fact several of Lorillard’s horses were major sports celebrities of their day. Lorillard’s gelding Parole, rough-coated and lean with a narrow “varminty” head, thundered past competitors to a surprise victory at the Pimlico racetrack in 1877, setting off a national mania. Poolrooms, saloons, and baseball teams were named for Parole according to turf journalist Walter Vosburgh. The mighty Iroquois, a “rich-colored brown” with a head “clean-cut as a cameo” and a “beautifully inclined shoulder,” became the first American horse to win the Epsom Derby in England. This victory incited a near-riot when scores of reporters “attempted to storm Mr. Pierre Lorillard’s Fifth Avenue residence” as described in the racing journal The Spirit of the Times. Parole, Iroquois and other racing champions practiced regularly at the Rancocas Farm race track, a short walk from the Gratz farm.

Pierre Lorillard IV was a style-setting Gilded Age millionaire who poured vast sums into horse racing, yachts, and real estate development. Present-day visitors to Jobstown can see how the aforementioned iron carriage gate reflects Lorillard’s passion for speed, horses, and luxurious display. At its top is a bust of the Roman god Mercury, renowned for his swiftness, encircled by a laurel wreath of victory. The gate below is a pattern of scrolls and arabesques evoking High Renaissance splendor, with the gilded busts of two jockeys embedded in the center. Racing historian Maryjean Wall has written that Lorillard brought the gate from the Bowery Bank of New York. Pierre Lorillard and his brother George were particularly interested in proving that champion race horses could be bred away from the nutrition-rich blue grass of Kentucky, and they also worked hard to promote an image of American horse racing that was both posh and wholesome. 

A beautifully detailed engraving from 1879 shows us what the Rancocas Stock Farm looked like when LL Gratz was a young teenager. The engraving, published in the Illustrated London News, has two panoramic panels. The top panel shows a bird’s eye view of training facilities, paddocks, and Pierre Lorillard’s mansion with windmills on the horizon and fences criss-crossing the pastures. The bottom panel depicts a man at ground level signaling to dozens of horses as they gallop toward him. This (an accompanying article states) was the Superintendent of the Brood, whistling to call in the brood mares and their colts and fillies. 

Walter Vosburgh, one of Lorillard’s greatest fans, enthusiastically described a visit to the Rancocas Stock Farm in the early 1880s when the horse population included eighty brood mares, eight stallions, forty-eight horses in training, and forty-four weanlings. As he breezed through the Farm, Vosburgh recognized many of the champions by sight. There was “rough and ready” Parole and the elegant Duke of Magenta. There were thirty-three colts and fillies romping in the glass building that  they called “The Playroom.” Among the brood mares he spotted former prizewinner Banshee who, like “rich-coated Coquette,” was now blind. Both mares were living out their lives in the security and comfort of their own personal paddocks. Despite the Farm’s industrial scale, nothing was too good for Lorillard’s horses. He had special aluminum horse shoes created for them by Tiffany & Company many years before aluminum horse shoes came into general use. He also kept a Turkish bath in the yearling stable for horses who were “out of sorts.”

Beyond the training and breeding facilities there were plant nurseries where strawberries, melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes ripened and roses bloomed year round. There were special mushroom cellars and high-quality pigs, sheep, and cattle. An 1885 article in Harpers Weekly (quoted in Some Histories of Burlington County Farm Fair and The Township of Springfield, Springfield Township Historical Society 2011) described a network of underground piping made of clay and iron that Lorillard installed for irrigation and drainage. The property had twenty-six houses including ten old farmhouses as well as extensive dormitories for employees. While Lorillard owned the property it varied in size between one and two thousand acres. Lorillard maintained several game reserves on the Farm. 

School girls in Burlington County

Jobstown residents naturally wondered about the source of Lorillard’s wealth, and an article in the New Jersey Mirror (June 29, 1881) addressed that question. Titled “Where the Grease Comes From,” the article described Lorillard tobacco operations in Jersey City. The Mirror noted that the company employed 3,500 people at that location, 2,500 of whom were women, and the factory was “equipped with every labor-saving apparatus that science and ingenuity can suggest or unbounded capital can control.” The weekly payroll was $20,000, and the company also generated roughly 20,000 other jobs in cultivation, handling and transportation of tobacco. The average annual tax bill was $3 million.

