Posted tagged ‘sports’

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.

2012 Cyclocross Another Success

October 21, 2012

Today couldn’t have had better weather for the 6th Annual Cyclocross races at the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Below are a few photos from today’s event. You can see photos from last year here.

Elite women’s race in progress

A small cross country course was set up for children wanting to be a part of the action

As with last year, there was plenty of food and drink for everyone


Bocce Coming to Park View This Fall

August 29, 2012

I found this interesting. Yesterday the DC Bocce League tweeted “NEWS FLASH: we’re officially playing at Park View Rec Center in Petworth [sic] on Saturdays this fall at 693 Otis Pl.” In looking at their Web site I see that indeed they have added the Park View Recreation Center as a Bocce location during their fall schedule. With the new multipurpose field this should be an ideal location.

The Web site continues that “[r]egistration is NOW OPEN for the Fall 2012 seasons of Premier and Outdoor divisions! Games begin on the week of September 17th and conclude the week of November 12th. Click the registration link at the top of the page to join the division of your choice.” You can find all the leagues, dates and locations listed here, and find the one in our community listed under Saturday: CoHi/Petworth Outdoor.

I’m really liking this development. Do you think there are enough people in the Park View area to make a Bocce league successful here?


Park View Played Significant Role in Early Organized Washington Tennis Leagues

June 20, 2012

1916 Officers of the Suburban Tennis League included Park View’s J. Howard Hixson as vice president.

I’ve written previously about Washington’s Suburban Baseball League that was popular in the early 20th century, but I’ve recently learned that baseball was not the only organized sport with a fair amount of popularity during that period. There was also a Suburban Tennis League, and like baseball, the Park View section was well represented.

During the league’s pinnacle ca. 1916-1918, the league consisted of  eight tennis clubs — seven located in northwest Washington and one located downtown. Matches occurred each Saturday starting in mid-June and running until the beginning of September. In 1916, each club played once a week in seven matches, five doubles and two singles. In total, the league had 31 courts and 309 male members in that year.

The Park View team played under the name of the Princeton Heights  Club from 1913 to 1916 and from 1916 to 1919 under just the Princeton Club. This was largely due to J. Howard Hixson who was not only an avid tennis player, but lived at 608 Rock Creek Church Road from 1916 to 1923. Research to date indicates that Hixson was an employee of Edgar S. Kennedy who developed the blocks just south of Rock Creek Church Road as the Princeton Heights Subdivision. This relationship with Kennedy, along with Hixson living in Park View’s northernmost subdivision, surely influence him in choosing the name. By 1916, Hixson and the Princeton Heights Club were also noted in the Washington Post as playing a major role in developing organized tennis in Washington from 1914 to 1916.

1916 was a pivotal year for the Princeton Heights club, as it was that year that they lost the original home of their tennis courts on the block bordered by Princeton Place, Warder Street, Quebec Place, and Park Place due to building operations. Not to be deterred, they quickly established six new courts on the block bordered by Princeton Place, Park Place, Otis Place, and Warder Street. They were originally assured this land for 10 years, but again lost it in May of 1919 to additional building operations.

In addition to the Princeton (Heights) Club, the other organized clubs included the Argyle Club, the Euclid Club, the Holmead Club, the Home Club, the Petworth Club, the Racquet Club, and the Standards Club. The map below shows the general locations of each clubs tennis courts.


Wrap Up on Fifth Annual DC Cyclocross (2011)

October 24, 2011

I hope everyone that wanted to go the this year’s DC Cyclocross was able to get there. I know I saw a number of residents from the neighborhood at the  event, which was well attended — including children and dogs. I can’t imagine better weather for the races either.

The registration area was a hive of activity, including a couple of food vendors that really helped maintain a pleasurable atmosphere.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, cyclocross is a form of bicycle racing that usually takes place in the fall and winter. It consists of several laps on a short (1.5–2  miles) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

You can see photos from yesterdays event after the jump. (more…)

Armed Forces Retirement Home Hosting 2011 DC Cyclocross this Sunday

October 18, 2011

If you love cyclocross, or simply want to spend some time on the grounds of the old Soldiers’ Home enjoying the races, the DCCX-V 2011 races will definitely be of interest to you. It’s this Sunday, October 23, 2011, with the first race starting at 8:30 a.m. This is D.C.’s only cyclocr0ss race.

According to the event’s Web site: “We have a full day of CX racing lined up for 18 categories of riders, everything from Elite Men and Women to the popular Lil Beligans kid’s races. First timers (and late-to-register cat 4s)  are encouraged to try the Rookie Race at 4:15 pm. Please arrive early if you are racing. Registration closes 30 minutes before each race start.”

The DCCX is open to the public. To access the grounds, show up with your ID for the security at the gate and say that you are going to the bike race. The race is held down by the ponds (southwest corner of the ground, see map below). There will be signs directing attendees and attendants to assist with parking.


2011 Sun Trust National Marathon is Tomorrow

March 25, 2011

Here’s a heads up for those that may have let this get past their radar, the 2011 Sun Trust National Marathon is tomorrow, Saturday March, 26. As you can see below, the race course cuts through the southern part of the neighborhood on Harvard Street, which is scheduled to be closed between Columbia Road and 5th/4th Street between 7:15 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. You can see a complete list of rolling street closings by clicking here.

For those needing to get around the city during the marathon, if you rely on Metro Metrorail will open one hour early—at 6 a.m.—on Saturday, March 26, to help participants get to the starting line for the SunTrust National Marathon.

