william h. wilson
William H. Wilson was born in Whiteside County, Illinois on November 5, 1837 and grew up in Chicago. At the age of fifteen he made his way west where he split rails, rafted lumber, drove stagecoaches and became a self-made Western man. As he grew older he began to handle horses and was successful in trading and commission dealing. He became a good trainer and occasionally drove in races. In 1862 Wilson married Anna Eliza Cook of Cynthiana, Kentucky. His subsequent relocation to Kentucky would prove to be a decisive factor in the shaping of his career and the history of the Standardbred. He was considered to be the first man to realize that Kentucky was destined to become a great center of trotting horse production.
In 1873 Wilson leased Hall of Fame Immortal George Wilkes 2:22 from his longtime friends William and Zacharia Simmons. Wilson took him to Lexington where he stood the son of Hambletonian 10 for a $100 stud fee at a farm named Ashland Park. In Wallace's Monthly it is noted that Wilson "was always far-seeing in all matters relating to the trotting horse and his bloodlines, and never was this better illustrated than by his selection of George Wilkes to take to Kentucky, at a time when that stallion had absolutely no reputation as a sire."
In marketing George Wilkes, Wilson was tireless and innovative. He found brilliant ways to finance his breeding operations, at a time when Kentucky overflowed with high-bred horses. In that first season, Wilson brought no less than 82 mares to George Wilkes. It was an amazing feat. Seeing the stallion's new potential, the Simmons brothers declined to renew Wilson's lease for a second year. It was because of Wilson's faith in George Wilkes, however, that the stallion became one of Kentucky's premiere sires.
Wilson was always eager to raise the status of the trotter, both by better breeding and care of the animals and by the improvement of trotting law and morals. In 1874 Wilson was instrumental in establishing the Kentucky Trotting Horse Breeders' Association, which Immortal John Hervey describes as "the most famous body of its kind ever known, as well as the most influential in the history of harness racing." In 1875 the Association staged its first race meeting at the track which is today known as The Red Mile.
That same year, Wilson built the Abdallah Park stock farm at Cynthiana, Kentucky, which became the home of Goldsmith's Abdallah and the site of various fairs, exhibitions and trotting meetings, including the annual Harrison County Fair. Among the famous horses that raced or were exhibited there was Immortal Goldsmith Maid 2:14, for many years the world's champion trotter. Wilson's greatest breeding triumph was Immortal McKinney 2:11 1/4, who was foaled at Abdallah Park in 1887.
William H. Wilson died in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 14, 1892 at the age of fifty-four.