Around this time back in the early 1900’s, along with the joys of shellfishing, beach picnics and graduations, the Poquonnock Driving Park off of what is now Route 1 in Groton, was considered a thriving local attraction.
What was incorporated in 1891 and cleverly named to avert any embarrassingly salacious labels of “horse track”, became a widely-recognized place for not only horse races, but for recreational trotters, motorcycle races, baseball games and a scenic picnic spot for travelers.
In her book, The Poquonnock Bridge Story, the late historian Carol Kimball wrote, "When sporting men sped down country roads behind smart horses hitched to light rigs, proud owners welcomed match races.”
This popular pastime brought enough local interest that in the fall of 1891, a driving association, fifty members and nearly $3,000.00 was raised to initiate the Driving Park momentum.
Two months later, the Driving Park Company was a legal entity. The grounds were leased from land owner Henry Gardiner and over 300 shares of stock were issued for $25.00 a share.
The park opened the first weekend of September, 1892. Park admission was 50 cents and children were allowed to attend the festivities as well. With a collection of the fastest horses around, the track was touted as one of the best in Connecticut. In addition, a ball game and bike race were viewed by over 1000 spectators attending the opening.
All of the activities continued intermittently for years, until horse racing fell by the wayside and the track became overgrown. Starting in 1909, the property was leased by local individuals who spearheaded the cleanup and reimplementation of horse racing and with the new trolley line running nearby, brought the park into its most successful years.
By 1909, the 20-acre park seated 1,500 spectators, had stables to hold 40 to 50 horses and grandstands for judges. Although sadly, Sunday baseball was not permitted, a baseball diamond was located on the grounds for teams such as the Pequot Independants and the Noank Sluggers to duke it out.
Leased in 1914 by Esteemed horse trainer Jack Gardiner, the track was once again revamped and saw its most successful day on record on July 4, 1914.
With more than 2,000 guests, “Throngs of motorists picnicked under the big trees and watched the horses train. A band of gypsies camping near the foot of Fort Hill added color to the scene,” according to Carol Kimball. ”Whole families enjoyed the fun.”
Gardiner, like many others who leased the park during the 25 year period, after one booming year, removed himself from the scene, allegedly due to loss of a premier racehorse in a lawsuit.
The bustling track once described by The Day as a place where “auto speed maniacs” and “lovers of the trotting horse” would find themselves, was swallowed up by wild berries and grasses. And, as all good things come to an end, a charge is still felt by this edgy 25-year endeavor once glimmering in Groton.