Reflections – Percheron Horses Make History

Posted: November 11, 2022

Horses, and especially Percheron draft horses, played an important role in DeKalb County history.

Firmly rooted in the county’s agriculture, show and breeding horses became big business, rivaling—and largely supported by—the county’s early industrial manufacturing.

The Percheron horses arrived in DeKalb County after the 1850s. According to 1885 county history, “Porter S. Coolidge [of Cortland] has the credit of being the first to bring Norman Horses into the township, and probably the first in the county.”

This railcar carried Percheron horses for W.L. Ellwood in the late 1800s.

In DeKalb, by 1892, three massive horse farms anchored the east, west, and north-central edges of town.
The DeKalb Stock Farm, “about ½ mile east of town on the DeKalb-Cortland road,” was incorporated by some of the owners of Shipman and Bradt wagon company. “A model stock farm,” the company operated it “for the purpose of breeding and developing horses exclusively for road qualities and speed.”

The farm boasted a large horse barn, at least one additional stall building, a water works that supplied water to the buildings and the pasture, “one of the best half-mile training tracks in the state,” and a “1/8 mile track covered in cinders upon which to exercise and drive horses when wet weather and mud would prevent the use of the regular track or road.”

Barbed wire inventor Joseph Glidden and his relative Chase S. Glidden ran the 1,000-acre DeKalb Farm just west of the city, “raising draft and driving horses.”

But the largest and most important enterprise was Ellwood Green. “On the [northern] edge of DeKalb was established the Ellwood Green Farm, the fame of which spread into many countries. The field of horse raising was first entered to supply the demand for first class carriage and draft horses,” W.L. Ellwood’s 1933 obit recounted.

This Percheron gray horse, named Cheri, was imported from Orne, France and owned by W. L. Ellwood of DeKalb. He was a prizewinner, having been awarded the highest prize at the Government Show at Chartres, France, in 1885, and three first prizes at the Illinois State Fair of 1886. He was the premier sire at the breeding farm of Mr. Ellwood. This appeared in The Breeds of Live Stock and the Principle of Heredity by J. H. Sanders, Chicago, 1887.

Using money made in the barbed wire business, “The best strains of Percheron draught horses was brought to this country [from France, England and elsewhere] for the Ellwood stables and the reputation that was built remained even long after the motor truck became practical.”

In downtown DeKalb, visitors could find a horse sale held on the Main Street (now Lincoln Highway). “Over $100,000 [more than $3,000,000 in today’s money] was paid for horses here at our monthly horse sales, third Friday in every month, during 1891, and this is entirely outside the sales of the regular breeding establishments, which will aggregate $500,000 more for the year.” This dropped to $30,000 in 1894 [still more than $1,000,000 today], but “The shipments of other stock by our local dealers and farmers who market their own stock, will reach about a car load a day the year through.”

Many of the horses brought to DeKalb County or bred in DeKalb County, along with their lineages, appear in the nationally published registers and stud books of the time. For decades, they were shown throughout the country.

Information provided by the DeKalb County History Center. For more information visit