Erdenheim Farm

Lafayette Hill, Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

Built 1765, for Johannes Georg Hocker (1733-1820). The picturesque mansion on this farm was redesigned by Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) in the early 20th century and is visible from the road between Stenton Avenue and Chestnut Hill. Erdenheim Farm is still operational today and since 1861 it has been associated with an exceptionally high number of America's best-known racehorses, most notably under the ownership of the Widener family, best associated with Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park. 
Hocker purchased the farm and it's 200 acres for £1,600. He named the house he built there Erdenheim which is German for "earthly home". It was a long stone structure, covered in stucco with columns along the front. An extension in the form of a wing was later added and it is presumed to have remained in the Hocker family until 1861. In that year, Erdenheim was purchased by Aristides Welch (1811-1890) and his wife Rachel Henrietta Jackson Armstrong (1832-1870). Welch was formerly a purser in the United States Navy who resigned in 1856 and turned his hand to breeding thoroughbred racehorses, in which he had considerable success.

Aristides and Henrietta Welch lived at Erdeneheim for just over twenty years. According to The New York Times, under Welch, Erdenheim became, "celebrated all over the country as the birthplace of the most noted horses ever on the turf ". One of his horses won the inaugural Kentucky Derby and another was the internationally-acclaimed Iroquois, that he sold to Pierre Lorillard IV (1833-1901). Iroquois was the first American-bred horse to win the Epsom Derby, and a further five British championships in 1881. Over the years, Welch enlarged Erdenheim's holdings to 280 acres, but having outlived his wife he retired to Philadelphia.

In 1882, Welch sold Erdeneheim and 80 of it's horses for $100,000 to Commodore Norman Wolfred Kittson (1814-1888) and his son, James Edward Kittson (1862-1900). Under the management of the Commodore's eldest son, Louis Kittson, the stud farm continued it's winning traditions. The Kittsons built a picturesque stone bridge over a stream, enlarged the property to 450 acres and laid out two outdoor tracks and one indoor track for training their horses. The mile-long outside track racing track was described as "one of the best tracks (in the country and) level as a billiard table". In 1890, two years after the Commodore's death, Louis bought out his elder brother and continued to breed and race horses at Erdenheim.

In 1896, Louis Kittson sold Erdenheim for $100,000 to Robert Niedermark Carson (1844-1907), who maintained it as more of a country estate than a stock farm, dividing his time between there and his summer residence at Newport, Reef Point. He and his wife, Isabel Frances Flickinger (d.1912) made alterations to the old Hocker farmhouse, redesigning it as a 'rustic' summer house. On Carson's death, he left 100 acres of the estate, with endowment fund of $5 million, on which to build what is today known as the "Carson Valley School".

In 1912, Mrs Carson's heirs sold Erdenheim to George Dunton Widener, Jr. (1889-1971), of Lynnewood Hall. In Widener, Erdenheim was once again in the possession of a passionate and successful thoroughbred owner and breeder who served as President of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. George was introduced to the world of racing by his uncle, Joseph Early Widener (1871-1943), President of the Belmont Park Racetrack and the Hialeah Racetrack. In the same year that Widener bought Erdenheim, he lost his father and brother on board the Titanic.

Widener hired his family's preferred architect, Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938), to enlarge and redesign the Hocker/Carson house into a 60-room Colonial-Revival mansion, surrounded by formal gardens and greenhouses. From 1917, he lived here with his wife Jessie Sloane (1883-1968), the ex-wife of William Earl Dodge (1883-1926). The Wideners died without children and on George's death he named his nephew, Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (1923-2006), as his sole heir.

Dixon inherited the 500-acre property in 1971. He continued to breed thoroughbreds on the farm and many of his horses competed in show jumping events and dressage. He also kept a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and a flock of Border Cheviot sheep.

Since 2001, the Dixon estate has been drastically subdivided and in some cases developed. However, Erdenheim Farm itself has been preserved and is still operational today. Dr David Costa recently published The History of Erdenheim Farm (2013).
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 16/10/2018 and last updated on 23/02/2019.


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