Pittsfield Historical Society

History of Pittsfield

Union Trotting Park

Closeup of 1933 topo map showing Union Trotting Park as oval just below map center.

The Union Trotting Park was located on the current site of the Pittsfield Airport. The track at the park is visible as an oval just below the center of this section of the 1933 USGS map of Pittsfield at right.

In June of 1893, Col. Morrill purchased the old Pittsfield Driving Park from J. E. Connor and Isaac Lancey. The Colonel intends to make extensive repairs, the announcement of the purchase stated, building stalls, judges stand, seats for the spectators, improving the track, repairing the fences, and opening up a road from the park to Peltoma Avenue.

The opening ceremonies were held in August and it was a great day for Col. Morrill, the new Union Park that had been practically idle for twenty years, and for the racing enthusiasts throughout the area. Special trains were run into Pittsfield, bringing one of the largest crowds ever seen at the Park. The feature of the day was a ladies carriage race, the first in Maine. There was considerable doubt expressed when the event was first announced, but Morrill went through with it and it was a sensational success. He was later asked to put on a similar race at the other fairs in Maine and was invited to sponsor one in New Hampshire. It was the beginning of many firsts for Col. Morrill in his chosen field.

Colonel Morrill continued his interest in harness racing until the day he died in 1935 at the age of 93. He became the grand old man of racing, sponsoring dashes in all parts of the state. He was the first to feature races for women, as we have noted; he was the first to offer $1000 purses; he was the first to use modern sulkies. It would be difficult to enumerate all the innovations and unusual quirks he sponsored to arouse the public interest. He was a master showman. His last race program was put on at his old Union Park just before it was turned into an airport. It was a glad day but also a sad day, full of nostalgia. The grounds were pretty well run down, but everything was done to make it a Col. Morrill Day. The writer, who happened to be a member of the Legislature at that time, brought Governor Brann to Pittsfield to do proper honor to the Colonel, and both the Governor and the Colonel enjoyed watching the races and reminiscing about the sport, particularly as it touched on Lewiston, the Governors home town and the city in which the Colonel had had many triumphant experiences.

After the airport was finished, the writer also had the privilege of taking Col. Morrill, when he was well in his eighties, on his first flight. We circled Pittsfield several times and at first the Colonel hung on to the sides of the open cockpit rather tightly, but then he began to relax and look down at the town he had seen develop over a period of more than fifty years. He was a weird sight with his goggles and his beard, split by the wind, and I shall never forget his turning to me and shouting above the roar of the motor, “Purty risky!” This from the man who had gone through the fiercest battles in the Civil War, lain wounded for hours on the fields of one of those battles, and decorated more than once for bravery in action! What a man!

Today they continue to hold a Col. Morrill’s Day at the Bangor Fair and offer a Col. Morrill race. This custom was inaugurated by J. R. Cianchette, who years after the Colonel had had his day, became interested in harness racing.

Here is a newspaper article about the 1899 season from The Pittsfield Examiner, January 25, 1899:

Announcement of Races at Union Park.

Col. W. G. Morrill has made up his mind as to the stake races which he will have the coming season. The classes follow: A 2.35 purse, $500; 2.27 purse, $400; 2.23 purse, $300; 2.20 purse, $400. These classes are all for trotters and pacers, the trotters to have the advantage of two seconds over the pacers; that is a trotter with a record of 2.33 will be eligible to the 2.35 class, and a trotter record of 2.21 will be eligible to the 2.23 class. This is a new scheme with the colonel and he believes that it is justifiable on the ground that the chances are evener. The stake races will come off at the August meeting and probably a week before the Eastern Maine State fair. At these races the colonel will have A. H. [sic, H. A.] Merrill of Danvers, Mass., as starter and Mr. Merrill widely known as one of the best judges ever placed in a stand in this state. His popularity in this place has been such that the attendance has been much larger at the park for all who go there realize that there is less jockeying when he is in the stand, and that it is business and not scoring that they are to see in front of the grand stand.

The first meeting to be held here will be on July 1, and it is the colonel’s intention to have another meeting here the last of July or the first of August if he cannot secure the track at Bangor for races at that time.

Quite a little feeling existed among the owners of horses with records in the twenties last fall and this feeling will no doubt manifest itself the coming season in some of the best races seen in Maine during the past few years. Nearly all of the fast ones that were campaigned last year will be in the races this. Queen Wilkes, owned by F. E. Dwinal of Mechanic Falls, has been sold to parties in Worcester, Mass., and she is about the only one that has dropped out of the list of fast ones. Another of which his owner expects good work, is Commodore Dewey, owned in Augusta and the winner of seven races last year, starting in as a green horse and closing with a record of 2.21¼ and winning every race in which he was started. Horsemen do not look to see him prove so successful in the coming season, but there is good reason to expect him to hurry ‘em up some in every class in which he is started.

Original Version: 31-Jan-06.

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