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 writer has obtained quite a few inquiries regarding a horse racing observe being situated in Groton. Effectively, except you might be properly over 100 years previous, the opportunity of remembering that Groton certainly had such a facility situated in Poquonoc (no this isn’t a misspelling, it’s one of many widespread methods Groton’s village Poquonnock was spelled means again when) are fairly distant.Again within the Nineties, sometimes called the “Homosexual Nineties,” when our nation skilled fast financial enlargement, social and household leisure amenities in Groton have been virtually non-existent. There have been no film theaters, social golf equipment, or nightclubs. There was nonetheless one other type of leisure established in Groton throughout that time frame that rapidly grew to become a preferred 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 goal 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 mentioned that a lot of the shareholders bought just one share of the inventory which, in itself, displays that there was a substantial 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 measurement from Henry Gardiner of Waterford, the proprietor of Bluff Level and what’s now the Fort Hill Properties mission, for $50 a yr. 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 prepare station on the former Halfway prepare facility. The racetrack itself was located on the south aspect of what right now is Fort Hill Highway, straight throughout from the Claude Chester Faculty and Poquonnock Plains Park.Apparently, the lease settlement required that the corporate preserve the grounds groomed but it surely additionally contained two uncommon contingencies: 1) a prohibition in opposition to capturing or destroying sport birds or animals and a pair of) prohibiting the sale of drinks containing greater than 20% alcohol.After being constructed, the racetrack was thought-about some of the skilled and groomed tracks within the nation. It was a half-mile in size, degree on the straight-aways with slight railroad grades on the curves. A lot of the observe was 50 toes extensive and 60 toes extensive from the final flip, down a 630-foot homestretch and previous the choose’s stand. Two traces of rails enclosed the observe the place racing occurred leaving a large space of land throughout the observe the place autos may drive or stand. The grandstand held roughly 600 individuals and supplied a whole view of the whole observe and all the pieces going down on it. Refreshment stands have been additionally constructed to serve refreshments to attendees. The whole 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 straight 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 car racing. Periodically, particular one-to-one (common) horserace matches. with giant money purses, have been held. In 1910, the observe was used for a particular bike race. The park was additionally a preferred 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 time limit when the Groton and Stonington Trolley had thought-about setting up a particular spur observe off of their fundamental line into the park.Admission to the races was fairly priced at 50 cents and kids, accompanied by dad and mom have been, admitted free. Throughout the first few years of operation, it was common for crowds ranging in numbers from 1,200 to 2,500 to attend the standard 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 via Thanksgiving.A number of fascinating incidents involving the racetrack within the early years are worthy of point out.On Oct. 14, 1892, just a little over a month after the observe opened, a prepare carrying 4 very precious trotter horses and 5 males in control of the horses, whereas en path to take part in races on the Groton observe, collided with one other prepare, 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 via Poquonnock, quickly unfold to the racetrack destroying the grandstand and adjoining buildings, all the horse stables, and the wooden fence surrounding the park. It was fairly an expense to interchange all of those amenities.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 a scarcity of curiosity in horse racing, attendance on the observe diminished vastly.In 1909 there was a resurgence in curiosity in horse, bicycle, bike and automobile 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 vastly and, over the subsequent 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 homeowners felt it was not financially possible to maintain the observe in operation. Sadly, by 1917 the driving park ceased to exist, and one in every of Groton’s most fascinating leisure amenities grew to become a part of its historical past.Jim Streeter is Groton City historian. 



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