These facts and figures would have been noteworthy to Jobstown farmers, since throughout the US agricultural prices were depressed, driving many members of the younger generation (including three of the five Gratz children) out of farming into other occupations. According to Dave Smith, a local expert on the Rancocas Stock Farm who is now researching a book on the subject, Lorillard was well-liked by his neighbors. He seems to have dealt fairly with local people and may have provided an additional market for their farm products. Vosburgh reported that the horses alone consumed 7,000 bushels of carrots and 20,000 bushels of oats yearly.

In January 1886, after thirteen years of unparalleled success in thoroughbred racing, Pierre Lorillard IV shocked the horse racing world by auctioning off his stable of horses-in-training. The auction took place in the glass “Playroom” on the Rancocas Stock Farm and attracted many of Lorillard’s rivals including the Dwyer brothers. The Dwyers were hard-gambling ex-butchers who had become involved in horse racing when “it was regular … for butchers to drive fast horses, and the brothers started out to make a clean-up on the trotter Independence” (Phil Dwyer’s obituary, NY Times June 10, 1917). Later that year Lorillard put the Rancocas Stud (his collection of breeding stallions and brood mares) on sale as well, attracting attendees from all over the US and overseas. He then withdrew from horse racing, turning his attention to his luxurious Tuxedo Park development in New York. 

LL Gratz was then 20 years old, stylishly dressed, impulsive, and eloquent. He was still deeply drawn to the world of horse racing, and in 1887 he bet all his money but a dime on a horse. This undoubtedly provoked his hardworking parents, especially his father William who had been working for a living from the age of six when he was “bound out” (apprenticed) as an orphan to a local nurseryman. Neither parent would have condoned gambling. LL apparently did not win a fortune on his bet that day.

LL may have dreamed of starting a career on the turf, but his life took another turn after his father William died fighting a disastrous grass fire in 1888.  While working seasonally on the family farm, LL enrolled at New Jersey Normal School in Trenton and became a teacher, principal and eventually superintendent of schools in Pemberton. He reportedly loved elegant language as much as fine horses. For the next two decades he used his gifts of eloquence and style to educate Pemberton’s young people, coaxing and inspiring them to fulfill their own aspirations. He married tall, graceful, independently minded May Clevenger from Pemberton who bore a daughter. These two became the loves of his life.

In the meantime Pierre Lorillard surprised no one by returning to the turf world after a three-year hiatus. He continued to breed champions, racing them under the Lorillard colors of cherry and black. His horses competed in England and the United States while he retained ownership of the Rancocas Farm and maintained stables on both sides of the Atlantic. Lorillard was racing the horse David Garrick in England when he developed a kidney inflammation. Returning to his home in New York City, he died in July 1901 with his children present but not his estranged wife. The settlement of his estate became controversial when he left the Rancocas Stock Farm to Mrs. Lillian Barnes Allien, his mistress and protégé in the racing world. Some of the Lorillards threatened to contest the will, however in the end Mrs. Allien became the owner for close to two decades. According to Dave Smith, she was as devoted to the turf world as Pierre Lorillard was. In 2011, on the basis of Dave Smith’s research, she was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. As a woman in a male-dominated field, she broke new ground by breeding and training numerous champions. 

LL Gratz owned horses as long as he lived in New Jersey, until he was past 60. Then he and May unexpectedly left the state around 1928 when their daughter’s marriage fell apart, leaving her alone with two small children in Florida. There is evidence that LL had hoped to live out his life on a New Jersey farm, country gentleman-style, but when he and May drove to Florida to rescue their daughter they remained there permanently. Instead of retiring, LL started a new career in real estate while May cared for the grandchildren and their daughter Marion taught school. The grandchildren grew up among citrus groves, far from the New Jersey countryside their families had farmed for two and a half centuries. Florida was a new adventure for the Gratzes, and May and LL spent the rest of their lives in Orlando. One grandchild told me that LL expressed no regrets whatsoever about leaving New Jersey, only some wistful reminiscences about succulent New Jersey tomatoes and the horses he had loved. 

Many features of LL Gratz’s Jobstown childhood still survive in 2011. There is of course the Helis Horse Farm, formerly the property of Pierre Lorillard and then Mrs. Lilly Allien. When Mrs. Allien (then Mrs. Livingston) moved her horse racing operations to Canada she sold Rancocas Stock Farm to Harry Sinclair, the colorful oil entrepreneur whose name figured in the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s. Sinclair then sold the farm to William Helis in the 1940s. The Gratzes no longer farm in Jobstown, but we can still see centuries-old homes and the Quaker meetinghouses where some of LL’s ancestors and relatives were buried up through the 20th century. Jobstown remains mostly farmland, as it was in LL’s childhood, providing a vivid window into Springfield Township’s past.

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