When Havre de Grace Meant Horse Racing
Columnist Amber Woods takes a look back on the history of The Graw, and the annual festival that commemorates the famous horse racetrack.
How many children in this community know about The Graw?
I was born here and moved away only to return as an adult and the truth is, I didn't always know about the city's rich horse racing history.
I suppose it was sometime after college when I was working in the newsroom of The Aegis as a beat reporter when I first learned about The Graw, from veteran editor and history buff Allan Vought.
For Havre de Grace old timers, I'm just repeating what you already know. But some still don't know that the Havre de Grace racetrack operated from 1912 until 1950 (with a shut down period sometime during World War II).
I've heard local historians speak of famous legends which raced in Havre de Grace, to include Man O' War, War Admiral, Sir Barton, Seabiscuit, Crusader and Citation, among many others.
These days, it's almost hard to believe our city was once known as a center stage for thoroughbred racing.
The Graw had a lengthy history and left quite an impact on the city we live in today. Racetrack owners included Arnold Rothstein, who was gunned down in 1928, reportedly because of a crooked bet.
Edward Burke ran The Graw from from 1912 until 1943 when Gen. Milton Reckord took over.
The track was sold again in 1950 to Alfred Vanderbilt II, and agent of Pimlico Racetrack and Morris Schapiro of Laurel Racetrack.
And sadly, The Graw saw the last of its award-winning horses when it was sold in 1950 to the Maryland National Guard, with whom Reckord was affiliated, for $10.
Generations later, there are few reminders of what used to be the city's main enterprise, which brought along with it gambling, bootlegging and prostitution.
Of course there is a senior living complex downtown named The Graw, and the development of Bulle Rock has enormous statues of thoroughbreds and streets named after famous horses. And there's the mural by Ezra Berger depicting the glory days of the racetrack which runs along the walls of Silks Restaurant at Bulle Rock.
And fortunately for us, if you ask around, there are still a few people who could tell you a thing or two about The Graw.
County Executive David Craig and businessman Allen Fair are just two of those people. Other local historians include Havre de Grace residents Mitch Shank, Tom Fitzpatrick and Gary Wasielweski, who have all spoken publicly about the history of the racetrack.
It was only seven years ago that Havre de Grace native John Bowers created the Maryland Thoroughbred Racing Foundation and worked a land deal with developer Clark Turner to secure property near Bulle Rock for what was supposed to be the construction of an equine museum and horse retirement center.
Bowers recruited some of Havre de Grace's most well-known businessmen alongside Turner, which included Craig and real estate agents and businessmen Fair and Frank Hopkins.
The museum proposal garnered much excitement from lawmakers and locals, even being met with a $400,000 bond at some point. The project was expected to cost $1.2 million in total.
But dreams for the museum remained just that, and the plan never got off the ground.
But lucky for us, museum or no museum, our history remains in tact.
There are many folks in this area who are involved in the success of the annual Graw Days Festival and Gala, which is put on by Havre de Grace Main Street the second Saturday of October.
For those like myself who aren't old enough to remember The Graw, the festival is the perfect opportunity to learn about Havre de Grace's horse racing history.
And if what I suspect is true, and many area children have never heard of the The Graw, the festival offers many opportunities for children to learn our fascinating history as well.