The Original Monmouth Parks Revisited

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:

Oceanport, New Jersey, 1878

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].

Map showing the location of the original Monmouth Parks circa 1892, by C.T. Baer

The historic map overlaying a contemporary Google Map. They do not lineup exactly but this provides a very close approximation of the location of the original tracks. The current Monmouth Park is visible in the lower right corner.

Current map of the area where the original Monmouth Parks once stood

A wide view of the area in North Jersey with historic map overlay


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!


Filed in Monmouth Park,New Jersey Racing,thoroughbred racing history

11 Responses to “The Original Monmouth Parks Revisited”

  1. GoIrish says:

    Thanks for the update to this interesting (at least for me) entry. The “new track” was the site of Salvatore’s mile correct? Was it run on the oval or that tremendously long straightaway?

  2. Hello,

    Thanks for sharing! You can also see on the Google Maps the outline of the old turf training track at Wolf Hill Park to the west of the current Monmouth Park.

    For those history buffs out there, check out Monmouth Park: The Shore’s Greatest Stretch Since 1870. Monmouth Park published the book in 2008.

    Sophia Mangalee
    Marketing Manager
    Monmouth Park

  3. Thomas Valis says:

    Thank you for the informative article. Just a quick question, is it true that President Grant attended races there?

    Thnak you,

    Tom V

  4. @ Sophia That must be it.
    An obscure turf training track along 537 and Port Au Peck Road.
    I had been wondering for the longest time why is there an “ancient” gate there along with aging lawn jockeys in the Wolf Hill area.

    I think the town of Oceanport should officially commemorate these historic sites in the near future.

    Good work by Mr. Ghost and mapmaker Chris. This post makes me wonder if my co-workers have left a comment without me knowing. LOL 😀

  5. GoIrish says:

    Article on opening day of the current facility on page 17. This is from the Red Bank Register archives (June 20, 1946), a fantastic resource for local events.

  6. Here’s a short article on the history of Fort Monmouth. The fort occupies the site over the original MP1 and MP2.

    The former Rufus West Farm became Elkwood Park in 1893. The current facility is built on this site.

    Great suggestion on commemorating these historic sites.

  7. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    GoIrish: Savator’s mile came in 1890, so it would have been during the first season of racing at the second track. Not sure how they ran mile races there so I think you have given me an idea for a future post. I would be really interested to know how they used that crazy long straightaway.

    Sophia: Thanks for the info about the old turf training track and the recommendation.

    Tom V: U.S. Grant had a vacation home in nearby Long Branch, NJ and it is said he spent time at the original Monmouth Park.

    Knight Sky: Great idea on commemorating these sites in some way.

    Mr. McMahon: Glad you support the suggestion for commemorating these sites….I think you might have some influence to make this happen 🙂

    Thanks again everyone!

  8. Nestor says:

    There is a great footnote to this story. In 1891, racing was suspended in New Jersey, the Monmouth Park Association leased Jerome Park and ran its meet in what is today The Bronx. The New York Times of July 6, 1891 describes the meet, which featured the running of races such as the Shrewsbury Handicap, The Hackensack, the Monmouth Oaks and yes, the Long Branch Stakes.

  9. helene conway says:

    you are a great scholar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. T.J. Connick says:

    Regarding Salvator’s Mile:

    His connections could find no challengers, so the mile against time on August 28, 1890 marked his swan song. Allowed a pair of pacemakers, Salvator carried 110 pounds on the straight course. The weight was chosen to match that carried by Ten Broeck in his 1876 race against time and around turns. Although recently bettered, Ten Broeck’s was considered by many to be the “more legitimate” mile mark that Salvator would smash.

    His regular jock, Isaac Murphy, had been suspended for riding while intoxicated, so Martin Bergen was given a leg up by Matt Byrnes, and the Haggin runner crossed the wire in 1:35 1/2, shaving over 4 seconds from Ten Broeck’s record, and over 3 seconds from the less well regarded record made July 31 on the same straight course by the unremarkable colt, Raveloe.

    The record-breaking potential of the straight course was on display in the July 17 Stockton Stakes, where the 1 1/4-mile event was won in 2:03 1/4 by Banquet, a 3-year-old.

    The long races on the straight course were devised by the top men of New York’s racing game, who seemed at the time acutely in thrall to the customs and fashion of English racing. They took pretty seriously the course nickname, “The American Newmarket”, but the contests proved unpopular with bettors, newspapermen, and spectators.

    The 1 1/4-mile race must have looked like it was starting halfway to Trenton. No track announcer to shed light on the affair, it would take crisp, clear air and a good pair of binoculars to identify silks from such a distance. With the humid, glowering sky so typical of the area in summer, and with a grandstand facing the sun, it is little wonder that such races were a bust with the fans.

  11. T.J. Connick says:

    Correction on Stockton Stakes: 2:03 3/4, not 2:03 1/4.