The Original Monmouth Parks, 1870 and 1890

May 19th 2010 08:25 am |

UPDATED: 5/21/2010

On Saturday, Monnmouth Park will open for business but it won’t be business as usual for the old track in Oceanport. This year’s Monmouth summer meeting is being touted on their website as an “elite race meet.” State officials hope the fifty-day, weekends-only schedule, plus $50 million dollars in purses, will generate increased attention and subsequent revenue from the gambling public.

Monmouth Park opened in 1946. Prior to the current facility, two other race tracks in the area operated under the name Monmouth Park. The first conducted a meet from 1870 to 1872. It closed due to financial problems and stood idle for 10 years.

In 1878, prominent horse owners and breeders George Lorillard and D.D. Withers along with James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, purchased and restored Monmouth which had fallen into disrepair after years of neglect. After four years of renovation, the track opened again for racing in 1882.

In 1889, plans were announced for a new facility. That track — in close proximity to the original — opened in 1890 to much fanfare and was touted in 1897 as “…the finest racecourse ever constructed…” Unfortunately, it was short lived. Just a year after opening, the anti-gambling faction in the state forced Monmouth to move its meet to New York’s Jerome Park. Racing commenced again from 1892 to 1894 but the tide had turned against racing. Newspapers, like the New York Times, once supportive, began publishing negative stories about Monmouth, claiming that “men and women of no character are freely admitted to the grounds.” In 1894, New Jersey doomed racing in the state by passing a law that banned wagering.

I have always been curious about the precise locations of the original Monmouth Parks. After locating two maps and a somewhat obscure history written by an army historian, I identified the location of the 1870 Monmouth and have a general idea on the location of the one built in 1890.

Current map with the a location of the Monmouth Park that opened in 1870. The label for the 1890 track is an approximation. The current track is visible on the right.

This 1878 map of Oceanport shows the location of Monmouth from 1870 to 1889. The track sits on the corner of Eatontown Road and Main Street. On a current map of the area, Eatontown Road is labeled Broad Street, County Road 537, and State Route 71. (David Rumsey Map Collection)

Print from the Library of Congress showing the grandstand of the original Monmouth Park. Likely depicting the track sometime between 1870 and 1872.

Program cover from the inaugural 1890 meet -- the second incarnation of Monmouth Park. The grandstand held 10,000 fans and was the largest in the country when it was built.

The parade ground at Fort Monmouth, identified as the site of the 1890 track. A history published on the U.S. Army website claimed the faint outline visible on the left was the imprint of the track. However, it is far too small in circumference to be the main racing oval. (U.S. Army Photographs)

The remains of the 1890 grandstand in an undated photograph (U.S. Army Photographs)



This source claims the 1890 track was located on the current parade grounds of Fort Monmouth. However, if they were using the faint outline on the aerial image above as their primary piece of evidence, a few measurements using Google Earth proves that outline could not be the main oval, which was described by the New York Tribune as being a mile and three-quarters (hard to imagine a track larger then Belmont’s mile and a half).

I could not find a map that shows that 1890 track (although I am sure one exists). I did find this written in the New York Tribune from January 20, 1889 announcing the new track:

It was officially declared by the Monmouth Park Association that deeds have been signed, sealed, and delivered…The total amount of land purchased is more than 400 acres…This property is wholly apart from and a short distance away from the present Monmouth Park, on the northwest of it, and separated from it by the creek on the west side of the Park, and by the railway tracks which run from Little Silver to the west gate of the ground.”

It is likely that the current parade ground was part of the land purchased for the 1890 track but the precise location of the grandstand and primary oval remains a question.

If anyone knows the precise 1890 location (or has a better idea based on the images and maps above) , please leave a comment or shoot me an email.

UPDATE (5/21): Hal Handel, Chief Operating Officer at NYRA, sent this in an email:

“Second Monmouth Park was in middle of present Fort Monmouth and the parade ground when viewed from air gives good idea of configuration of racing oval…Spent fair amount of time looking into the old venues when I worked there years ago, another interesting note is that current MP uses the oval from a 19th century track called Elkwood Park that was a short lived venue.”

A big thank you to Hal for taking the time to send along this information.

SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS

“A New Monmouth Park,” New York Tribune, 1889 January 20
“The Race Track Denounced,” New York Times, 1892 April 4
“Warning to Decent People,” New York Times, 1893 July 16
“The End of Monmouth Park,” New York Times, 1897 March 14

Melissa Kozlowski, “Fort Monmouth and the Jersey Derby,” 2005. This is a strange source. It was selectively useful but also has some egregious errors, the worst of which being the claim that the Jersey Derby moved south and became the Kentucky Derby in the 1890s. Ouch!

