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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, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Undated postcard
Photo courtesy: Dave Arnold
Loemker, Herman J., 1868-1937, “[Nutwood Park at the fairgrounds north of Dubuque, Iowa],” Loras College Digital Collections, accessed September 14, 2016, https://digitalcollections.loras.edu/items/show/308.
Watching the races at Nutwood Park was a popular sport.

NUTWOOD PARK. In 1891 Frank D. STOUT and Henry L. Stout purchased all the stock in the DUBUQUE DRIVING PARK from M. J. Mulgrew, James CUSHING, John Babcock, and Philip Ryder for fifty cents on the dollar. (1) To improve the park, they made the track one-mile long and constructed a new grandstand, stables, and a fence around the track. (2) The original park comprised 24-acres. The Stouts purchased 72-acres from a dairyman named Hemmi for between $500-$600 per acre. (3)

The contractor was John Patrick WILLIAMS. The decision to construct the course was made easier by the support the project received from other wealthy businessmen who loved HORSE RACING. Riders wanted the change because it meant fewer curves and an opportunity to establish speed records. (4) Stalls for race horses were rented annually for $1,160. The park was renamed Nutwood Park in honor of NUTWOOD, the famous Kentucky trotting stallion owned by Henry L. STOUT.

The first major race was held in 1892. Henry Kelly, a well-known member of the racing community, was sent to Chicago and obtained John R. Gentry and Joe Patch, the two fastest horses in the nation for $2,500 to each of their owners. Fidoil, a fast Iowa horse, was obtained to race for $1,000. (5)

In 1894 the Nutwood Park Company was established and the track became nationally recognized as part of the Great Western Trotting Circuit. In 1894 more than one hundred horses were raced with the number climbing to 348 in the 1898. (6) Harness racing was the only sport at the track until August 1896.

On August 1, 1896 a seven-day racing event opened with the assurance that the races would be held with or without rain. "No matter if the track has a foot of mud on it the races are always pulled off." The principal feature of the first day was the Key City Cup. (7)

Nutwood Park advertising poster. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Thoughts that the track would continue its success led to the formation of the Dubuque Trotting and Pacing Association by Charles Thomas HANCOCK in 1899. (8) Plans were begun for a fair to run the week of August 28 to September 2 with the largest racing card in the nation. To draw the best horses and riders, Hancock proposed purses totaling $123,000 and a relaxation of the rules on gambling. At a cost of $35,000, the track was widened and a new grandstand constructed. Admission tickets costing one dollar were sold at local hotels, banks, and drug stores. (9) Hancock's efforts also led to the formation of the DUBUQUE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION with the one purpose being to promote a 'monster boxing carnival in Saengerbund auditorium' which had a capacity of 6,000 seats. (10)

Planning expanded to city officials, railroad passenger agents, and streetcar officials. Pinkerton Detective Agency's branch in Chicago was asked for fifty trained detectives to aid the DUBUQUE POLICE DEPARTMENT in apprehending pickpockets, confidence men, and crooked gamblers. Railroad fares were slashed fifty percent for the entire week. Merchants and saloon keepers increased their stocks. (11)

Drawn by the large cash prizes, trains bringing race horses came from New England, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and locations in Iowa. On the opening day, the Great Western Railroad competed with the streetcar company and hack lines carrying people from 8th Street to the park on a ten minute schedule for ten cents. There were seven thousand paid admissions on the first day with estimates of an equal number of observers on the hillsides. On the second day with $20,000 to be distributed to the winners, there were 21,000 admissions. By the end of the week there were more than 40,000 paid admissions. (12) Bride and Fitch, a Detroit pooling firm, opened betting headquarters inside the park. (13)

Merchants had a hard time keeping up with the demand. One local saloon keeper took the door off his establishment and set it adrift in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, signaling his intent to remain open all hours. (14) Others signaled their intent to remain open by throwing the keys to their establishments in the river. (15) Roulette wheels appeared. All local hotels were filled; people slept in the parks. (16)

Nutwood Park advertising poster from 1899. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Soon after the 1899 race, F. D. Stout offered Nutwood Park to the city upon condition it should be kept in

good condition. There were seventy-two acres, valued at $36,000. (17) The city refused the contract. The DUBUQUE ELECTRIC COMPANY purchased the land and leased it without charge to the fairgrounds association.

