Did you know that there was a harness racetrack near the corner of Glendale and Spring Valley Roads?  I heard about it in passing a while ago, but was never exactly sure where it would have been located.  However, I figured it would have been set far back from today’s road and on private property, so I fought my inclination to bushwhack back there and see what I could find.  Plus, it was active in about the 1850 – 70s, so there’s probably not much left to see now.

Still, I’ve had this post simmering for a while now, but someone sent me this image of an old handbill they found on the Internets, so I just had to get serious about writing it up:

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If you have $1250 lying around, this poster might even still be for sale.  Check out the link here.

Imagine —  “The Trot of the Season”!!  Right here in Ossining (or is it New Castle?)!  A $2000 purse!  And a “Beautiful Shady Picnic Area”!

It’s so strange to think of this spot supporting what must have been quite a sizable event (remember, $2000 in 1853 dollars is about $58,000 today!) because now this is a very secluded, quiet area.  I can’t imagine hordes of people descending here for gambling and horse racing.  But obviously they did.

For those of you in the know, of course you’ll recognize Flora Temple — why she’s the horse mentioned in the song “Camptown Races”:

Camptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long
Oh, doo-da day

Goin’ to run all night
Goin’ to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the bay

So, we weren’t the Camptown Races, and I don’t know if the Glendale track was five miles long, but old Flora Temple is in the Hall of Fame in the Harness Racing Museum located in Goshen, NY.  (I know, right?  This is a thing?)   According to their website:  “When Flora Temple had raced her last race in 1861, she had appeared in 112 events, won 95 of them, and raced to wagon in record time of 2:19 3/4 at Kalamazoo, Michigan at the age of fourteen. She became a national favorite and her docked tail inspired a famous folk-song refrain ‘bet my money on the bob-tailed mare.'”

And she was right here!!!

Take a look at this 1867 map from DeBeer’s Atlas.  See Glendale Park circled in red?  That’s where the race track was.

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Sadly, I’ve been told there’s apparently no sign of the racetrack anymore — “flooded by beavers,” is the story, so there you go.

But still, I’m trying to imagine that Wednesday in June, 1853, when Flora Temple raced Highland Maid for a $2,000 purse.  First, who would have been free to carouse at a racetrack in the middle of week?  Not likely the farmers in the neighborhood, who were busy growing things like peas, potatoes, barley, buckwheat, flax, apples and hops, not to mention raising dairy cattle for cheese and milk and butter.  (Check out the agricultural census from 1850 for this very area!)  Who, then, would have filled this bucolic corner with wagons and buggies, and have had cash lining their pockets and a burning desire to put it all down on a horse race?  I see women in bonnets, full skirts and and lace gloves, gossiping around a wooden stand selling cold lemonade, with ice sawed from the Hudson over the previous winter and stored in nearby stone icehouse.  Perhaps they are talking about the absence of the new First Lady, Jane Pierce, from the White House due to the tragic death of her 11-year old son Benjamin in a freak train accident.  (“I heard that both the President and the First Lady witnessed his head bounce down the aisle after their car derailed and plunged down an embankment outside of Boston.”)  Nearby, men in high collars and black frock coats are indulging in cider and beer and talking of politics:

“How about this new President, Franklin Pierce?  Gotta be an improvement on Millard Fillmore — that man was so dull and incompetent that even his own party wouldn’t nominate him again!”

“But d’you think this unknown Pierce can really deliver peace and prosperity like he promised? They all say that.  And what about war between the states?  Is the danger really over?”

“And can this slavery issue just fade away?  I’m so sick of hearing about it,”  said with a furtive glance to the black men hauling ice and tending to the meat roasting on spits.

