By: Hillary Delaney
Before big industry was introduced into Boone County, a different kind of production was happening along U.S. 25, where the Industrial Park now stands. Highland Stock Farm, a 550-acre thoroughbred breeding and training facility of the highest order, was once located at the southeast corner of what is now Dixie Hwy (US 25) and Industrial Road. The owner of Highland Stock Farm, Jerome “Rome” B. Respess, was a Boone County native, born here in 1863. Once a competitive showman of Saddlebreds at the local fairs, Rome’s interest turned to horseracing near the end of the 1800’s.
Respess was a success, and soon owned a brewery and interest in several racetracks around the country, including Latonia Racetrack. He began breeding and training champion racehorses at his Ohio stud farm before moving to the Florence location. Highland Stock Farm could house 140 horses and had nine bright white barns. On average, there were 50 foals born there per year. The Florence farm was home to some big names in thoroughbred racing during the early 20th century. Wintergreen was the 1909 Kentucky Derby winner, but his sire, Dick Welles (born in 1900) was the star.
He smashed records far and wide, once setting a world record for the mile at 1 min. 37sec. Dick Welles was frequently compared to the famous Man O’ War, and was called the “swiftest thoroughbred ever seen on the American Continent” by the Lexington Herald in 1904. His bloodlines proved successful and he is mentioned frequently in industry archives of breeding associations, well beyond his death in 1923. Respess thought so highly of Dick Welles, that he installed a monument to the horse with a bronze marker on the farm.
Rome and wife Rena experienced tragedy in 1932, when their only child died in a car accident on his way to Louisville on the eve of the Derby. Jerome B. Respess, Jr., a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Kentucky, was en route to help prepare a horse for the race when the accident occurred. When the elder Respess succumbed to illness in 1939, his widow sold the farm to the Holton family who held it until receiving an offer to purchase from the developers of what is now the Northern Kentucky Industrial Park.