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A Road Well-Traveled

Photos: Stanford University Archives

The industrious Leland Stanford wore many hats over his lifetime — lawyer, merchant, chief railroad builder, governor of California, horse breeder, vintner, university founder, and U.S. senator. His lifelong passion, however, was horses. The son of a farmer and innkeeper, Stanford wanted his own son to experience rural living. In 1876, he began his purchase of acreage for the Palo Alto Stock Farm — now the site of Stanford University.

This tree-lined lane is a remnant of the farm. Governor’s Avenue originally ran 1.6 miles between the Stanfords’ country residence to Lake Lagunita. Whenever Governor Stanford was at the farm, he traveled this path to the trotting stables to watch the horses train every morning, including the day he died.

The Need for Speed

Leland Stanford’s pioneering flair carried into his horse training. At his Stock Farm, colts were trained as yearlings, not adults; horses were driven at full speed for short runs, not at slow speed for long distances. Stanford’s system worked: The farm’s horses, including some sired by Stanford’s prized horse, Electioneer, set 19 consecutive world speed records. The road to Stanford’s historic Red Barn is named after the legendary stallion.

From Horses to Hollywood

The development of motion pictures traces back to the Palo Alto Stock Farm. Leland Stanford hired photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove his contention that a horse, in its running stride, lifts all four feet at once. The horse-in-motion experiments, involving a 24-camera setup on a training track once west of here, led in 1878 to the first series of photographs depicting live-action movement. The experiment site is California Historical Landmark #834.

Photo: Linda A. Cicero

Stanford Red Barn

Before Stanford became a world-class university, it was a horse farm that produced champion racehorses. Stanford is still affectionately called “The Farm,” and two buildings from the Stock Farm survive today. The Victorian Red Barn, home to the Stanford Equestrian Team, and brick stable are now part of the Stanford Equestrian Center.