Archive for the ‘Sports leisure and entertainment’ category

Early Horse Racing in Washington — the Washington City Race Course

September 23, 2014
Print showing 1845 horse race at Union Course.

Print showing 1845 horse race at Union Course.

Long before the area that would become the Columbia Heights neighborhood was subdivided and developed, it was among the early places for outdoor entertainment in Washington. This was due to the Washington City Race Course, often simply referred to as Holmead’s as it was located on the Holmead family estate.

This race course was one of the earliest and best known race tracks, not only in Washington but also in the country. The track was laid out in 1802 by Col. John Tayloe, Gen. John P. Van Ness, Dr. William Thornton, G.W. P. Custis, John D. Threlkeld of Georgetown and George Calvert of Bladensburg. This popular race course was used until the 1840s, and was described as a mile track being laid out in a perfect circle with its center near today’s intersection of Fourteenth and Kenyon streets. The race track grounds extended from Tenth to Sixteenth streets.

The track’s main entrance was centered where Fourteenth Street meets Columbia Road (then Taylor’s Lane Road). Spectators viewed the races from inside the track, entering mainly from the south. The race course was the arena of some of the more renowned horse races of the day, drawing crowds that included several Presidents from Jefferson to Van Buren – John Quincy Adams was observed to have walked to the race track from the White House and Andrew Jackson was described as the President with the liveliest interest in the races.

One of the best known races at the National Race Course – and leading to the race of the century – occurred “in 1822 when a braggart plantation owner recklessly dared the owners of Eclipse to race against Sir Charles, the fastest horse in Virginia, at the National Course in Washington. Before a mostly Southern crowd, Sir Charles pulled up lame a half mile before the finish line, as packs of visiting New Yorkers hurled taunts and insults at the stunned Southern fans.” This lead to a challenge for a North-South rematch which eventually occurred on May 27, 1823, at the Union Course in Jamaica, N.Y. between Eclipse, the undefeated pride of the North, and a rising star from the South, Sir Henry. It was a race pitting North against South.

At the time, horses raced in heats, with the first to win two heats declared the winner. In each heat, Eclipse and Sir Henry would race four miles, rest for a half-hour and go right back to the racing oval for a second race, and then a third. Eclipse again prevailed after winning the second and third heats.

Some idea of what going to the races was like in the early days, and its impact on Washington, is conveyed in the following letter written by a member of Congress and dated November 8, 1803 (reprinted in the Evening Star on August 9, 1936).

Washington, November 8, 1803.

The horse races for the season have begun this day within the Territory of Columbia, and I have been on the turf to behold the great and fashionable exhibition. The ground on which the coursers try their speed is about 4 miles from the Capitol Hill. For several weeks this time has been anticipated with great expectation. People from far and near throng to behold the spectacle. Particularly from the adjacent States of Virginia and Maryland a multitude of spectators were assembled. The races, though beginning today (Tuesday), are to continue until Saturday.

So keen was the relish for the sport that there was a serious wish of a number of the members to adjourn Congress for a few days. Having worked so faithfully on the Louisiana business, they said it was high time to rest a little. The Senate actually did adjourn for three days, not on account of the races, you will observe, but merely to admit a mason to plaster the ceiling of their chamber, which had fallen down a few days before. The House of Representatives met and adjourned; but you must not suppose this was done to allow the honorable gentlemen to show themselves on the race ground; you are rather to imagine that no business was in a due state of preparation to be acted upon. And so, there being nothing to do, these gentlemen went to the place where the entertainment was to be held, to while away the morning and enjoyed a few hours’ pastime.

My morning’s work having been dispatched, I went to the place of rendezvous. Gen. Baily, Judge Verplanck and Mr. Hausbrouck rode in the coach with me. Not only the gentle and the simple were there, but almost all the great folk, including officers of Government. There were a great number of ladies, who mostly sat in the carriages which brought them. Several of the reverend clergy, too, were at this exhibition of the speed of horses.


Grimes, William. “The Day Two Great Horses Foreshadowed the Civil War,” The New York Times, May 10, 2006. Available at:

Kennedy, George. “Mount Pleasant, Founded by New Englanders, Has Interesting, Well-Kept History,” The Evening Star, November 20, 1950, p. B-1.

“Old-Time Sport,” The Evening Star. March 8, 1901, p. 3.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Fine Horses Once Gave Distinction to Capital,” The Evening Star. March 31, 1935, Pt. 2, p. F-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Nation to Review Past At Noted Baptist’s Centennial,” The Evening Star. August 9, 1936, Pt. 2, p. F-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Presidents Were Enthusiasts in Early District Sport Racing,” The Evening Star. February 23, 1941, Pt. 2, p. C-4.

