Historical past Revisited: Horse racing at Groton’s Driving Park

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Historical past Revisited: Horse racing at Groton’s Driving Park


Over the previous month or so this creator has obtained quite a few inquiries regarding a horse racing observe being situated in Groton. Effectively, except you’re properly over 100 years previous, the potential for remembering that Groton certainly had such a facility situated in Poquonoc (no this isn’t a misspelling, it’s one of many frequent methods Groton’s village Poquonnock was spelled method again when) are fairly distant.Again within the Eighteen Nineties, sometimes called the “Homosexual Nineties,” when our nation skilled fast financial enlargement, social and household leisure services in Groton have been nearly non-existent. There have been no film theaters, social golf equipment, or nightclubs. There was nevertheless one other type of leisure established in Groton throughout that time period that rapidly turned a well-liked place to spend Saturday afternoons. Consider it or not, it was a “racetrack.”The thought of constructing a observe was conceived in 1890 by a number of native “sporting” males who had an curiosity in horse racing and had been doing in order a winter sport by racing on ice on native ponds and even on the northern finish of the Thames River when it froze over.By December 1891, a gaggle of males organized and formally included what was named “The Groton Driving Park Co.” The official function of the corporate was to “lease grounds for a driving park and different lawful athletic contests and for doing issues incidental to that enterprise.” In an effort to lift funds to construct the observe, the corporate issued 3,125 shares of inventory at $25 per share.It’s stated that a lot of the shareholders bought just one share of the inventory which, in itself, displays that there was an excessive amount of curiosity within the observe. The names of these buying the inventory reads like a historic “who’s who” of southeastern New London County, inclusive of Groton, New London, Poquonnock, Mystic, West Mystic, Noank, Stonington and Niantic.Inside a month of its incorporation the corporate leased a observe of land roughly 20 acres in dimension from Henry Gardiner of Waterford, the proprietor of Bluff Level and what’s now the Fort Hill Properties venture, for $50 a 12 months. The park property was situated in Poquonnock Bridge on the base of Fort Hill on the south aspect of what’s now Route 1 and north of the previous Poquonnock practice station on the former Halfway practice facility. The racetrack itself was located on the south aspect of what in the present day is Fort Hill Street, instantly throughout from the Claude Chester Faculty and Poquonnock Plains Park.Apparently, the lease settlement required that the corporate hold the grounds groomed but it surely additionally contained two uncommon contingencies: 1) a prohibition towards taking pictures or destroying recreation birds or animals and a couple of) prohibiting the sale of drinks containing greater than 20% alcohol.After being constructed, the racetrack was thought-about one of the crucial skilled and groomed tracks within the nation. It was a half-mile in size, stage on the straight-aways with slight railroad grades on the curves. Many of the observe was 50 toes vast and 60 toes vast from the final flip, down a 630-foot homestretch and previous the choose’s stand. Two strains of rails enclosed the observe the place racing occurred leaving a large space of land throughout the observe the place autos might drive or stand. The grandstand held roughly 600 individuals and offered a whole view of your complete observe and every little thing happening on it. Refreshment stands have been additionally constructed to serve refreshments to attendees. The complete observe was enclosed with excessive board fencing.A big space on the east finish of the observe was cleared and groomed right into a baseball discipline with the pitcher’s diamond being instantly in entrance of the grandstand. Baseball video games between native, organized, semi-professional baseball groups have been performed earlier than and between horse races.Though the first horse contests on the park concerned trotters and harness racing, the observe was additionally used for bicycle races and later vehicle racing. Periodically, particular one-to-one (common) horserace matches. with massive money purses, have been held. In 1910, the observe was used for a particular motorbike race. The park was additionally a well-liked venue for locals to carry picnics, outings and different discipline occasions.Due to its location, individuals from all through southeastern Connecticut discovered it handy to journey to the park. Many individuals additionally took particular tour trains from New London and Westerly that traveled to Poquonnock’s Halfway Station, a three-minute stroll from the park. There was a cut-off date when the Groton and Stonington Trolley had thought-about establishing a particular spur observe off of their predominant line into the park.Admission to the races was moderately priced at 50 cents and youngsters, accompanied by dad and mom have been, admitted free. Through the first few years of operation, it was commonplace for crowds ranging in numbers from 1,200 to 2,500 to attend the same old Saturday afternoon occasions on the park. The variety of attendees would enhance dramatically throughout vacation weekends together with Memorial Day and the Forth of July. The observe season ran from Memorial Day by way of Thanksgiving.Just a few fascinating incidents involving the racetrack within the early years are worthy of point out.On Oct. 14, 1892, a bit of over a month after the observe opened, a practice carrying 4 very beneficial trotter horses and 5 males accountable for the horses, whereas en path to take part in races on the Groton observe, collided with one other practice, killing all 5 males and horses.The second incident occurred in April of 1895 when a brush fireplace, trigger by sparks from a locomotive passing by way of Poquonnock, quickly unfold to the racetrack destroying the grandstand and adjoining buildings, the entire horse stables, and the wooden fence surrounding the park. It was fairly an expense to exchange all of those services.The Groton Driving Park because it was referred to as, opened on the weekend of September 2 and three, 1892. It remained a viable supply of leisure in Groton till about 1905 when, as a result of an absence of curiosity in horse racing, attendance on the observe diminished drastically.In 1909 there was a resurgence in curiosity in horse, bicycle, motorbike and automotive racing exercise and the Groton Park reopened. The capability of the grandstand was elevated to carry 1,500 spectators and the variety of horse stables had elevated from the unique 5 to 10 to 40.Starting round 1910 curiosity within the observe diminished drastically and, over the following 5 years or so, a number of makes an attempt have been made to rekindle curiosity within the park.Though there have been sporadic instances when attendance on the park was excessive, by 1915 the house owners felt it was not financially possible to maintain the observe in operation. Sadly, by 1917 the driving park ceased to exist, and one in all Groton’s most fascinating leisure services turned a part of its historical past.Jim Streeter is Groton City historian. 



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