Article by Ruth Condro | Owl Staff
Within each county there are mysteries of the history and how life was in the past. It’s easy to overlook the beauty of our surroundings and forget how our very own counties and cities were developed. It is in the past that we can learn about and appreciate our hometowns.
Recognized for its educational success and contributions to restoring the history of the Hays-Heighe House, the grounds of HCC were once admired for its breeding of prize-winning horses.
The house was built in 1808 by the Hays family and later owned by the Heighe’s family, who inherited the famous horse, Durbar II.
Compiling five victories throughout his career, Durbar’s presence still lies beneath us on campus and only history tells the story of his location.
Known for the best racing in the nation, New York received bad news in 1908 when the state legislature passed the Hart-Agnew bill, outlawing gambling in the state. Struggling with the urge to continue racing, Durbar’s owner, Herman Duryea sent his American-born horses to Europe.
It was at this time that Durbar caused controversy in Britain. He was the first American horse to win the British Derby of 1914.
After the death of Durbar’s owner, he was transferred to America following the 1924 season. The horse became the property of Robert Heighe, Mrs. Duryea’s nephew, in 1928 and was moved to Prospect Hill farm, presently on HCC’s campus. Shortly after his arrival, the old stallion became ill and died in 1931.
It is believed that beneath the fields of Harford’s campus there are several horses and other animals buried, along with Durbar II. The important question is where?
HCC employee, Carol Himmer’s grandfather, Fritz Boniface, was once the stud foreman at Prospect Hill farm in the 1930’s. Boniface believed the horse was buried near the flagpole to the side of the library. This is also where Himmer once saw a stone marker in recognition of Durbar II.
However, there are conflicting opinions. Himmer’s uncle believed the horse was buried on the lawn side of the Hays-Heighe house, now considered the rear of the house.
According to Dr. Sharon Stowers, Assistant Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, test pits have been conducted around the Hays-Heighe House, but no artifacts or bones have been found. Test pits are important because they provide the opportunity to quickly examine a large area. Detailed archaeological excavations are often conducted to determine, if possible, sites exist.
The soil on HCC’s campus is acidic clay; therefore, “in Maryland, bones of people and animals rarely survive because of the chemicals in the soil, except if buried with oyster shells,” explains Stowers. The chemical composition of shells helps neutralize the acids in clay soils and can lead to the discovery of people and animals remains.
She continues to explain a new source of hope in finding the infamous Durbar II by the use of ground penetrating radar. It has not yet been conducted on campus, but has the capability to show soil disturbances. These archeological studies help with the “development of the Hays-Heighe’s House, as a historic entity and exhibit space,” says Stowers.
Considered a national historic place, “the Hays-Heighe House highlights the social and cultural history of Harford County,” Dr. Stowers explains enthusiastically.
Her devotion to preserving the house and to archeological digs has impacted the history of not only the house, but in understanding the history of the legendary Durbar II.
Although funding has not yet begun towards ground penetrating radar, the hope of one day locating the champion racehorse stands in the future of HCC.