Jun 22nd 2011 09:30 pm |
Sometimes historical discoveries come from what historians call “serendipity.” Horse players would refer to it as luck. Either way, how things can come together when doing historical research have parallels in the world of handicapping the races. Sometimes a nugget of hard to find information pays huge dividends and other times, no matter how much you study and dig, the payoff is nothing.
Last year around this time, I did a post about the location of the two nineteenth century facilities known as Monmouth Park that preceded the current facility in Oceanport that opened in 1946. My research took me to the Library of Congress, and I spent many hours digging in online databases and old newspapers. The goal was to find the precise location of the two racetracks that are now long gone. I found one map showing the site of the track built in 1870:
The location of the Monmouth Park that opened in 1890, the one called the Ascot of America and mourned by the racing world for many years after it closed, proved to be a bit more elusive. “Reformers” put an end to horse racing in New Jersey through a ban on wagering in 1894 that closed the second Monmouth less then five years after it opened for business. Because of its short life, it seemed possible that documentation on its location was scarce. I had little doubt that it existed somewhere but I just couldn’t find it. I had some excellent input from readers who gave me clues into the approximate location, but I still lacked a good visual piece of evidence.
Earlier this year, I had a comment on the original Monmouth Parks post from a co-worker at my day job, Chris Baer, who is a well known railroad historian. It turns out, he published a book a few years ago about the Jersey Central Railroad with a map showing exactly what I had been looking for while researching last year. The map he drew, based on a newspaper article from the 1890s, shows the precise location of the two tracks as well as all of the railroad lines surrounding the area.
When I told my co-worker that it was my site where he left the comment, he said he had no idea I was the person behind it. I try to keep my current workplace separate from this space, so it was no surprise that he didn’t know I was the operator of Colin’s Ghost. It was serendipity that he left the comment, and dumb luck that his book happened to be right under my nose the whole time.
Chris kindly gave me permission to re-publish his map here. In addition to the map, I have included a current view of the site from Google Maps and created an overlay that provides a precise (but not perfect) match of the current landscape with the outlines of the old racing ovals [Click on any of the maps to see an enlarged view].
Sources, Notes, and Observations
The historic map is courtesy of Chris Baer and was published in The Trail of the Blue Comet: A History of the Jersey Central’s New Jersey Southern Division, published by West Jersey Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in 1994.
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Looking forward to a great summer of racing….it looks like Hall of Fame induction weekend will be my Saratoga trip this year!
See you next week….thanks for reading and good luck!