Celebrating Intervale History: Riverside Park

 

In celebration of the Intervale Center’s 30th anniversary, this is part of a blog series highlighting the unique historical significance of our land and buildings. Many thanks to Britta Tonn, Architectural Historian, for the preparation of these historic reports.

While researching the history of the Intervale, a short-lived and little-known gem of Burlington history was discovered: in 1909, a driving park was constructed to the west of Riverside Farm (approximately where the McNeil Generating Station is located today). A driving park was essentially a horse racing track. In 1909, the Burlington Driving Club was formed for the sole purpose of establishing this riding park. According to Burlington Land Records, in 1909, the Driving Club leased several acres of land from Fayette Calkins (who himself was leasing Riverside Farm) for the establishment of a half-acre driving track. Calkins himself was an accomplished horse racer, so it is possible that he was heavily involved in the development of this driving park.

A Burlington Free Press article about the park’s opening day from June 1, 1909, describes how the entrance to driving park, which was known as Riverside Park, was at the rear of the tenant home at Riverside Farm (the same tenant house shown above). A Burlington Free Press article about the new driving park was described in the headline below:

 June 1, 1909 article about Riverside Park in the  Burlington Free Press  (www.chroniclingamerica.com)

June 1, 1909 article about Riverside Park in the Burlington Free Press (www.chroniclingamerica.com)

According to numerous short newspaper articles about the races at Riverside Park dating from 1909 through the early-1910s, the races regularly drew crowds of 1,000 to 1,200 spectators (this particular “big crowd” mentioned above was 1,200 people). The new driving park was very popular and hosted numerous events during the Lake Champlain Tercentenary celebration in June of 1909. The “speed craze” satisfied by the establishment of these driving parks was short-lived, however, due to the rising popularity of the automobile in the 1910s and 1920s. There is no mention of Riverside Park in local newspapers past the mid-1910s. An example of what a driving park looked like is shown below (this particular driving park was located in Brandon, VT):

driving park example.jpg
 
Abby Portman