Off to the Races!

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As I've mentioned before, Greenwich started out as an agrarian community. That is, residents depended on farming to feed their families, and eventually shipped the surplus to markets in New York, Long Island and along the southern Connecticut shore. Horses were important to the community to drag trees and stones, cultivate (plow) the land and provide transportation to town for supplies, etc. People were very accustomed to horses in their lives. Greenwich was very fortunate to have several respectable horse dealers in town. They were able to provide strong, healthy horses for work and leisure. It's not surprising that residents became interested in local horse racing as a past time.

In the late 1800s, Greenwich became a summer resort of sorts. People from New York flocked to Greenwich and stayed in such coastal areas as Old Greenwich, Cos Cob and Belle Haven. In the fall these summer residents returned to the city and local residents were able to reclaim their land. Come Thanksgiving, when snow was on the ground, Belle Haven residents were known for using sleighs for getting from place to place. Boyfriends would pick up girlfriends, and large party groups would travel to big get-togethers by sleigh. Judge Frederick Hubbard mentions that sleigh bells were in the air from Winter to springtime. After the Civil War (circa 1870) residents began racing horses in the snow from Lenox House at the top of Greenwich Avenue to the top of Put's Hill. The races featured strong challengers much to the delight of the residents who lined both sides of the dirt road. Fortunately , the road was wide enough to allow racing side by side, and passing at fast speeds. Others had tried to establish horse racing earlier. William Rockefeller had built a half-mile course on Lake Avenue. There was a trotting course on North Street from Electric Hill. It was used exclusively as a time course since no one could pass on the narrow road.

In the summer, the horse racing was shifted to Belle Haven. Then, when Oliver Mead died in 1887, his cousin Oliver D. Mead had the Field Point Trotting Course built. An oval half-mile track was built in Belle Haven. Sheds were built for horses along the track. Today, this area is an exclusive residential area with hardly any evidence of horse racing. There are several areas in back country which house horses (ex. White Birch Farm). Horse riders can be seen riding along some of back trails. (A riding association has been active in Greenwich over the years.) Professional polo matches are held as fund-raisers in town. Residents have even raced horses in such tournaments as The Kentucky Derby. However, Greenwich will never be as dependent on the horse as it was in its early history.   This rather romantic period has come and gone.

SOURCE

Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner;  Hubbard, F.A.; Round Hill Productions, 2001.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on January 6, 2011 8:08 PM.

Greenwich Library and Reading Association Part 2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Greenwich's Greatest Benefactor is the next entry in this blog.

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