“Roadside Sketches,” The Evening Star. September 5, 1891, p. 13.

Stephen R. McKevitt, “The Washington City Race Course,” in Meridian Hill: A History. (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014), p. 122.

Save the Date: Friends of Soldiers Home Hosting Fall Fest on October 5th

September 5, 2014

I’ve just learned that the Friends of the Soldiers Home has scheduled a Fall Fun Fest for October 5th. See the flyer below, and stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Fall Fest

Improvements in Progress at Bruce Monroe Park

July 25, 2014
One of the two new water fountains at the Bruce Monroe Park.

One of the two new water fountains at the Bruce Monroe Park.

The long awaited improvements to the Bruce Monroe Park originally announcement in April 2013 are finally underway. $200,000 was programmed to improve the park in 2013 by including two new water fountains and a shade structure — including seating, large enough to accommodate gatherings and programming.

It has taken a lot of effort and advocacy, but the improvements are finally underway with the goal of being completed by July 30th. To date, the two (2) water fountains have been installed, the shade structure is almost complete and eight (8) of the benches will be installed on July 25th (today) if all goes well.

The photo below shows the shade structure nearing completion.

Bruce Monroe shade structure(New shade structure at Bruce Monroe Park)

The plan below shows the location of the shade structure, the two water fountains, and the proposed location of the benches.

Bruce Monroe Improvement map

Happy Fourth of July Everyone

July 4, 2014

Whether you are traveling, going to the mall, or spending the day at the Soldiers’ Home, have a safe and enjoyable Fourth everyone.

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3rd Annual Fourth of July Celebration at the Soldiers’ Home is Friday

July 2, 2014

The lower grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home will be open to the community as part of the Fourth of July celebration again this year. In addition to the information provided by the flier below, the Friends of the Soldiers Home blog includes a full list of events and its schedule.


12th Annual Ty Hop Basketball Tournament Gets Underway

July 1, 2014

On Monday evening, June 30th, the 12th Annual Ty Hop Basketball Tournament got underway with The Bank tipping off against Team Ducci. The 2014 tournament is scheduled to run from June 30th until August 23rd on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. At an earlier meeting, DPR staff and tournament organizers stated that the lights will stay on later this year to facilitate post-game clean up. I was also informed that games will be moved to nearby Raymond Recreation Center in the event of rain or when the heat index is too high.

The tournament began in 2002 to honor the memory of Torron Hopkins. Hopkins’ life was cut short when he, along with Antone Ruffin, was shot while sitting in a parked vehicle on the 3600 block of Warder Street on the evening of May 5, 2002. Both young men were residents of Park View.

The weather was ideal for the tournament last night. It was also nice to see that in addition to the tournament there was some pick up soccer on the adjacent field and a number of smaller children in the tot lot.

Below are two photos from last night.

2014 Ty Hop Tournament


A Visit to HacDC’s 2014 Field Day

June 30, 2014

Over the weekend, Washington D.C.’s ham radio club, HacDC, in coordination with ham radio clubs across the country, hosted a Field Day.  A Field Day is a communications event where the club’s members demonstrate emergency communications, emailing without an Internet, and bouncing radio signals off of the moon. It ran for just over 24 hours, beginning at 2:00 pm on Saturday, June 28th and ending at 2:30 pm on Sunday, June 29th.

HacDC is located on the third floor of the St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton St. NW, at the intersection of 16th and Newton Streets, NW. It is the only open ham radio club in the District of Columbia.

HacDC practices with the D.C. Department of Health in their emergency preparations. They also provide willing volunteers to teach staff about radio communications and to man hospital emergency communication teams. Among the things they demonstrated or discussed at the Field Day were:

  • Bouncing radio signals off of the ionosphere to talk long distance;
  • Practicing emergency communications in the event of a total infrastructure break down, like email and text communications;
  • Setting up their own internet, totally independent of the big one;
  • Learning about ham radio; and,
  • Practicing contacting satellites via handheld radios

During my visit, I got to see an attempt to pick up signals from the International Space Station and look at the antennae farm on the roof of St. Stephen’s. I also learned that there used to be an active ham radio club at the Soldiers’ Home, but that that was a few years ago. I also learned that Maryland has some very active ham radio clubs, particularly in Baltimore and Frederick County.

You can learn more about HacDC from their Website.

IMAG0610(HacDC members on the roof of St. Stephen’s listening for transmissions from the International Space Station)


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