An obscure painting of an illustrious harness racer with deep Maine ties sent his son on a a journey of self-discovery and inspired an amateur historian to push for the induction of the driver with into The Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.

During his research, Stephen D. Thompson, creator and operator of the nonprofit The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center (losttrottingparks.com) in Hallowell, unearthed James W. Jordan’s storied career in Maine and the driver’s personal connections to standardbred owners — including one from Auburn.

The Illinois-born Jordan was posthumously inducted into the Harness Hall this past Sunday for his historic and remarkable accomplishments during harness racing’s heyday.

Jordan’s career spanned over five decades with 1,333 victories and earnings of more than $3.17 million. He passed away in 1977.

“A man who lives in Hallowell was looking for information on a painting he bought at auction years and years ago,” Thompson explained. “And so he sent me an email and said, ‘I have a painting you might be interested in,’ and so I go down there to his home and hanging in his hallway there’s a painting of this standardbred horse and a driver and the name of the painting was ‘Pershing Hanover with Jimmy Jordan Up.’ That’s what started it — purely coincidental.

“I started doing research and I found that the horse was actually owned by Gordon Drew of Augusta, Maine, and he did racing with his partner named Don Brooks. But after a month, I ended up getting this email from Jim Jordan Jr., and so this is where this whole thing evolved.”

And all it took was a painting hanging in a Hallowell home to bring Jordan’s stellar harness racing career to light.

Starting out of the gate in Maine

Jordan, who was born March 2, 1905 in Pittsfield, Ill., traveled by rail to begin his remarkable career in Maine as a groomer before he took the reins as a driver and eventually became an adept trainer.

According to the “The Maine Spirit of the Turf,” which is published online by the The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center, Jordan’s father’s favorite horse, Frank DeForest, was sold to owner Joe Robinson in Oxford. Jordan and his dad accompanied the horse to Maine in May of 1923.

After a year and half of grooming the horse, Jordan, 19, raced Frank DeForest at a track in Waterville, where he finished second.

The rest was about to be become history.

“He lived with Joe Robinson in Oxford back when Norway had a track,” Thompson said. “He started out as groom and then became a driver, As he became a trainer, his reputation grew, and he had his own training stable. Obviously he raced at Lewiston. I believe he came and lived in Lewiston for a while.

“So while he was there, he got associated with Avies Gross (of Auburn). Jordan also trained with a man named Bill Hall, and Billy Hall started training pleasure horses. Jimmy Jordan was invited to go down to Roosevelt Raceway, so he took two of Avies’ horses, Forbes Direct and Harvest High, and raced them at the New York. So for a while, he was racing her better horses and Bill Hall was doing her stable horses in Maine.”

When nightly racing began at Roosevelt and Yonkers raceways in New York before the start of World War II, Robert Johnson, president of Roosevelt Raceway, invited Jordan to stable his horses there.

He raced and trained horses at Roosevelt before he was drafted after World War II began. Jordan served in Gen. George S.Patton’s Third Army as an open-tank driver, but missed the battle to liberate Bastonge when he suffered an ankle injury loading ammunition. He was sent back to England to recuperate, but he did not return to Third Army. His tour of duty was up, so he was sent home.

Jordan’s accomplishments are numerous in Maine and around the nation. On July 19, 1941, at Old Orchard Beach, Jordan drove Gross’s Forbes Direct to the first-ever two-minute mile by a Maine-owned pacer.

Jordan’s Maine connections

Jimmy Jordan’s induction has not only reinforced Chip Foye’s pride in his grandmother — Avies Gross — but he learned more about a woman who stood out in the male-dominated sport of harness racing.

“God bless her. She was clearly ahead of her time, clearly had chutzpah, and I’m proud to call her grandmother, absolutely,” Foye, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, said. “(Jordan’s induction) has given my family and me a chance to reflect on the amazing accomplishments of a very special family member.

“(Gross) passed away in 1969 when I was 21 years old, so my knowledge of her is somewhat limited. What I do know is that, in addition to loving and appreciating her family, she loved all animals, but there was a special place in her heart for horses. In her later years in the ’50s and ’60s, she had a horse named Royal Cheetah that she kept at her stable on Fairview Avenue in Auburn. She loved taking care of it, and when it died, she had it buried on her property, along with several other horses, including probably Forbes Direct. The point here is that she cared not only for harness racing, but also for her horses.

