Lou “Sam” Hildebrandt Jr. said he was sick to his stomach as he watched the "farm barn" of the old Sanford Stud Farm collapse.
The approximately 140-year-old building, one of the 50 or so structures that once comprised the sprawling, 1,100 acre farm, collapsed last week after its southeast corner began to bulge.
"Somebody had sent me a picture that morning. I didn't realize how bad it was until I turned the corner, and it was jaw dropping to me," Hildebrandt said. "It's something that has just always been there — now it's done... just a pile of trash. It had been a picturesque building with very unique stain glass windows."
Both New York State Police and the Hagaman Volunteer Fire Department responded to the collapsed building. No one was injured.
Hildebrandt, one of the founding members of the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm, said the old building had been used to house dairy cows and a set of four white mules. He said he hopes the collapse of the building will spur fundraising efforts to save some of the other structures on the property.
"The Sanford farm, in its heyday, was like a small city. They slept up to 40 people in the dormitory above the broodmare barn. They had two cooks, a full kitchen. They had a chicken farm over on Route 67," he said.'' We've said this was preventable, and with the efforts that we have going on at this time, this isn't going to happen with the properties that we have under our purview because we have funding. We're trying to get some sunshine out of this cloud."
The former horse farm was first owned by legendary thoroughbred racehorse breeder and former U.S. Congressman John Sanford. Then it was owned by his son, Stephen Sanford, who also owned the Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Company in Amsterdam. The Sanford Stud Farm produced many successful race horses, including a Kentucky Derby winner.
Hildebrandt said the property has been divided among three owners: Florida resident Anita Cariati owns most of it; Carnegie Development owns the Sanford Farms Shopping Center and the land with the collapsed barn; and the town of Amsterdam owns the final 1.25 acres, which includes the former jumping horse barn, currently split in two, the mare and foal barn and the three-story, 16-stall broodmare barn.
Hildebrandt said the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm was formed as a nonprofit corporation in 2009 to raise money to restore the three buildings on town land. He serves as clerk of the works of that project. The group was created by his late father, Lou Hildebrandt Sr., who had been a stable contract horse jockey for the farm when it was active.
"In the old days, kids who had money went to college, but he learned everything he needed to know at Sanford Stud Farm. He called the farm his alumni group," Hildebrandt said of his father.
Over the past 10 years, The Friends of Sanford Stud Farm have raised about $485,000 towards restoration efforts, Hildebrandt said — 60 percent of it from private donors and the rest from Town of Amsterdam funds. The entire property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which has helped the town's parcel obtain annual grants of $25,000 and $40,000.
Hildebrandt said the board of directors of the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm, led by its president, Town of Amsterdam Supervisor Tom DiMezza, has planned to hold a "Horsetails and Cocktails" fundraiser in September to help raise $90,000 to upgrade the water and sewer systems on the property.
DiMezza did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Hildebrandt said the restoration project needs an estimated total of $250,000 to upgrade the facility to a fully functioning Visitors Center venue for the town.
"You can't have a museum, you have to have special permits and stuff for that, so we kind of bent the rules a little bit, and work the vocabulary, and call it a Visitors Center," he said. "It would be a functional visitors center and it could be granted for functions, receptions. We've had a wedding there already. We've had a couple of art shows. The reason we feel strongly is that the town has put a fair bit of money in, so it would be good for the town to be able to recoup some of their operating expenses instead of just throwing money into it. It would keep the taxpayers a little happier."
Hildebrandt said the amount of time needed to raise money for the restoration has exceeded initial expectations.
"My target was three years ago, obviously I'm not a very good aim. We're hoping to open the Visitor's Center, we think, now a little conservatively, [in] three to five years," he said.
One lingering concern is what remains of the two dozen other barn structures on the former Sanford property, many of them visible from the town land.
"We're like an island. I can look out the front window, and I can see, easily, 10 buildings from the broodmare barn," Hildebrandt said. "At least five or six of them, there's been no maintenance. That property was bought in the '70s, and nothing's been done with any of them. They're going to self destruct by neglect."
Hildebrandt said his organization has no interest in acquiring more of the old buildings. He said that while Carnegie Development offered the town the now collapsed "farm barn," the town turned down the offer.
"We were probably halfway to where we are now with the broodmare barn, which was a little over $300,000," he said. "Tom DiMezza had a sense that to take that building on with what we were already doing would be trying to fight a war on two fronts."
Hildebrandt said the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm facebook page will post the final dates for the planned fundraisers in September.