Christening the Stables
Russell Lands opens equestrian center with Kentucky Derby party
Ladies milled about in wide-brimmed hats and brightly colored dresses while men watched the race in seersucker, blazer and fedoras.
It was the day of the Kentucky Derby, but this scene was set on Lake Martin, not Louisville. Hundreds of smartly dressed visitors packed into The Stables at Russell Crossroads’ open house to watch the annual Run for the Roses.
The Stables is Russell Lands on Lake Martin’s new equestrian center.
The 8,000 square foot building is made up of the stables downstairs and a loft, where Derby visitors danced to Cowboy Bill and Company and watched Super Saver race to the win on a big screen TV.
Russell Lands CEO Ben Russell, who designed the Stables, said they were pleased with the turnout for the open house.
“We’re really enthused about the response,” he said.
Local artist Lila Graves set up a table with tissue paper, flowers and other materials for visitors to embellish their hats.
“Whoever comes up, you’ve got to read them to see what they need for their hat,” Graves said.
In the hours before the race, people voted for the winning horse with half of the proceeds going to the winner and the other half going to Children’s Harbor. Burt Fessler won the voting competition, which he credited to “good luck.” Children’s Harbor employees worked the event, taking up tickets and serving drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
Both locals and summer visitors attended the party and many said they want to return next year, including Atlanta native Jenny Luttrell, who was visiting her lake home with her family.
“I have a feeling this is going to turn into a fun tradition,” she said. “This barn is just so beautiful. It’s almost like something you’d see at the Biltmore house.”
The open house was the culmination of three years of planning and building. It is now home to 17 horses, which are cared for by Trail Boss Stanley Ingram and his wife, Linda.
The Ingrams live in Alexander City and once owned Ingram’s Garage. They first began working for Ben Russell several years ago giving carriage rides for special events before he approached them about managing Russell Lands’ extensive trail system.
“He said, ‘If you come down here and do the trail system for us, I’ll build you a barn.’ I had no idea it was going to be this extreme,” Stanley Ingram said.
Russell designed the barn himself with Ingram’s input. Russell Lands Vice President Roger Holliday said Russell put hours into the process.
“I’d say every night for at least a year, I’d leave the office at six o’clock and he’d be sketching it out,” he said.
Russell admits the design process could be consuming at times.
“My wife threw my computer away … not really,” he said.
The Stables was based on traditional barns, which were built against a hillside so farmers could load hay into the loft. For liability reasons, Russell Lands could not build directly against a hillside, but a wooden, Kingsport-style bridge leads from the rocky hill into the loft.
The bridge and loft are higher and wider than a traditional barn.
“It’s higher than most stables would be, because Stanley Ingram said it would be really very special if we could ride the stagecoach in, so we made it unusually high for that purpose,” Russell said.
The tall loft is not the only element of The Stables that strays from tradition.
“People with an interest in design can see the unusual aspects of it,” Russell said. “The structural aspect is hard to explain, but it’s a lot of triangles.”
Indeed, triangles can be seen everywhere in the beams bracing the loft walls and the cupola. The barn is laid out like a compass and each wing offers views of the 32 acres surrounding The Stables as well as SpringHouse Restaurant.
“This is a true north-south-east-west layout,” Linda Ingram said. “If you were over it, you could actually tell what direction you were flying because it’s like a true compass.”
The details on the lower level were just as planned and perfected. Each of the horses has its own stall and an extra stall serves as a medical unit for injured or ill animals.
Original wagon tongue chains hang on the column between each stall – a decorative accent that are now used to crosstie the horses. Horseshoes were used to reinforce the joists in the ceiling.
Linda, who serves as The Stables’ static office manager and events coordinator, has an office located right in the middle of a row of stalls. The Stables also has an entrance room on the lower floor. The rustic room features antique wooden benches, a historic map of Lake Martin and several saddles, including one used by Benjamin Russell, Russell Corp. founder and Ben Russell’s grandfather.
The wood used to create The Stables came from Russell Lands property, even the wood-framed mirrors in the downstairs visitors’ bathrooms.
Together, the Ingrams are responsible for all aspects of The Stables: hosting parties and maintaining the barn, land and the 50-60 miles of trails in the Russell Forest. Stanley and Linda own all of the 17 horses that are housed in The Stables and ridden by visitors during trail rides.
Linda is responsible for scheduling parties and appointments, while Stanley oversees the trail system, which he marked and flagged by foot, and gives guided tours.
The trails officially opened on May 8, the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. The first week saw riders and hikers from across the U.S., including California, Texas and Minnesota.
There are 50 to 60 miles of trail winding through the Russell Forest and by the lake. Trailheads are scattered throughout Russell Lands property and picnic areas are located across the system. Unauthorized motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trails.
Guests are also allowed to bring their own horses on the trails, but The Stables does not board the animals for visitors. The trails are open for guided tours Tuesday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.