The following District of Columbia Metrobus routes will be impacted: 5A, 13F, 13G, 31, 32, 34, 36, 38B, 42, 52, 54, 64, 70, 80, 90, 92, 96, 98, A42, A46, A48, B2, D4, D6, D8, G2, G8, H2, H4, H8, L2, M6, N6, P6, S2, S4, U6, V8, X2 and X8. Buses are expected to return to their normal routes in the early afternoon. For more information on specific detours, please click here.


Fall: Return of School and Sports

August 31, 2010

Seeing organized football return to the Park View Rec Center playing field is a nice reminder that Fall — and cooler temperatures — are just around the corner.


Sandlot Baseball: Once Orchestrated from 713 Otis Place

June 1, 2010

713 Otis Place, 1937

In the 1930s, sandlot baseball was a thriving summer pastime in Washington. Most readers would equate it with today’s little league organizations.

The heart and soul of the Columbian Athletic League– consisting of 23 sandlot teams in 1936 — was at 713 Otis Place, for it was there that 18-year-old Joseph Cohen lived with his family. In that year Cohen was president, publicity director, manager, treasurer and errand boy for the Columbian League.

To have some idea of the scale of such a responsibility, the Columbian League was made up of almost 300 b0ys in 1936. Teams were divided into the Peewee (boys under 15), Insect (boys under 16), and Midget (age limit 18) circuits.

Joe Cohen, president of the Columbian League at the age of 18

Cohen’s impetus to become involved arose from an event in 1932 when he was 14. While playing on a Peewee team that won the championship of its league, the gentleman running the league failed to deliver the promised trophies to the victors.

During a 1936 interview, Cohen said of the event, “I saw my duty and I did it. I organized the Columbian League — and we’ve always given the rewards promised.”

During the 1935 season, Cohen operated a clearing house for the league that was the city’s only organization existing solely to schedule games for teams. In that capacity he secured Griffith Stadium for the championship playoff and lined it up for the 1936 season as well. His success in running the league, however, also meant that his phone was frequently ringing. By the end of the 1936 season, Cohen was considering hanging it all up and pursuing a career as a sports writer.


Baseball, Park View, and the Suburban League

April 6, 2010

A popular past time in pre-World War I Washington was baseball. Still, to call the sport popular is misleading. There was probably not a neighborhood or section of the city that wasn’t caught up in the game. Numerous amateur leagues sprang up across the area — such as the Sunday School League, the Railroad League, the Marquette League, and the Suburban League to name a few.

The District Suburban League organized sometime in mid-1908 with only four teams: Brightwood, Woodburn, Park View, and Petworth. The schedule for that season ran from September 1-24. The 1908 season was successful enough that it formally organized the following year and considered expanding from four teams to either six or eight teams. The four leading contenders for inclusion were Mouth Pleasant, Silver Springs, Takoma, and Rockville.

The Park View baseball diamond was likely located on this site, once part of Schuetzen Park

When the 1909 opening day began on May 3, the decision had been to only expand to six teams. Added to the original four teams were those from Takoma and the Reed Athletic Club. The season opener was between Park View and Brightwood at Park View’s diamond located at Georgia Avenue and Kenyon. In looking at real estate atlases of the period, the ball field would have to had been located on the east side of Georgia Avenue between Kenyon and Irving.

Southeast corner of Kenyon and Georgia Avenue today

The pairing of Park View and Brightwood for the opening of the season proved portentous, as both teams battled it out for the league Pennant that year. When Brightwood beat Park View with a score of 6 to 1 on July 27, 1909, the umpire had to be escorted off the field and taken to the police station for safety from the incensed crowd that threatened to mob the official.

The Park View nine ultimately prevailed, winning the Pennant in August in a game that reportedly drew a crowd of 1,200. The final score was 1 to 2 with all runs occurring in the first inning. To finish out the 1909 season the leading teams from eight popular leagues played off for the titles in two sections, A and B. Park View bested the Aggies (of the Independence league) 5 to 1 in Section B winning the trophy as a result. The other teams in Section B that year were A. S. and T. Co. of the Bankers League and the Station of the Railroad Y.M.C.A. league.

The Petworth Team, from the Washington Herald, Aug. 19, 1909

Oddly, Park View did not field a team in the 1910 season, though Silver Spring and Mount Pleasant did join the league. Mount Pleasant’s participation was short lived, however, as the 1911 roster of teams showed a return of Park View, included Petworth, Woodburn, Brookland, Silver Spring, and added Takoma.

The Petworth club was a mainstay throughout the league’s existence, and it was actually the loss of the Petworth ball field at Grant Circle and Upshur that caused the Suburgan League to collapse in April 1914.

The Brightwood Nine, from the Washington Herald, June 6, 1909

Sources consulted:

“Amateurs will open season tomorrow; prospects are bright in every league.” The Washington Post, May 2, 1909, S2.

“Enter Suburban League.” The Washington Post, June 28, 1910, 9.

“Page will pilot Suburban League.” The Washington Times, August 30, 1908, 2.

“Parkview cops the pennant.” The Washington Herald, August 18, 1909, 8.

“Pennant to Parkview.” The Washington Post, August 18, 1909, 9.

“Riot at ball game.” The Washington Post, July 28, 1909, 9.

“Suburban League Active.” The Washington Post, February 5, 1909, 8.

“Suburban League Circuit now definitely completed.” The Washington Post, March 25, 1911, 9.

“Suburban League to disband — two others may not reorganize.” The Washington Post, April 19, 1914, SP3.


%d bloggers like this: