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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa.


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Dubuque’s first fairgrounds and driving park, north of the city was once the site of CAMP HENDERSON. A driving park was a common term for a horse racetrack. Photo courtesy: John T.. Pregler
June, 1890 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
DUBUQUE DRIVING PARK. The Dubuque Driving Park was first described in the Dubuque Herald on October 20, 1865. Built by Richmond and McMasters, the Park was located along the eastern side Couler Avenue (then called the Sageville Road) north of the city. (1) Originally it may have been called the Peru Course; it offered a half-mile track for horse racing. (2)

The Park included high wooden fence and a picket fence inside around the track. J. F. Tousley constructed a refreshment stand. (3) There was a three-story judges' stand, along with ticket offices and stables. The Dubuque Herald encouraged city officials to consider upgrading the road to the Park and encouraged citizens to visit the site. Those coming before the track was officially opened were invited to drive their teams onto the track to help pack it. The "Milwaukee" had brought a large group to town to see the races on July 3rd. (4)

The opening of the Park was scheduled for November 1, 2, and 3, 1865. On the first day, a purse of $100, known as the "Livery Purse, will be offered for the best three in five. A $50 purse for mile heats will go to the best two in three. On the second day, the "Citizens' Sweepstakes Purse" of $150 was open to all trotters, best three in five mile heats. A second purse, "Hot-1 Purse," was to go to the best two in three mile heats for double teams. The third day offered the $100 Proprietors' Purse to all trotters except winners of sweepstakes best three in five. A second purse of $50 was open to all, best two in three. (5)

Unfortunately, bad weather prevented the opening of the park until spring. (6)

The second day of the 1866 season was held on May 25, 1866. An important addition to the Park was an 18 or 20 foot high covered amphitheater capable of seating four hundred people. (7) The events began with a harness race between Chattanooga and Lady Eagle for purse of $100. This was followed by a foot race of 600 yards with the first man reaching the end of the race receiving $10 and the second $5. For this entertainment the admission price was reduced to 25 cents. When races were held including horses from outside Dubuque, the admission was 50 cents while all other tracks in the country were charging $1.00. (8)

In 1867 The Herald announced in July that the Park was attracting excursions. The steamboat "Davenport" was bringing racing enthusiasts from Davenport. The "Henderson" had a party from Savanna, Sabula, and Bellevue. The "Bannock City" was transporting visitors from DeWitt and Clinton. (9)

A Grand Trotting Fair was held from October 29-November 1, 1867. No gambling or disorderly behavior was allowed on the grounds, but pools were sold on the track results every day by Mr. S. Cox at his billiard rooms every evening before. Arrangements were made the with railroad and steamboat companies to carry passengers and stock to the trotting fair in October at reduced rates. (10)

One of the more unusual horse races occurred in September 1878. In mile heats, Hod Gregory and Black Diamond ran riderless. The winner was scheduled to be the horse that won the best two out of three races. (11)

In 1880 the following article appeared in the Dubuque Herald:

                Secretary Hetherington informed a Herald reporter
                yesterday that driving tickets were ready for 
                those who are entitled to them, and can be had by
                calling for them. Others can procure them for a
                certain sum of money. These tickets entitle the
                holder to use the race track upon which to drive
                for pleasure or profit, or both. (12)

In 1889 the DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY announced its efforts to convince the landowner of property above the old fair grounds to sell the Dubuque Driving Park the land it needed to expand its track and site. The Society had its own objectives in mind for involving itself in this business. As reported in the newspaper, if the Driving Park obtained the land it wanted, the Chicago, St. Paul, and Kansas City Railroad would run a switch line up to the Shooting Society grounds. (13)

Despite the offer of assistance from the Shooting Society, the directors of the Driving Park met on June 10, 1889 and concluded it would be necessary to raise $5,000 to pay for the construction. They resolved they would not increase their indebtedness to obtain the needed land. (14) In December, however, Park officials did grant a contract to FLICK BROTHERS for the construction of barns. (15)

