In 1876 Governor Leland Stanford purchased Mayfield Grange, about 650 acres along San Francisquito Creek near Menlo Park. Over the next ten years, he continued to acquire property in the area until his holdings included over 8000 acres of orchard, vineyard, grazing land, stables, and training tracks. It was on the Palo Alto Stock Farm that Stanford would continue his experiments in the breeding and training of trotting horses. Two dozen buildings, fifty paddocks and eight tracks were on the trotting farm. At its height, the farm employed 150 workers and boarded 600 horses.
Two buildings from the Stock Farm survive today. The Victorian Red Barn, built between 1878 and 1880, served as the training stable for the stock farm. The “fire-proof” brick stable Leland Stanford ordered as a replacement for a stable destroyed by fire in 1888 now houses the Equestrian Team Club House and other Equestrian Center facilities.
Governor Stanford acquired the stallion Electioneer for $12,000 in 1877. Over the next 14 years this legendary horse would sire 166 colts that could trot the mile in less than 2 1/2 minutes. The statue of Electioneer and the kiosk located at the entrance to the Equestrian Center were donated by Ambassador and Mrs. L.W. “Bill” Lane, Jr. and their family in 1985.
The Stock Farm was also the site of Eadweard Muybridge’s famed photographs of “horses in motion.” Governor Stanford hired Muybridge, then a well-known landscape photographer, to prove his theory that a trotter, at its fastest gait, momentarily has all four feet off the ground. Muybridge confirmed Stanford’s idea by working with railroad engineers in 1877 to develop a technique to take a sequence of images that captured a trotter’s actual movement. A plaque commemorates the role Muybridge and Stanford played in the early development of moving pictures.
In an oak grove not far from the brick barn, some fifteen of Stanford’s prized horses were buried. The cemetery is marked by a bronze statue of an Arabian horse donated by Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Hopkins in 1926. The statue, imported from France in the late 1800′s, previously stood on the Hopkins estate (known as Sherwood Hall) in Menlo Park.
The Stock Farm officially closed in 1903, ten years after Governor Stanford’s death. In 1946 President Donald Tresidder reopened the Red Barn as an equestrian facility, but by 1983, it was in serious disrepair. At this time, the generosity of Ambassador Bill Lane and other local equestrian visionaries intervened to enable the restoration and renovation of the building. From 1984 until 2004, Stanford contracted with the independent Equestrian Associates to oversee the Red Barn and its services.
In September 2004, the University resumed direct management of the Red Barn, an action that coincided with a second major renovation. Funded by the John Arrillaga Family, this recent renewal included not only upgrades of the Red Barn and of its adjacent buildings but also the expansion and modernization of the riding arenas and of the site as a whole. The Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center reopened in October 2005.