The late 1800s is often referred to as the “Golden Age of the Horse”, but was it truly “golden”? The horse was depended on to provide power for transportation, farm work, fire-fighting, and industries such as mills, foundries, machine shops, and breweries. Horses also provided entertainment through sports such as horse-racing, hunting, and driving. Sadly, there were no laws during this time to protect horses or any other animal. Horses would break down at a young age from neck and spine injuries due to years of abuse and overwork. In fact, Horses at the time had a life expectancy of only four years due to the overwork, abuse, and malnutrition. Most people felt powerless to help, until 1877 when Anna Sewel wrote Black Beauty. She wrote the novel to promote awareness and better treatment of the animals. The Waln-Ryerss family was not far behind in the animal welfare movement.
The Waln-Ryerss Family’s Effort
Anne Waln-Ryerss, who was responsible for bringing Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines into existence, came from a long line of animal rights proponents. The Waln-Ryerss family is well known for their efforts to help improve the lives of animals. Morris Waln donated $10,000 to support the establishment of the Philadelphia SPCA in 1866. Anne’s husband, Joseph Ryerss, was also from a family of philanthropists and animal rights activists. Anne’s stepson, Robert Waln Ryerss was instrumental in creating the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Anti-Vivisectionist Society of Pennsylvania. Anne spent her time persuading owners of mistreated horses that the horses needed time to rest and regain their health at her farm in Burnholme. However, many of the horses did not return to a point where they could sustain a heavy workload again, so they stayed on the farm under the care of the family.
The Early Days
Sadly, Anne passed away in 1888. Upon her death, she left $30,000 to establish a hospital for “ill, aged, and injured animals” and an additional $40,000 in an endowment to maintain the farm. Anne’s stepson, Robert purchased an 80-acre farm at Meetinghouse & Krewstown Roads in the Bustleton section of Northeast Philadelphia to fulfill her wishes. On September 17, 1888, “Ryerss Infirmary for Dumb Animals” opened as a charitable organization with a mission “to provide a permanent home for old favorites whose owners, instead of destroying or selling them, desire to place them under good treatment for the remainder of their days.” The early residents were hunters, ponies, workhorses, and horses that pulled Philadelphia’s fire engines. Robert served as the first president until retiring in 1895.
Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines
In 1927, the horses moved to a new barn in Chesterbrook. They were not there long when they were moved back to Bustleton. Years later, in 1956, Ryerss purchased a 108-acre farm on King Road in West Whiteland Township. This property was one of the largest in the country at that time with a barn that featured 40 stalls. The Board of Directors decided to seek out a less densely populated area and acquired the Soleil Farm in South Coventry and Warwick Townships totaling 363 acres and moved into the farm in 1987. In October of 1991, the Directors changed the name to “Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines”. Approximately 330 acres of Ryerss Farm is part of the Chester County Agricultural Land Preservation Program. One hundred and thirty two years later, Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines is the oldest non-profit horse sanctuary in the United States and continues to provide a haven for horses of all breeds, sizes, and backgrounds, thanks to the far-reaching vision of a bold and determined woman named Anne Waln Ryerss.
On Wednesday, November 27, 2019, the electrical panel located in the main barn caught fire shortly after the horses had been turned out to pasture. It started just as the staff and volunteers were arriving for the day. The quick response of the Ridge, Ludwig’s Corner, Norco, Limerick, and Twin Valley Fire Companies, with support from the Goodwill Ambulance Company, helped contain the fire. There was extensive damage to the kitchen and the electrical panel.
Save the Date
Ryerss is hosting a buffet dinner to honor the first responders and contractors who helped Ryerss come back after the fire last November. The buffet will be held at The Carousel in Pottstown on March 14, 2020 from 6 pm to 10 pm. The price is $35 per person, children under 12 are $15 and infants are free. There will be a buffet dinner, DJ, raffle baskets, 50/50 drawings, and unlimited merry-go-round rides on the beautiful, restored carousel. Due to limited seating, RSVP by March 2nd. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Ryerss enjoys giving back to the community and hopes that many people will come out in support of the first responders and contractors. If you can’t attend the event but would still like to help a great cause, you can donate by clicking here.