Once our area thundered with the sounds of horses' hooves. Crowds of people called their favorite horses on to victory. Our city of Woodlawn Park was the site of the world famous Woodlawn Race Course!
The earliest history of the area is rather vague. A Jefferson County land grants map shows the Woodlawn Park included in a grant to Col. William Christian, I.W. Blagg and William Bradley dated June 7, 1774; also, however, it has been said to have been given to a Col. Grey by the king of England. Col. Grey is said to have lost it by gambling.
The property later was purchased by several gentlemen, who started Woodlawn Race Course and the Woodlawn Association in 1858. They subscribed for a total of 50,000 in stock. The first Woodlawn races were held in the fall of 1859.
The opening day of the spring meet, May 21, 1860, began as a beautiful day. People eager to come filled the earliest trains, and the crowds filled Woodlawn. Many important ladies form both city and state attended. In fact, so many ladies attended that the stands set apart for them were overcrowded. Gallant male club members gave up half of their stands to accommodate the ladies. The track was in excellent condition. Later in the day a large storm appeared, but it didn't dampen the spirit of the enthusiastic crowd. Twenty-three thousand dollars was sold in pools and much had been wagered in private bets.
The element of suspense as to which horse was ahead was often present, because as the horses reached the half-mile post it was not long before they would disappear behind a grove of trees. The crowd would anxiously await a glimpse of their favorite. The races were run rain or shine.
In the spring meet's first day of races, the judge was James K. Duke, Esq. The horses in the last race were Bettie Ward, Lucy Fowler, Magenta, Belle Barandon, Dick Atkinson's Filly, and Buford's Filly. Time of the race was 1:45 3/4. The winner was Magenta.
Many races were run in heats, some up to four miles at the finish.
Another day in the spring meet saw the running of the Galt House stakes. There was a prize of $3,000 and a magnificent piece of silver plate that was donated by Capt. Miller of the Galt House. Bettie Ward was the winner.
On the third day of racing the pool had $25,000 staked. The track on May 27 drew a crowd of 5,000, 600 of whom were ladies.
At May 28, 1860, Louisville Daily Courier complemented Woodlawn Woodlawn and said the course deserved to be placed among the top ten courses in the world.
Descriptions of Woodlawn Race Course are sketchy. The clubhouse had thick brick walls, spacious rooms and fireplaces with finely wrought mantelpieces. It had a tin roof with a hatch, thought to be a lookout for Indians. The clubhouse appears on an 1858 map near where Ahland and Perryman roads are now. Somewhere near Ahland Road were brick stables and a wooden stable.
Another building believed to have been built as apart of the course's original layout is now 169 Beechwood Road. It is said to have been either another clubhouse or the home of the track superintendent. It has thick walls covered with weatherboarding and has a tin roof.
Little is said about the track itself. One part was said to have been near where 169 Beechwood is now... when one digs deep in that location now there is a thick layer of cinders.
Gilbert B. Alberts believes a portion of the track curved through his property, at 4318 Westport Road. There is a small burying ground on the property for black jockeys who died in racing accidents.
In 1862 the Louisville Daily Courier announced that the spring meet at Woodlawn Race Course had been canceled because of bad management. Before the fall meet in 1862 "important alterations" were made in the arrangements of the saloons, and new arrangements also had been made to supply refreshments at the fall races, it was to be an epicure's delight.
After the fall meet in 1862 the Civil War began to affect Woodlawn Race Course. On Oct.8, 1863, the Battle of Perryville took place. Wounded soldiers were taken to Louisville and New Albany.
The Woodlawn course was used as a mustering-out station for soldiers. Woodlawns races continued, however, reasonably uninterrupted for the war. The Louisville Daily Courier reported on Oct. 15, 1862, that trotting races would be held..."contests for the stakes will take place... there will be extra sport also, well worth the attention of the admirers of such sport."
After the Civil War, Woodlawn continued to draw big crowds. It was the site of fairs, political rallies and other events.
But shortly thereafter interests in horse racing began to wane temporarily in the Louisville area. Lack of interest made it difficult for tracks to continue to exist due to decreasing revenue. The Greenland Course closed in 1869, leaving Woodlawn the only course in the area. And although it was an excellent track, Woodlawn could not survive its worsening financial difficulty, and it, too, was forced to close, following the spring meet in 1870.
Woodlawn station welcomes race fans
In 1847 the Louisville & Frankfort Railroad started construction between the two cities. The first train was in operation on this line in 1851.
