Madison County Historical Society

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Madison County Horse Racing

Races were mostly staged between home town horses

Horse racing tracks abounded in the 1800s

 
 

Driving Park Associations

In the 1890s, Driving Park Associations were popular names for horse racing tracks.  They provided a place for "city" horses to get a good run as well as a place for horse racing and training.  There were two such tracks in Madison County.  The first was the county's fifth oldest track.  it was the Elwood Driving Park and Fair Association which was organized on October 3, 1895 by a group of prominent Elwood men who served as its Board of Directors.  The official opening occurred on August 25, 1896.

 The 40-acre fairgrounds were situated a mile and a half northeast of Elwood and on the Duck Creek Township side of the line dividing it with Pipe Creek Township.  Dominating the grounds was a 2,500 seat covered grandstand for race spectators.  The track appears to have been a one-half mile dirt oval that featured harness racing which lasted until the fairgrounds's closing before World War I.  The fair became a victim of a shift in interest to larger county fairs.

The fourth oldest horse racing track in the county, the North Anderson Driving Park Association, was located on 84 acres of ground in what is today North Anderson and bounded by today's School Street, Hartman Road, Broadway, and the CSX railroad track.  The one-mile track began operations in 1892 and featured races complete with a grandstand and several outbuildings including large stables.  For reasons unknown the races were not as well attended as the association members had hoped.  This, coupled with a refusal by the stockholders to pay the property assessments, led to an order by the circuit court in 1894 that the property be sold.

A county fair was the reason for the existence of yet another race track located on the grounds of the Madison County Joint-Stock Agricultural Society.  The property was situated between present-day Eighth, Third, John, and Madison Avenue Streets in Anderson.  Formally organized in May of 1868, the agricultural society opened the fairgrounds in the fall of that year.  The 12-acre grounds contained a one-half mile dirt oval which was located roughly between what is today Sixth Street near Third Street and Madison Avenue and Hendricks Street.  Parts of the track were marked with big rocks designating its boundaries;  one of them can still be seen in the area today, if you know where to look.

The track was utilized for the exhibition of horses in harness and under saddle.  Trotters, pacers, and runners were very popular and drew large crowds.  From 1868 until 1887, the annual fair was well attended.  Thursdays were always the best days to attend as the best races were usually held that day, and thousands of spectators lined the track to watch the racing.  In the late 1880s interest declined.  Faced with increasing debt, the fairgrounds and track closed in 1890.

With the discovery of natural gas in the area in 1887, manufacturing bloomed and with it people with a need for a place to live.  The former fairgrounds and its race track became prime real estate.  Local entrepreneur James M. Donnelly seized upon the opportunity and purchased the old fairgrounds and platted it into city lots.  It was his son, Wade, who was instrumental in the development of Edgewood some 40 years later.

The track on the grounds of the Madison County Joint-Stock Agricultural Society in Anderson and the track located on the grounds of the Fall Creek Fair Association south of Pendleton both had their beginnings in 1868, and thus tie for the title of the second oldest horse racing tracks in Madison County.

A group of Pendleton citizens calling themselves the Pendleton Agricultural Society organized the Fall Creek Fair Association in 1867.  That same year they purchased 18 acres of ground three-fourths of a mile south of Pendleton on which to hold annual fairs primarily to benefit the people of southern Madison County.

Included on the grounds was a one-third mile time track which was constructed and dirt used in September, 1868.  It did not take long for the organizers to realize they needed more ground.  This was accomplished by purchasing acreage which extended to the old Pendleton and Eden Pike, today's Indiana State Road 9.  Along with the expansion came a larger race track.  In 1872, the original one-third mile track was increased to one-half mile.  In 1874, beginning September 8 through the 11th, a variety of races were featured during the seventh annual fair.  Among them were:  The Green Trot Race - for horses that had never raced;  Fast Pace - free for all;  Three Minute Trot;  Fast Trot - free for all, and a running race which consisted of a half-mile dash.  Unfortunately, the track's expansion put so much of a financial strain on the society that the directors were forced to dissolve the association in February of 1876.

Of all the tracks constructed the 19th century in Madison County, only one can still be seen, or at least a portion of it.  On the east side of South Pendleton Avenue in Pendleton, one can still see what remains of the old race track.  Located in a pasture just off the road is the faint outline of the track that for eight years witnessed the only form of organized horse racing in that part of our county.

The honor of being the oldest horse racing track in the county goes to one about which we know the least.  From 1850 to 1855, the Madison County Agricultural Society held an annual fair in Anderson and leased a 25-acre site bounded by present day John Street, Madison Avenue, Tenth and Eighth Streets.  It was there a horse race track of unknown size and known simply as the old race track at the west end of Tenth Street contested the first horse races in Madison County.


By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 

 

 
 

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net