The grounds became the scene of plays, vaudeville, and band concerts sponsored by the electric company. In 1903 the land was purchased by the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY after it was announced that the company would spend $25,000 for improvements to the park. The company planned to make the location a resort with racing a primary activity.

Until the Tri-State Fair of 1904 little racing was seen at Nutwood Park. The fair rekindled interest, however, and the park was improved with an expenditure of $7,800. In 1906 the famous racehorse Dan Patch was brought to Dubuque to compete for eight thousand dollars in prize money. During the week, Dan Patch set a new track record of 1:58 before an estimated twenty thousand cheering fans. The horse was a featured racer again in 1907.

On July 30, 1911 motorcycle races were held at Nutwood. Originally scheduled for July 6th, the races had to be postponed repeatedly due to rain. The racers finally became so disgusted they refused to come to Dubuque unless their expenses were guaranteed or the races were actually held.

In 1911 races were scheduled for the week of September 12 to 18th. It began to rain on the 12th, however, and continued for the entire week causing the entire week's races to be cancelled. The financial loss was said to nearly ruin the sponsors. At this point, the weather relented for the race to be held. Racers found the Dubuque track unique among others in the Midwest. First discovered with famed race car driver Barney Oldfield drove his "Blitzen Benz" over the track in 1910, Nutwood was not laid out in an oval with a continuous curve throughout its length. Made like a circle cut in half and connected with straight lines, the track gave the racers perfectly straight back and home stretches with a perfect curve on the ends. (18)

The NUTWOOD DRIVING CLUB was formally organized in 1912. Plans called for the quick return of Nutwood Park, the last mile track in the state, to the Great Western Trotting Circuit of racing. (19)

Bruce BALDWIN, secretary of the Nutwood Driving Club and manager of the races, was confident that with his personal acquaintances in racing that he could attract many of the fastest horses on the Grand and Great Western circuits to Dubuque. As evidence of this, it was reported that through his efforts Nutwood Park would be the site for two large racing stables at the end of the 1912 season. The two belonged to Edward and Hammie Allen of Marion, Iowa and Charles Kenyon of Cedar Rapids. Both were well-known in the racing world. Kenyon had one of the largest collections of high grade racing stock in the west. The Allen brothers had been the business for ten years. (20)

Taking over the entire promotion of the 1912 event, he announced that Dubuque would stage a great harness race on September 17-20, 1912. This was during an open week in the schedules between Milwaukee and St. Louis of both circuits. (21) The program showed: (22)

           Tuesday, September 17th Merchants' and Manufacturers' stake
                    2:24 class trotters, $1,500
                                   Dubuque Industrial Corporation stake
                    2:12 pace $1,500
                                   Trotting Race 2:17 class $700
           Wednesday, September 18th (Dubuque Day)
                    Dubuque Club stake, 2:25 class pacers $1,000
                    Hotel Julien stake, 2:12 trotters $1,000
                    Pacing 2:16 class $700
           Thursday, September 19th
                    Hotel Wales stake, 2:07 pace $1,000
                    Dubuque Brewing and Malting Company state
                          2:15 class trotters $1,500
                    Pacing, 2:10 class, $700
           Friday, September 20
                    Three-year-old class trotting stake $1,500
                    Mile dash, running $100
                    Seven, six and four furlong races purse of
                          $100 for each event

With the certainty of a race and the money established, the DUBUQUE INDUSTRIAL CORPORATION announced that a Made-in-Dubuque exposition would be held during the same week as the races. With Baldwin's prediction that the race would attract 30,000 people and thousands of out-of-town visitors, an athletic association announced a boxing carnival. This was to be held on two nights on Stumpf's Island in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Baldwin used $5,000 to advertise the races in leading turf magazines and had 5,400 names on a mailing list. Repairs and improvements to Nutwood Park cost $3,500. On the day before the race was to be held, 125 horses were housed at park's stables. (23)

