There was a hint of grief in The Post-Star report on Nov. 21, 1919, that work would begin that day on demolition of the barns and grand stand at the old Mile Track on Upper Coolidge Avenue, between Dixon Road and Sherman Avenue, in Glens Falls. “The passing of the Mile Track will bring many memories … to sporting men in this section and in fact the whole country.”
In its heyday, it was known outside Glens Falls in the harness racing world as the “Billiard Table Track,” for its smooth surface and speed. “The horses whose feet graced the track were the very peers of their species in this form of sport.”
Sixty-seven trotting horses set records at the track, “universally considered to be the fastest one-mile track in existence,” according to the 1908 book “Glens Falls – The Empire City.”
In 1897 – 1901, the Mile Track was a stop on the Grand Circuit of racing, putting Glens Falls in an elite league of cities that included Detroit, Cleveland, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Buffalo and the Bronx.
There was excitement when George Finch, president of the Northern New York Horse Breeders Association, received a letter that Glens Falls would be accepted into the Grand Circuit, provided necessary purses could be raised.
“A grand circuit meeting would bring a great crowd of money spenders to Glens Falls, and the town would be benefited financially,” The Morning Star reported on Feb. 10, 1897. “There is every reason to believe that the breeder’s association would also realize a handsome profit from the venture.”
Anticipation turned to reality and 335 horses were entered in the debut meet Aug. 17-20, 1897.
“Promptly at two o’clock starter Frank Walker of Chicago will ring up the horses for the opening event,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 17, 1897.
Admission was $1 for “gentlemen” and 50 cents for “ladies.”
By 1901, the meet was losing momentum, and in 1902 local organizers pulled the plug when the Glens Falls meet was moved on the schedule from August to mid-September, coinciding with another prominent meet at the Empire Track in New York City.
Local organizers feared they would not be able to draw enough entries for the local meet to be feasible.
“This news will be received with extreme regret in town, since there was no one thing which advertised this place more extremely than the annual circuit meeting. It brought visitors from the length and breadth of the country,” The Morning Star reported on May 20, 1902. The track was not used and fell into disrepair. A Post-Star editorial on June 11, 1918 urged the community to brainstorm to come up with a new use for the Mile Track.
“Glens Falls, noted for its civic pride, ought not to allow these grounds and grandstand to fall into decay,” the editorial stated. “Grand Circuit racing may never return here, but this track would make an ideal place for athletic events of school or municipal nature.”
The grandstand was still structurally sound, and with a little work could be put back in good condition.
“Too many of us are prone to forget, as we dream of the glories of some bygone days, what it is possible to do in the present. … Glens Falls should find some way to save them for the use of the younger generation.”
But a way was not found, and the barns and grand stand were demolished, and the land eventually redeveloped for housing.
All that is left are antiquated newspaper reports of trotting horse John R. Gentry setting a world record and of M.J. Cassidy of Colorado, a man with no arms or hands, driving trotting horse Raymond M.
“Other famous horses of the day that won great laurels and who will go down in history of trackdom as among greatest of the great and who competed at the old Mile Track are Star Pointer, Royal R. Sheldon, Indiana, Bingin and many other too numerous to mention,” The Post-Star reported on Nov. 21, 1919.
Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.