Vice-President of the board John Babcock accepted an invitation in February, 1890 to attend a meeting of the Northwestern Trotting Association in Freeport, Illinois. The western trotting circuit established in Chicago began its 1890 season moved from Kansas City, Missouri; Iowa City, Iowa; Janesville, Wisconsin; Freeport, Illinois; and then to Cedar Rapids, Iowa with Dubuque at the end with the weekend of July 4th. The Dubuque delegates had decided to hold an independent face on June 10-13. Potential contestants protested the conflict in dates which the Freeport meeting was to resolve. (16) Activity at the Park in 1890 began in March with the directors traveling to Independence to observe their amphitheater in anticipation of improving the one at the Park. (17) The Herald blamed a series of events for the poor showing of the Park in September, 1890. The date of the races had followed "great" races in Independence, Iowa and interest was down. Weather had forced the events to be postponed two days and the Barnum & Bailey Circus had been in town. Perhaps more threatening to the future of the track, the railroads had refused to give Dubuque the same transportation privileges given to Chicago and Independence. (18)

At the stockholders meeting in January 1890, the treasurers report indicated that during 1889, expenditures equaled $11.094.11. (19) In May, 1890 Driving Park officials announced that the association had purchased a fifty-foot wide strip bounding the race track on the south and running from Sageville Road east to the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railroad track. A side track was to be installed immediately and the railroad would carry special trains during the races. (20) In June 1890 no less than twenty local businesses announced that they would close for business to attend the grand opening. (21) Races of different lengths were advertised for October, 15, 1890 including one-half mile, five-eights mile, and one mile. On October 16, races included one-half mile, three-quarter mile, one and one-quarter mile, and one and one-half mile novelty race. (22) It was proposed that local businesses be closed so that the clerks could attend. "The races will be fine and should be liberally patronized." (23)

1892 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Stockholders of the Dubuque Driving Park met on February 10, 1892. Reports of the meeting indicated that none of the new directors wanted any responsibility for lengthening the track to one mile but would support the decision if it were made. A communication from the new board of directors was read to the stockholders in which it was suggested that the Park be sold. Reasons for this decision included the fact that the Park was heavily in debt and that adjoining ground was not available at a fair price to make the track longer and the Park larger. (24) At a special meeting of the stockholders on February 16th, however, an overwhelming majority were in favor of retaining the present track until a mile track could be built. (25) A baseball game was scheduled for June 19, 1892.




Special appreciation to John Pregler

1. "Dubuque Driving Park, Dubuque Herald, October 20, 1865, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18651020&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

2. Kruse, Len. "Busy Nutwood Park, Melody Mill Now Just Memories," Telegraph Herald, March 17, 1998, p. 12

3. "Dubuque Driving Park," The Herald, May 16, 1866, p. 4

4. "Dubuque Driving Park...(1865) "

5. Ibid.

6. "The Dubuque Driving Park Closed Until Spring," Dubuque Herald, November 1, 1865, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18651101&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "The Races," The Herald, July 31, 1866, p. 4

8. "The Races To-Day (sic)" The Herald, May 26, 1866, p. 4

9. "Excursions from Down River," The Herald, July 4, 1867, p. 4

10. "Grand Trotting Fair," The Herald, October 20, 1867, p. 4

11. "The Fair," The Daily Herald, September 13, 1878, p. 4

12. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, April 16, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18800416&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. "Local News in Brief," The Herald, June 2, 1889, p. 8

14. "The Race Track," The Herald, June 11, 1889, p. 4

15. "Local News in Brief," The Herald, December 12, 1889, p. 5

16. "Election of Officers of the Dubuque Driving Park Association," The Herald, February 8, 1890, p. 4

17. "Local News in Brief," The Herald, March 20, 1890, p. 4

18. "Flyers Finish Their Fun" The Herald, September 7, 1890, p. 8

19. "Dubuque Driving Park Association," The Herald, January 21, 1890, p. 4

20. "Local News in Brief," The Herald, May 22, 1890, p. 4

21. "Will Close for the Races," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 10, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900610&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

22. "Running Races," The Herald, October 12, 1890, p. 8

23. "Royal Running Races," The Herald, October 15, 1890. p. 4

24. "In Favor of Its Sale," The Herald, February 11, 1892, p. 4

25. "One Bird in the Hand," The Herald, February 16, 1892, p. 4