About 1858 a flagstop called Woodlawn Station was built on the line. People who went to the races in 1859 and later at Woodlawn paid 50 cents to ride the nonstop train to the station. Others arrived at the racecourse in their carriages. It was in 1869 that the Louisville & Frankfort Railroad became the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad acquired the LC&L; in 1881. Between 1882 and 1890 Woodlawn Station became Beechwood Station. After Woodlawn Race Course was closed the station used for interurban runs to Louisville, provided tickets were bought in advanced. It continued to operate until about 1935, when L&N; ended all stops on this branch of the interurban.
The Louisville Daily Courier reported in 1860 that Col. R.A. Alexander ordered a "Challenge Vase" from Tiffany and Company in New York City for use by the Woodlawn Association. It cost $1,000, which was quite extravagant for that time. The association felt that a worthy trophy would add to the interest and excitement of the races. The Woodlawn Vase had an estimate appraisal value of $500,000 in April 1971. Its craftsmanship is unequaled and the cost of replacing it today would be incomprehensible.
The huge, ornate trophy stands 34 inches high, is 15 inches in diameter and weighs 29 pounds, 12 ounces. There are meticulous engravingsof Southern gentlemen near the top, four sculpture angels at the sides and three houses at the base. At the very top of the trophy there is a horse and rider. Near the base are two small signboards where the racing rules of the Woodlawn Association are etched in tiny detail. It is indeed a most magnificent trophy.
When the Civil War flared up in Kentucky the vase was buried- secretly. It came back into use before the century's end. Thomas Clyde won it in Brooklyn in 1904. He was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club-Pimlico. In 1917 the Woodlawn Vace became associated with Pimlico's.
Preakness, when Clyde offered it to Pimlico as a permanent trophy for the race. Since 1953 a smaller replica of the Woodlawn Vase has been awarded the winner of the Preakness (at the insistence of the insurance company). So we have to turn on our TV set to get a glimpse of Woodlawn Park's former days of glory as a world famous racetrack. We can feel a real sense of pride when we see the latest winner of the Preakness awarded his or her trophy-Woodlawn Vase.
From race course to our suburban community
In 1858 Westport Road was a dirt road. It curved north into what is now Windy Hills, then over to Herr Lane. Between then and 1879 it was diverted to the path it generally follows today.
Apparently sometime after Woodlawn Race Course had closed a road was built to connect Woodlawn Station with Westport Road. It later would become Beechwood Road. After Beechwood Station wastorn down, Beechwood Road shrank to its present size. Parts of Perryman Road and Westport Terrace were built about the same time as the station road.
After Woodlawn Race Course closed, a large portion of the site was purchased by Norbourne Arterburn. On this portion was the clubhouse, which in 1928 was purchased by Dr. Roy Moore, along with 13 acres, for a summer home. Moore sold it in 1946, and the clubhouse became a home for boys, called Kentucky Boys estate. Sometime during this period, the wooden stable was torn down.
After 1954, the Woodlawn area began to change from farmland to a suburban community. The first new street was Larry Avenue, later included as a part of Westport Terrace.
Later Kentucky Boys Estate was razed, together with the remains of the brick stables,for the construction of Woodlawn Park in the early 1950's. The racecourse that was left later became the home of Robert Gudgel family, now the home of the Rev. C. Gerald Summerfield and his family. It survives as 169 Beechwood Road.
After Woodlawn Park's construction began the area necessarily expanded. In 1954 Woodlawn Park was incorporated as a sixth-class city. By the early 1960's most of the homes were constructed. In 1966 Woodlawn Park became a fifth-class city... with a mayor and a city council.
***Due to the untiring efforts of Wells Myers, Woodlawn Park was placed on the register of Historic Places in 1986. The Schuwey Family donated the site and the State placed the Historic Marker at the intersection of Perryman and Westport Roads in Sept. 1986. In 2012, the Historical Marker was moved down in between Westport Terrace and Walser on the State donated property that now belongs to Woodlawn Park near the City Hall that was also given by the State which is located at 4327 Wingate Road. The marker is located on the south side of Westport Road. ***
Written and Compiled by John C. Scheer 1977
See October 1993 Reprint for additional sources and acknowledgements.
Posted on Web by Mollie Robertson December 2003
More on the Woodlawn Vase
The Woodlawn Vase and the Preakness Stakes