“She loved sports. At her house in the late 50’s and early 60’s, she would always have PGA golf on her TV. She loved Arnold Palmer and didn’t care for the new kid on the block (Jack Nicklaus) — one of the reasons I enjoy golf so much today is because of her. I’m told she had a punching bag in her early years and boxed with her elbows as well as with her fists. I’m told she was the second woman to obtain a driver’s license in the city of Auburn. It is apparent from her accomplishments in life that she was a leader, not a follower, and she wasn’t intimidated at all by entering and competing in a sport at its highest level (grand circuit harness horse racing) that was predominately male-dominated.”

Of course, Jordan’s name was bandied about at the Gross household for years.

“As a kid growing up, I would hear stories about Jimmy Jordan, the grand circuit racing, Forbes Direct and Harvest High, but I didn’t understand the context of how they fit into my grandmother’s life,” Foye said. “Stephen Thompson’s research really forced me to delve into my grandmother’s accomplishments, and needless to say, I’m very proud of her. I wished my grandmother had lived longer so that I could have spent more time with her as an adult, and learned more about the amazing person she was.”

A son’s memories of dad

Jim Jordan Jr. remembers his loving father as a quiet man who loved camping and racing in the Pine Tree State. Jim’s journey into his father’s harness racing past began when he Googled his dad’s name.

“I Googled my father’s name, and lo and behold, there was a whole list of contacts. One of them was the Lost Heritage program that Stephen was running. I found a picture of the painting of my dad,” Jim said. “Stephen and I started emailing each other back. So we got on the phone, and he said, ‘Jim, have you ever thought about having your dad in the hall of fame?’ I know he had a distinguished career, but I didn’t know much about it. Once I graduated college, I was pretty much removed from the harness racing industry.”

But Jim couldn’t pass up on Thompson’s offer to lobby the hall of fame on behalf of Jim’s dad.

“When I started to learn more about him, and the time before he was married, I became a little bit more interested,” Jim said. “He never really talked about the racing in Maine. Steve kind of lit a fire under me and Steve said, ‘Why don’t you start putting stuff together. Why don’t we send the letter in at least for consideration?’”

Thanks to Thompson’s and Jim’s tireless efforts, Jordan earned the posthumous honor.

“He really had kind of quiet professional air to him,” Jim Jordan Jr. said. “He was friendly to everybody. If there’s anything that he passed on to my brother and myself, he had a tremendous work ethic. He had a real passion for the harness racing industry and standardbred racing.”

“I remember asking him why he took the risk to coming down to New York and getting off the county fair circuit and going to Roosevelt. He said, ‘You know, I bought into the vision of George Martin Levy, who was founder of Roosevelt Raceway. I thought that nighttime harness racing had a chance, and I wanted to be on the ground floor if it should suddenly take off.’”

Jordan was also quiet about his experiences in World War II.

“Like a lot of World War II veterans, he didn’t talk a lot about his time over there,” Jim said. “He said it was pretty intense. I remember him having a conversation with him later in life and he said, ‘It is indelibly marked in my mind.’”

Of course, Jim and his family weren’t about to miss his father’s induction.

“It was a long time coming,” Jim Jordan Jr. said. “He was a good man, and he was certainly a good father. He was certainly good at what he did and he had a passion for harness racing.

“I think after all these years, he is going to get to the winners’ circle one more time.”

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Jimmy Jordan’s career stats

@ Had over 7.600 starts and 1,094 wins, 964 seconds and1,031thirds, accounting for over $3,372,356

@ Was one of the first drivers to agree to stable at Roosevelt Raceway back in 1940 at the beginning of nightly harness racing in New York

@Last drive was on July 16, 1975 at Yonkers raceway.

@ In 1952, he was the second leading money-winning driver

@ Served in Patton’s Third Army as an open-tank driver

@ Had outstanding success as driver winning the Yonkers Pace with Direct Rhythm and the Messengers Stakes with O’Brien Hanover.

@ Major world records held: Trotter, time: 2:401/2, year: 1941 Sunny Boy, record: 11/4 mile; Pacer, time: 2:074/5, year:1953, horse: Meadow Rice, record: 11/16 mile

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