The “refreshments” promised were likely an assortment of local delicacies, like freshly shucked oysters, clam broth and pea soup.   The smell of roasting meat must have filled the air, and the tables groaned with thick cuts of cornbread accompanied by jugs of maple syrup, bowls of mashed turnips and potatoes, spring peas in butter sauce, boiled spinach with slices of hard boiled egg on top, succotash and apple sauce.  On the dessert table, spice cakes and sugar cookies, pound cakes and strawberries for a few cents a plate.  But the most popular item of all would have been the vanilla ice cream from the hand cranked ice cream machine, and topped with stewed raspberries.

Perhaps.  Who’s to say for sure?

But who built the racetrack?  Who owned it?  Who came to watch the races, and from whence did they come?

I have no clue.  To be honest, I haven’t dug that deep into this specific site, save to find it on a map.  So, if anyone has any further information to add to this story, please comment below!

11 thoughts on “Glendale Racetrack

  1. Interesting, Caroline! I can’t help with the history but I believe that area is New Castle with an Ossining post office address.

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  2. Do you have any information about the Brookside Trotting Track (Somerstown Road- Tavano Lane was built in one of the straightaways) or can you suggest how I can learn more about it.
    I found the New Castle poster about 10 years ago while trying to find photos of the Brookside track.
    Thanks.

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  3. We have a real mystery here. I did some research and found, in multiple sources, that Flora Temple and Highland Maid were racing at the Centreville Course at Long Island on that very day. Here is a notice from the New York Herald dated June 10, 1853.
    “GREAT TROTTING MATCH, $2,000 — THE TROT OF the season — Flora Temple and Highland Maid, Centreville course, Long Island. Wednesday, June 15, 1853, at 3 o’clock, P.M.; match $2,000, mile heats, best three in five, in harness. Hiram Woodruff names P. m. Flora Temple; F.J. Nadine names b. m Highland Maid. Omnibusses leave South ferry, …. ”
    I also found a newspaper review of the race dated June 16, 1853, so it really did happen at that location, no sudden change of venue. I’m not sure what the answer is to this puzzle. Maybe someone else can tell us?

    Speaking of mysteries — did you know that just around the corner from the old Glendale Park is the home of Julie Campbell Tatham, who developed the Trixie Belden mystery series? She wrote the first six books when she lived at Wolf Hollow on Glendale Road. She used her own house, as well as other houses on Glendale Road, as a “template” for the setting.

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  4. Curiously, i first found the racetrack’s outlines on a winter 1986 satellite photo, including the major oval & the two smaller opposing half-circles; unmistakably! i went out several times in the Glendale swamp: alone & accompanied, winter & spring, looking for any traces of the trackways. I was unable to do so! The images are still clear on Google satellite maps the last time i checked. How could i fail to spot an alley-way amongst the thousands of swamp maples that grow amok out of the muck surrounded by cinnamon ferns? I looked when the ground was frozen: ice over mud, and when the ferns were only sprouting fiddleheads; nothing. The soil of the trackway must have been pounded endlessly and compacted to where no trees could sprout even after a century passing. A century during which beavers damed the man made watercourses which DC Ryder put in to improve this rare, un-rocky, fertile bottom land, adjacent to his vineyards/graperies and nursery business, as seen on your map. Even the flooding of this entire area, which i am told, took place in the 1950s, failed to render the track surface welcoming to the spinning polynoses whose parents all but choke the surrounding land. How else could its location be so unmistakeable from 2000 ft?
    Anyway, next I had the area of the track scanned with & by a metal detector. Horseshoes were recovered, but no coins as might have fallen from the pockets of of careless gamblers and other revelers.
    Finally I speculate a possible business relationship, or more, between DC Ryder’s family & hired hands and those of the Heddys who lived prosperously & prolifically across the street, with experience in animal husbandry, blacksmithing and ranching. A schoolhouse and church with the Heddy burying ground adjoined Ryder’s home. The Heddys were methodists, one a minister who expanded from the family church aforementioned to the first Black-Methodist church in Ossining, whose records were lost in a fire.
    Sadly, searching for evidence of that connection remains long neglected by me, although i have garnered some snippets from the 1850s about Ryder’s nursery/grapery. Happy to discuss: Jay Robert Seebacher

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