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Lost track fades from memory

The Northside Neighborhood Association tour spotlights a now invisible piece of Fort Wayne history – the Fort Wayne Driving Association and its grounds.

The site was used for horse racing, auto racing and even feats of aerial prowess around the turn of the 20th century, according to an account by Mark Meyer, a volunteer for The History Center, on the Fort Wayne museum’s website.

In 1892, 100 acres originally owned by pioneer businessman Samuel Hanna were sold to the driving association formed by some of the city’s wealthiest men. They built a first-class trotting track and grandstand that were envisioned as a point of municipal pride and a high-society gathering and wagering playground.

A horse named Star Pointer set a world record there in 1894, but by 1902 the grounds had passed to a new association, one that would create Fort Wayne’s first fair.

The fair featured a new spectacle: automobile racing on a one-mile oval. A newspaper account says the winner covered the ground twice in an astonishing 3 minutes and 21 seconds, according to Meyer’s posting.

By 1910, a new vehicle arrived at the fairgrounds – the airplane. Along with it came a pioneering female aviatrix – Blanche Stuart Scott, who, above the fairgrounds, became the first woman in America to make a solo airplane flight.

The track closed out its career, amid accumulating debt, in 1913, with a race won and a land speed record of 50 seconds set by a noted Indianapolis 500 driver – that race was only in its third year. A series of novelty races and other events made up the track’s swan song, including a round of auto polo, a dangerous and vehicle-destroying sport that had launched the year before.

By 1913, the land had been sold to developers led by Louis F. Curdes, developer of Forest Park Boulevard, who envisioned the expanse to the north as Driving Park Addition. The area to the east became Driving Park Extended, which was renamed Forest Hill.

Most homes, more than 200, were built in the 1910s and 1920s, but lots were still being developed through the 1940s.

Meyer says a detailed map of the fairgrounds and its structures is in the collection of The History Center.

But the driving park/fairgrounds essentially vanished from view, if not memory, says Michael Galbraith, executive director of ARCH, a nonprofit historic architecture preservation organization.

He says there are no historical markers at the site, and neither he nor Meyer know of any remaining structures.

“Often these things that are really significant are not conserved,” Galbraith says.

rsalter@jg.net

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