The Stock Farm Story
Eldon Stock Farm Eldon Stock Farm Is A Marriage Of Place And Vision. The place is western Rappahannock County beneath Thornton Gap. The vision was that William N. Lane, who mustered out of the military at the close of World War II and with his brother and another partner, acquired a small trade bindery in Chicago. Over the next fifteen years, Bill Lane grew the General Binding Corporation into a world-wide leader in the design and manufacturing of paper-handling machines and supplies all the while recalling his grandfather’s Wyoming, mountains and wide plains, sheep and cattle.
While looking at a possible Virginia acquisition in 1960, Bill had time to casually tour Rappahannock and the Shenandoah National Park. He became enthralled by the region’s blend of orchards, meadows and cropland punctuated by the ancient outcroppings of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Vision, formed in his youth in Wyoming, had found place.
His drive out of the Park and back down to Sperryville was slow as he siddled into turnouts to drink in the stunning panoramas of the Thornton Valley. Interestingly, the high points of the Eldon Stock Farm were always in the middle of his views.
Recounting those early days in Rappahannock:
“ I went around and rang a lot of doorbells – most of the farmers were about to retire. The small guy could exist, but he could live better if he cashed in his chips.”
In 1961, Lane pulled off the impossible and in one day closed purchases of seven farms comprising 3,200 acres. Rappahannock was jolted and by the close of the decade Lane had acquired another 6,000 acres. Not since the early days of our country had such a holding, such a kingdom, existed in the Commonwealth or the whole of the mid-Atlantic. Bill Lane surpassed “charming” – he genuinely liked people and his authentic respect for them was palpable. Neighbors asked neighbors how they got along with the fellow from Chicago.
For decades, productive apple orchards had been the agricultural mainstay of Rappahannock, but the days of apples were quickly fading. Bill Lane saw Rappahannock’s possibilities for beef cattle and was among the first of the region’s landowners to begin to remove orchards and make way for a grand and expansive stock farm.
Vestiges of many smaller farms are woven into Eldon’s tapestry.
Gentle terrain, abundant water and plentiful grass – healthy beef.
The classic breed of the day was the Hereford from England. Bill immediately began to build one of the finest commercial cattle herds in the Eastern United States. When his manager or a fellow livestock owner attempted to talk about other breeds, Lane quickly responded saying “You can run any damned breed you like on Eldon as long as it’s red and white!”
Amongst any number of stunning perches for building compounds, four sites which had previously been headquarters for separate farms were chosen for renovation and a few additional buildings. Little Eldon was Ann Lane’s favorite – the pastoral setting amongst towering oaks drew her willingly away from her choice compound in Lake Forest, Illinois, for extended stays over the many years.
Clover Hill became the center of operations and enjoys a historic setting and lofty scenery. An early 19th century stone home anchors the core of this classic Southern setting.
Mountain View is just that with a breath-taking panorama of the Blue Ridge from the front porch of the residence. Its renovated outbuildings currently support the Farm’s operations.
Another site, ingloriously dubbed Shingle Shanty because of the American Craftsman-Style home’s cedar shingle siding, housed the Farm’s manager. The house commands sweeping views of Eldon’s great pastures and has a wonderful barn and out-buildings.
These homes have been sensibly updated and well maintained but are not palatial. One of Bill Lane’s legacies is the attention given to the land and the cattle while assuring the usefulness and comfort of the improvements.
Eldon Stock Farm was created from over sixty separate holdings, many of which came with dwellings of lower quality or otherwise of limited serviceability. In the more than fifty years of Lane family ownership a number of these functionally obsolete buildings have been removed opening up even grander viewscapes.
Bill Lane’s vision was not limited to the Virginia Piedmont. In 1969 he learned that the headquarters parcel of the storied Bell Ranch, an astounding 131,000 deeded acres, together with the iconic Bell brand had been put up for sale. The Bell Ranch, occupying a good chunk of northeast New Mexico, originated from a 656,000-acre grant by Mexico to Don Pablo Montoya in 1824. However, by 1947 the Bell had been broken up into multiple smaller parcels. As done in Rappahannock, Bill Lane immediately started knocking on the neighbors’ doors. By 1974, he had acquired three more pieces of the original grant adding an additional 159,000 acres bringing the Bell back to 290,000 acres and creating the most storied and desirable ranch west of the Mississippi.
Two iconic locations, Eldon Stock Farm and the Bell Ranch. One man’s vision. Tragically, this visionary gentleman, died in a roll-over accident on the Bell in 1978.
Bill Lane’s assemblage of dozens of tracts may never be duplicated in the Eastern United States.
The Lane Family’s Caring and Wise Stewardship of Eldon Stock Farm has continued in the forty plus years since his death. Bill’s son, Nelson, made the farm his home as a young man, bringing his first child home to Shingle Shanty. Nelson, now of Colorado, remains a known quantity in Rappahannock where he served as county supervisor and led in the creation of the county’s first comprehensive land use plan. Bill’s widow, Ann, resided at Little Eldon until the time of her passing in 1991.
The Farm has also been served by the very best in professional managers. William “Bill” Oliver was a fine Virginia stockman and an early proponent of GPS technology. Years ahead of smart phones and fancy devices Bill walked each of the property lines for all of the more than sixty parcels, marking corners and clarifying boundaries. One would be hard pressed to find a farm of this stature and history with such superb land records.
Several years before Bill Oliver’s retirement the Lane Family recruited a young Cornell graduate student to the Farm.
John Genho, with his wife Lynnie, left the Ivy League for Rapphannock’s meadows and mountains. John was not an ordinary genetics student. His father, Paul – one of the Nation’s leading beef geneticists – managed the Deseret Ranch in Florida and the King Ranch in Texas. John holds degrees from Brigham Young University, Cornell University (MA, Animal Breeding and Genetics) and Duke University (MBA, the Fuqua School).
John has responsibility for the oversight of all activities at Eldon and resides on property adjacent to the Farm. He and his wife are active in the lives of their five growing children as well as community endeavors throughout Rappahannock.
While serving as Eldon Stock Farm’s General Manager, in 2005, John formed Livestock Genetic Services, advising cattle operations and breed associations throughout the world in the adoption and implementation of genetic testing. By September 2018, his reputation and practical applications of “best science,” resulted in Neogen Corporation’s acquisition of LGS’s assets describing Genho as a “long-time strategic partner” and positioning Neogen as the only global agrigenomics business with a full end-to-end solution.
Thoughtful management since 1961 has created a safe harbor for Nature’s most delicate creatures.