Marengo would be a very interesting and busy place if the institutions and businesses of yesteryear were still around today. We’d have a college, a stove factory, numerous hotels, an interurban railroad, a movie theater, several nurseries, dairies, cheese factories - I could continue; the list seems endless. This month I’m going to talk about another long-gone Marengo institution; the Marengo Agricultural Driving Park. The driving park was basically a horse race track that was located on modern day Route 176 somewhere west of Prospect St.

In early May of 1874, Marengo citizens learned that the Marengo Agricultural Driving Park Association had leased forty acres of land from Calvin Spencer with the intent of developing the Marengo Driving Park. The land was leased for a five year term, and the plan called for a one mile horse racing track, a grandstand, water wells, stables, and the whole complex would be surrounded by a high fence.

On June 13, 1874; after the Association received its charter, a meeting of stockholders was held and the following citizens were elected to the board of officers: President, J.W. Green; Vice President, William Boies; Secretary, R.M. Patrick; Treasurer, H.E. Patrick; and General Superintendent, William Avery. In addition, five director positions were also filled. Once this business was completed the board tendered an offering of additional shares of stock to facilitate the development of site.

Reports of progress on the construction began to appear in the September 1874 editions of the Marengo Republican News. These articles reported that the track was completed and being improved through use and rain showers; that two wells have been dug to provide water for the site; the fence was completed; and the construction of approximately 300 feet of stabling was winding down.

As opening day came closer, H.E. Perkin’s the owner of the City Drug Store introduced local citizens to the Driving Park Cigar. The Marengo Republican News in a brief article in the September 26, 1874, edition bragged that this new novelty was “a very fine-flavored, and good looking cigar, nearly if not equal to the ‘Base Ball’ brand which has been so popular in this vicinity.

On September 30th the Marengo Driving Park kicked off two days of inaugural races. Four horse drawn buses shuttled spectators between downtown and the driving park. The weather was cool and clear and the race schedule included a two mile running race with a $50.00 purse, a half mile running race with a purse of $100.00, a trotting race for “green horses” with the winner taking home a $200.00 purse, and other trotting events with purses ranging between $150.00 to $200.00. Baseball games were also scheduled for each day, but unfortunately both were cancelled due to miscommunications between the ball clubs. The newspaper reported that “everything has passed off smoothly, and without accident, and the managers congratulate themselves on the success that has attended the Opening Meeting.”

 Over the next few decades newspaper articles reported on events that were held at the Marengo Driving Park. Over this time the park hosted horse races, baseball games, horse fairs, and in June of 1887 “Wild Bill’s Cowboy Show.” The name of the show implies that it may have been related to either Wild Bill Hickok, or Buffalo Bill Cody, but this wasn’t the case. Hickok was murdered in Deadwood, Dakota Territory on August 2, 1876, and in June of 1887 Buffalo Bill Cody was in London on his European Tour performing for Queen Victoria – so obviously this was some other Wild Bill. Regardless, Marengoans were treated to an exhibition of cowboys, bucking broncos, horse races, and polo on horseback.

Like many other institutions the Marengo Driving Park gave way to progress. Sometime after 1892 the park was absorbed by the Syndicate which was the development of homes planned for the employees of Collins and Burgie Stove Works.

In 1912 another group of investors decided to revive the idea of the Marengo Driving Park on land near Swager’s Crossing about a mile and a half west of Marengo. For the next several years this new location featured horse racing, motorcycle racing, and baseball games. The new driving park also faded away quietly and is lost to history.

News

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