Narragansett Park (1867–1924)

Narragansett Park was an American horse and motor racing venue in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Narragansett Park
LocationCranston, Rhode Island
Capacity5,000 (1867–1914)
10,000 (1914–1924)
Broke ground1867 (harness track)
1914 (speedway)
Opened1867 (harness track)
1915 (speedway)
Surface1896–1907: Dirt
1907–1914: Clay
1915–1924: Asphalt
Length1 miles (1.6 km)
BankingTurns: 27.5°
Straights: 10°

Horse racing edit

Lady Thorn driven by Dan Pfifer at Narragansett Park on October 8, 1869

Narragansett Park opened on July 31, 1867.[1][2] The one-mile track was located on a 37-acre parcel of land 3 miles outside of Providence, Rhode Island.[2] The park was constructed by Amasa Sprague, who previously operated Washington Park in Providence and decided to build his own park after falling out with his business partner Edward Babcock over gambling.[3]

The entry to the park featured a 30-foot high archway with two large towers on each side that served as ticket booths.[2] The park's main building was four-stories high and contained a covered entryway where ladies could be picked up or dropped off by carriage. The first floor contained a pool room, a concession area, and a private office. The second story was open to the track and contained a 5,000-seat grandstand as well as two large rooms, one for men and one for women. A large hall was located on the third story and the top floor was home to the president's office. There was also a three-story judge's stand with a weighing room and offices on the first floor and the judge's room on the second floor. The top floor was reserved for the use of female spectators. The property also contained five carriage houses and three stables.[2]

Sprague's financial fortunes deteriorated following the Panic of 1873. He leased the track for races until 1881, when it was purchased at auction for $25,000 by J. B. Barnaby. Barnaby formed the Narragansett Driving Association and sold stock. The association hired Seth Griffith from Fleetwood Park Racetrack to rebuild the track and spent $5,000 on building repairs and plumbing.[4] In 1883 the track joined the Grand Circuit.[5] In 1884, Jay Eye See broke the mile trotting record of 2:10 at Narragansett Park.[6] However, due to poor attendance, the association lost money and was unable to pay interest on the mortgage it took out to fund the repairs. In 1884, the track was once again put up for auction.[4] On December 6, 1884, a syndicate led by Henry L. Fairbrother purchased the property for $30,000.[7][8]

Fairgrounds edit

The Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry began hosting fairs at Narragansett Park in 1867.[9] The society purchased the property in 1886.[10] The Rhode Island State Fair Association, led by Frederick E. Perkins, took over control of the state fair and the property in 1890.[11] Perkins was the first to present vaudeville as an attraction at an agricultural fair and in 1896 organized the first oval track automobile race in the United States.[10][12] The final fair took place in 1898 and Perkins sold the property to a corporation that staged harness races at the park.[12][11] Due to the harness racing's decline in popularity, the corporation was unable to make its mortgage payments and ownership reverted to Perkins.[12]

Automobile racing edit

Start of the Providence Horseless Carriage Race, held on September 7, 1896, as part of the Rhode Island State Fair

On September 7, 1896, the first organized oval track race held in the United States took place at Narragansett Park as part of that year's state fair. Four of the seven cars were able to run at the required average speed of 15 mph. The race winner was a Riker from Brooklyn, which completed five laps on the one-mile track in 15 minutes, 134 seconds. Second was the entry from the Electric Carriage & Wagon Company, and third was a Duryea.[10] In 1907 the track was resurfaced with clay.[11] Automobile races were held sporadically at the park until 1914, when Perkins closed it for renovations.[10]

In 1914, Perkins converted the former harness park into Narragansett Park Speedway. The track was paved with asphalt and graded. The curves were graded at 27.5% and widened from 80 feet to 125 feet. A 9-foot concrete retaining wall was built on the outside of curves to keep cars from running off. A pit lane was constructed on the inside of the track. The grandstand was remodeled and bleachers were constructed to bring the total capacity to 10,000.[13]

The opening meeting was held on September 18, 1915. The feature race was won by Eddie Rickenbacker in a Prest-O-Lite Maxwell.[14] In 1916, the speedway was purchased by Paul Castiglioni, Antonio Capelli, and Fred Suter.[11] Narragansett returned to the AAA Championship Car schedule in 1917. Tommy Milton won the 100-mile and 25-mile races and Ralph Mulford won the five mile race.[15]

The final race occurred on August 5, 1923, and was won by Ira Vail.[11][10] 12,000 people attended the race but there was a lack of seats due to grandstand and all of the five bleachers having been deemed unsafe for use. A month earlier, track ownership had come under fire for leasing the property to group of Roma for use as an encampment.[11]

On April 14, 1924, a grass fire caused $20,000 to the track's buildings. The following year Narragansett Park was sold to a developer, who demolished remaining buildings to make way for a residential neighborhood. The streets in the new neighborhood were named after cars that competed in the park's last races. In 1928, an athletic field was constructed on part of the property. In 1938 the field was turned into Cranston Stadium.[11]

In 1934, a new horse track opened in Pawtucket, Rhode Island using the name Narragansett Park.[11]

References edit

  1. ^ "Narragansett Park". The New York Times. August 1, 1867.
  2. ^ a b c d "Model Trotting Park". The Maine Farmer. August 8, 1867.
  3. ^ Geake, Robert A. (2013). Historic Rhode Island Farms. Arcadia Publishing Incorporated. ISBN 9781625847461. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  4. ^ a b "For Sale - A Trotting Park". The Boston Daily Globe. November 13, 1884.
  5. ^ Gocher, William Henry (1903). Fasig's Tales of the Turf. Hartford: W. H. Gocher. p. 21. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  6. ^ "Jay-Eye-See Trots in 2:10" (PDF). New York Times. August 2, 1884. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  7. ^ "Trotting Park Sold at Auction". The New York Times. December 6, 1884.
  8. ^ "Protecting Narragansett Park". The Boston Daily Globe. December 10, 1884.
  9. ^ "Fourth New England Fair". Maine Farmer. July 18, 1867.
  10. ^ a b c d e LaChance, David. "Left Turns In The Ocean State". Hemmings. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Lennon, Shelia (May 18, 2014). "Time Lapse: Turrets, tents and hippies -- where, when, what's happening here?". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  12. ^ a b c The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Biographical. New York: The American Historical Society. 1920. pp. 199–200. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  13. ^ "The Narragansett Speedway". The Automobile Journal. XXXVIII (6): 12–14. October 25, 1914. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  14. ^ Dick, Robert (2019). Auto Racing in the Shadow of the Great War. McFarland, Incorporated. pp. 94–95. ISBN 9781476631554. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Milton Turns on Speed Near Finish". The Boston Daily Globe. September 16, 1917.