Then weather entered the picture. It began raining on Monday and continued raining on Tuesday causing the postponing of the first day's races. The rain continued on Tuesday night making the track impossible to use on Wednesday. Meanwhile the horses continued to eat and staff members continued to draw a salary. More rain fell on Thursday and calls for canceling the entire program began. At this Baldwin proposed the idea of moving the entire schedule to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. During a lull in the rain, the track was put into shape at the cost of $100. It was then that the Dubuque Ministerial Association protested racing on Sunday. Baldwin responded to that with a statement that the track was located outside the city and that thousands of dollars had been invested. Investors needed some support. (24)

The final decision came after rain on Friday. Officials noted that water around the judges' stand was about 6.3 feet deep. All the horses were led out of their stalls and into special railroad cars for transportation out of town. Estimates of the loss exceeded $11,000. Baldwin left town within several days having made no money for the effort he had invested from March 15 through September 20th. (25)

The failure of the event caused fear that Union Electric would subdivide the track into lots for sale. This rumor was quieted immediately by the company's general manager. He reported that the company was expecting to invest $3,500 in rehabilitating the grand stand, stables and track for 1913. Revenue was expected to be received by using the grounds for football games in the fall. (26)

In 1915 promoter Frank P. Kenney remarked that whether Dubuque...again established...an agricultural and mechanical fair utilizing Nutwood Driving Park for that purpose depended in no little measure upon the success of the coming Great Western Circuit trotting meet of August 24th-27th" and asked that the meet be a memorial to Bruce Baldwin. (27)

Automobile racing continued in September, 1915 with drivers expecting to beat 80 miles per hour. As the drivers and their teams prepared, the track management was negotiating for an electrical timer which had recently been used in Elgin, Illinois. Gerald Wunderlick, one of the racers, announced to a gathering of reporters in the lobby of the WALES HOTEL prior to the race that he had perfected a gasoline mixture that would add ten percent efficiency with a corresponding decrease in fuel consumption. He also had three cars from which to choose to race and refused to announce which car he would choose. (28)

Over time, interest in racing died in Dubuque. Convinced that there would be no more races, the electric company dismantled the grandstand and converted the park into a garden for its employees. (29)

Around 1917 Nutwood Park was leased by the DUBUQUE AIRCRAFT COMPANY.

Aerial view showing the outline of the former site of Nutwood Park. The white building is Melody Mill. Photo courtesy: John Pregler

The land between the railroad tracks, Sageville Road, and the John Deere road which once drew huge crowds and brightly colored jockeys became the site of Dubuque's first AIRPORT. After the airport was moved, the area was converted to industrial use including the construction of MELODY MILL and WICKE'S LUMBER AND BUILDING SUPPLY CENTER.



1. "Nutwood Park Has Good Future," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald September 22, 1912, p. 5

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

3. "Nutwood Park Has Good Future..."

4. Fedler, Fred. "Dubuque's Nutwood Park Once Nation's Horse Racing Capital," Telegraph Herald, undated, Courtesy of: Diane Harris

5. "Nutwood Park Has Good Future..."

6. Hendricks, Mike. "Races Were Run, a 'Fortune' Was Won: Dubuque, 1899," Telegraph Herald, April 19, 1984, p. 2

7. "Races Open Today," Dubuque Herald, August 1, 1896, p. 8

8. "Dubuque Was the Capital of All Sportsdome One Week Back in 1899, B.P. When Charlie Hancock Drew The Horses Here," Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, February 26, 1933, p. 7

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-22-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml, p. 199

18. "Motorcycle Races at Nutwood Today," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 30, 1911 (Part II), p. 10

19. "Dubuque to Have Racing Stable," Dubuque Telegraph-HeraldItalic text, August 27, 1912, p. 3

20. "Organization for the Coming Races," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, April 4, 1912, p. 9

21. "Horse Review In Nutwood Welcome," Telegraph-Herald, April 14, 1912, p. 24

22. "Bruce Baldwin Comes to Town and the Horses Prick Up Their Ears and Things Begin to Hum at Nutwood Park," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, March 6, 1933, p.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. "All Should Boost Local Race Meet," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 11 1915, p. 14

27. "Nutwood Park Has Good Future..."

28. "8- Miles An Hour at Nutwood Park," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, September 3, 1915, p. 21

29. Hendricks