The First 300

The Belmont Driving Park

The clubhouse was an elaborate three story building with wide verandas and a second floor porch. Ladies with their escorts sipped claret lemonade, and the men cheered the sulky races from porches below and the nearby grandstands.

A mile-long oval race track for harness racing was created in 1876 on land where Washington and his troops, after crossing the Schuylkill, had camped on September 13, 1777 on a site called Price’s Field.

Built during the Centennial in Philadelphia, the track was on 72 acres along Meeting House Lane, just down the road from Merion Meeting. Horse racing was a popular sport since Colonial times, so these sulky races drew many sportsmen, racers, and spectators. Droves of tourists came by carriage from the city and filled local inns, rooming houses, and the General Wayne.

Sign at the Montgomery Avenue and Meeting House Lane corner pointed the way to the track: “Belmont Driving Park. Licensed. Open to the Public. Draft Beer” (perhaps to the chagrin of some members of Merion Meeting).
Miss Marker, in her sleigh, ready for a winter drive around the track grounds.
Stock certificate, five shares, owned by Belmont president Frank Bower.
Marker at Albrecht’s denoting Washington’s encampment.

Favorite horses like Star Pointer, the Guideless Wonder, Jay Eye See, May Queen and Maude S. Smuggler were featured stars. For the Grand Circuit of 1917, racers and trotters came by train from stables in New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, and Massachusetts, arriving at the Cynwyd rail station. A half-mile track, within the original oval, was added in 1890.

At one time there were 300 members of the Belmont Driving Club. Joshua Evans, the president for many years, was succeeded by the second (and final) one, Frank Bower. But interest in sulky racing began to decline, and even races of automobiles and motorcycles no longer attracted many crowds.

In the fall of 1924, the entire acreage was sold to a construction company for $300,000 (a 200% profit for the stockholders).

With plans for 374 lots, paved streets and sidewalks, and a number of fine homes, Merion Park became a substantial residential community where, ironically, many of its homeowners never heard of the exciting sulky races of the past.

Divided Belmont Driving Park Clubhouse #1. In the mid-1920s, after the track was razed, the Belmont Driving Park Clubhouse was divided and moved within what was now Merion Park; both parts remain today as private homes.
Divided Belmont Driving Park Clubhouse #2.