COTUIT TROTTING PARK
Every village in Barnstable had its own racetrack, according to Barnstable Town Clerk, Linda Hutchinrider. She spoke on the topic at a recent meeting of the West Barnstable Historical Society.
The village of Hyannis welcomed President Grant at its track in 1874. Marstons Mills’ straight mile across The Plains on Race Lane was a favorite.
Cotuit Trotting Park opened before Christmas 1887, two years before the track at Barnstable Agricultural Society was built in Barnstable village.
Cotuit’s track and ballpark was located near today’s Ralyn Road, off Santuit-Newtown Road, then called Lewis Pond Road. It lay at the back of the Crocker farmhouse (today still on the southwest corner of Old King’s Road), part of the 100 acre fields that lie east of the Santuit River. Until 1949 the farm belonged to the family of Rebecca Sampson Crocker, who inherited it from her uncle Josiah Sampson. After Rebecca died in 1901, the farm passed on to her son Benjamin, who lived until 1929. Benjamin Crocker’s daughter, Mary, inherited it, and it was sold in 1929. It is now owned by John and Patricia Pisch, but it is still called the Crocker Farmhouse.
When Rebecca Crocker owned it, the dairy and the production of grain and hay were managed by Howard Goodspeed, who evidently persuaded Mrs. Crocker to let the village use a small part of the farm for recreation.
The impetus for the trotting park came from several vigorous Cotuit leaders. Captain Ulysses Hull was famous for his love of speed. In 1879, he sailed his schooner “E.S. Gildersleeve” from New Bedford to New York, where he loaded 320 tons of coal, which he took to Boston in an amazing five and a half days. Asa F. Bearse, the keeper of the general store that was located where the Cotuit Inn Condominiums are today, had a livery stable and a fine racing horse “Duke”. James Webb, prosperous proprietor of the Santuit House, raced his fast horses named “Jack” and “Rex”. The Sturgis and Phinney families also raced.
Captain Hull raced the famous champion “Dandy Eastman”, shown in our picture. After winning the Cotuit Thanksgiving Day race in 1891, Dandy went to the Cape’s most important track, the Riverside in Dennis. He woon all the prizes for over fivc years, and so was called “the fastest horse on Cape Cod”.
Cotuit’s racing season ran from July Fourth all the way to New Year’s Day. The first big track meet was held on August 28, 1888 with racing of sulkies (two wheelers with driver’s seat), buggies, mustangs and a footrace.
Soon, the Fourth of July became the biggest day of the year at the park. On July 4, 1895 there was an event that may have been the start of the now famous Cotuit parade. At 8 AM “the Horribles”, the name given to those dressed up in frightening masks and costumes, gathered at the Santuit School (now the post office) to start a grand parade to the trotting park.
Admission to the grounds cost 10 cents, which suggests the grounds were fenced against all but enterprising boys. At 10 AM at the grandstand there were traditional patriotic oratory and songs, a flag drill by a dozen young women. Horse races took place, as well as bike races; a bike parade, races on foot and with sacks as well as potato races, in which the contestants run to collect potatoes in a basket; and also games and sports. At 2 PM, a baseball game was played; sometimes the teams would be Cotuit vs. Santuit. Then came the clam chowder dinner, with accompanying meat, bread, cake and ice cream, all for 50 cents and half price for children under 12. And finally, fireworks.
The automobile bought an end to racing of horses on the Cape by 1905. Capt. Hull, who had become County Sheriff, pursued his quest for speed with one of the first Stanley Steamers. The Cotuit ball team moved to the present field at Lowell Park. By 1894 one of Cape Cod’s first golf links was laid out on the Crocker Farm. And Fourth of July was still celebrated here. Francis Rennie, who died in 2008, remembered a big bonfire of old lumber that blazed in the center of the old trotting track when he was a boy in the 1920s.
Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 11 May 2012