Jan 28th 2010 07:10 am |
Tags: Guttenberg Race Track
Has anyone ever heard of the Guttenberg Race Track? I hadn’t. I came across a description of the track in an article about winter racing in the National Turf Digest from 1927 and, with a little digging, uncovered a number of interesting sources about the short-lived racing facility. Turns out, it made quite an impression on those who were there during its brief history.
Remembered not for the quality of racing but for the time of year that it operated — it filled a void in the New York area for live racing when the major circuit shut-down for the season at the end of December.
From 1885 to 1893, the Gutenberg Race Track hosted the only true winter racing during the era (that is, racing where it was actually winter). The track was located in, what is now, North Bergen, New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan.
In 1927, the NTD described Guttenberg as follows:
“…the track was reached only by ferry and stage or horses cars, ‘The Gut’ had a grandstand that was protected by big windows of glass and mammoth stoves that made a pretense of providing heat, but the betting ring was big one and the fields were ample to attract lively speculation, there were few occasions when weather halted the programs and form reversals did not surprise the players.”
An article published in 1892 in the Lewistown Evening Journal in Maine, under the headline “Of Winter Racing : It is Practiced Regularly on only One Track” offered a comprehensive description of the track soon before it closed:
“Guttenberg, N.J. [is] the only spot or locality on the habitable globe where horse racing had gone on without a single day’s interruption throughout an entire winter season….It must be a blizzard of uncommon dimensions to cause a postponement of the daily Guttenberg races, and the snow must fall thick and fast that can get the better of the all night track shoverler and render the race course impossible to race upon…”
“…Betting upon the races has become a business with a large number of New Yorkers, and although the city poolrooms ‘attend to the wants’ of a great many, there is still a large contingent of bettors who prefer to visit the track. The daily attendace throughout the winter seldom falls below 3000 and on Saturdays and holidays there are frequently from 10,000 to 12,000 persons present, the price of admission being uniformly one dollar…”
“…The receipts of the [North Hudson Jockey] club independent of admissions are obtained from the rental of bookmaking stands at the steep price of $100 a day for each bookmaker, between twenty and thirty bookmakers being constantly on hand…”
“…There are probably, including trainers, jockeys, stable boys, and helpers generally, at least 1000 souls who live and make their permament homes at Guttenberg…”
Four years after the first thoroughbred meet, in the fall of 1889, Guttenberg underwent major renovations. The track was reconfigured from a half-mile to a full mile; the grandstand was enclosed and “fitted up with enormous heaters.” The betting ring was expanded to accommodate an “army of bookmakers.” The article in the Lewistown paper stated that everything during this renovation “…was arranged with an obvious view of the permanency of winter racing as an institution.”
The article implied that vagaries existed around the existence and enforcement of gambling laws in the state of New Jersey. It reported that arrests had been made at the track but “…bookmakers and officials arrested are quite as promptly released on bail by a justice of the peace, who has established a convenient court in an unused stable just outside the track.”
It concluded on this positive note:
“The Guttenberg people, apparently calm in the assurance that they will not be seriously interfered with by the authorities of Hudson county, N.J., claim to be entirely indifferent as to whether the legislature does or does not legalize their money making business.” Read the full article here
Indifference to the possibility of legislative action proved to be the wrong attitude. The article downplayed the serious legal issues surrounding the track — making one question the intent and/or competence of the author. Arrests of pool sellers, bookmakers, and track management had started as early as 1891, putting the operation of the track on shaky ground soon after the winterization of the facility. The end came in 1893 when a bill passed the state legislature that banned winter racing in New Jersey. In the words of one legislator “winter racing is an inhumanity and none but the confirmed gambler will patronize it.” That year, Guttenberg closed its doors forever to horse racing.
[Sidenote: It seems the bill that closed Guttenberg was not the same bill that would eventually end all racing in the state of New Jersey. It is no coincidence, however, that the enforcement of anti-racing statutes that shuttered the original Monmouth Park also came in 1893.]
GUTTENBERG’S POST RACING LIFE
In 1910, the great grandstand at ‘The Gut’, constructed to keep race patrons warm during the winter months, burned in a fire described as “a spectacular blaze” that “illuminated” the river and was “clearly seen from Manhattan.” By that time, the track and facilities were owned by an old innkeeper who lived in part of the facility and devoted the track to “automobilists.” The clubhouse was burned down to its foundation.
Memories of the racetrack remained in 1919. When the land was sold at auction, the notice in the New York Tribune read “At Last, The Old Guttenburg[sic] Race Track Property to Be Sold in Seperate Lots.” (see right)
In 1957, Audax Minor, the race writer for the New Yorker, wrote this in an article about the troubles with winter racing in the northeast:
“….it gives old stagers, who are always grumbling that the younger generation is a bunch of softies, a chance to recall their days in the nineties at Guttenberg, a Jersey track, just across the river from Seventy-second Street, that used to run all winter. (It was a sort of open-air horse room, where you could also bet on the New Orleans and California races.) No matter how hard it snowed at Guttenberg – and there were blizzards in those days – a crew merely shoveled a wide path around the track for the horses, and the races went off on schedule.”
Today, over a century after the track shut down for good, the area where it once stood is known as the “Racetrack Section” in North Bergen.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Of Winter Racing,” Lewiston Evening Journal, Febuary 26, 1892
“No More Winter Racing,” New York Times, March 12, 1893
“Race-Track Men Please Guilty,” June 1, 1894
“Will the ‘Big Four’ Escape?,” New York Times, April 21, 1895
“Fire Ends Old Guttenburg[sic],” New York Times, January 16, 1910
Minor, Audax, “The Race Track,” December 14, 1957
Note: The name of the track was spelled “Guttenberg” and “Guttenburg” in contemporary sources. For the sake of consistency, I used the “e” version throughout for this article .
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!