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:
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,
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.
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!