Speaking of moving races, I received an email from Allan Carter, the historian at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs. In response to my post about the Maryland Jockey Club and the New York Preakness, Mr. Carter wrote:

What is really awful about the Maryland Jockey Club’s decision to include the Preaknesses that were run at Gravesend and Morris Park is that the 1890 faux Preakness at Morris Park was for 3-year-olds and up, and the winner was a five-year-old named Montague. That makes that otherwise undistinguished equine the oldest horse to win a Triple Crown race. In addition, that race was run the same day as the Belmont.

[Also], any horse that won the Derby was ineligible to run in the faux Preaknesses because the Derby prize money alone would have made him ineligible to run in the Preakness.”

Looks like I am not the only that thinks counting the New York Preaknesses in the official history of the race is silly. Allan Carter’s opinion is gold when it comes to racing history and I thank him for allowing me to quote from his email here.

THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history



10 Responses to “The Original Monmouth Parks, 1870 and 1890”

  1. Helene Conway says:

    Kevin,

    This is fantastic!

    I remain you greatest fan.

    Helene Conway

  2. GoIrish says:

    Thanks for the MP entry!

    I believe there is a picture of the gates to the original grandstand hanging in the clubhouse today. The plaque below states the gates stood on Park Avenue in Long Branch. If that is true the original location of MP is about 2 miles south-east of the current track.

  3. GoIrish says:

    Looking at a local map right now. There is a Park Ave off Broad Street/Rt. 71 in the precise area you have identified above as the 1870 location; just west of the intersection with Main St. You can see it just below the “1″ in 1870 on your map. Perhaps this entire area was known as Long Branch in 1890? Or the sign in the club house is erroneous. In either event, it makes sense now. (And there is a Park Ave. in Long Branch/Elberon, which is what has always thrown me off, until now.) Sorry for the nerddery!

  4. kevin says:

    Hi Helene. Thanks…your comments are always good for my ego.

    GoIrish. Thanks for the input. Ill have to look at those images at monmouth more closely the next time I am there. I’ll update the above with your info. Actually, I am at the library of congress working on some other things right now and checked their map collection to see if I could identify the 1890 location. I was surprised they didn’t have anything to help me out. No problem on the nerdiness….at this site it is not only encouraged but required. Thanks again for the info. Kevin

  5. Maureen F. Brennan says:

    I agree heartedly with Helene. Tremendously interesting. Copying it for the rest of the Brennan clan. I recall with pleasure meeting you with Helene at the Belmont. Maureen

  6. Kevin says:

    GoIrish: That would make sense as the NY Tribune article says the 1890 track was to the northwest of the original. It is possible that the gates was on Park Ave but the actual track was further up the street. If you read the clip from the article you get a sense that the two tracks were in close proximity to each other. I will update the map. Thanks again for the input! Kevin

  7. Sarah Andrew says:

    Wonderful piece of history! I always wondered the same thing and never could find any good info about the old tracks. Another thing I wondered was what Wolf Hill Farm was- I must have driven past those gates a million times. So I did a little Googling and found out! Here are the gates:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rockandracehorses/5092468706

  8. christopher t. baer says:

    My book, “The Trail of the Blue Comet,” published in 1993, is a history of the rail lines that served the track. There is a capsule history of both tracks drawn mostly from local newspapers, along with vignettes of resort life in various towns that depended upon the railroads in the 19th century. I was able to combine surviving maps of both tracks into a composite map showing not only the courses but their rail connections. The 1890 track had a main oval but also a diagonal straightaway, which is probably what shows on the parade ground, and another longer straightaway running almost east-west parallel to the New Jersey Southern Railroad. The grandstand roof was under-designed and collapsed under the weight of a heavy snow in Feb. 1899. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what newspaper or magazine the original map of the 1890 track was in.

    The book was a limited edition for railroad enthusiasts and is now a collector’s item. There should be copies in a few local libraries, such as the Rutgers New Jersey Room, the Ocean Grove Historical Society, Monmouth College Library and the Long Branch Public Library, which we gave then in return for using their photos, that is, if they haven’t disposed of them.

    Christopher T. Baer
    Hagley Museum and Library

  9. FLY says:

    definitely on park ave in eatontown off of 71-537. i live on the former site of the grandstand and my nosy kids have dug up old pieces of brick and horse shoes in the front yard.

  10. Jeff says:

    Here is a map that shows the location of the 1870 and 1890 tracks.

    http://i50.photobucket.com/albums/f304/wirenut624/344c7d1b-603d-4b14-9d16-7b6d304c8d98.jpg

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