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WILLOW BROOK RACE TRACK
Footnotes:
[1] Advertisement of W. H. Moffitt real estate developer displayed at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library.
[2] Havemeyer, Harry W., Along the Great South Bay, Amereon House, 1996, p. 279.
[3] Idem., text of W.H. Moffitt advertisement.
[4] Idem., Havemeyer, p. 277.
[5] Ibid., p. 278.
[6] Caro, Robert A, The Power Broker, Vintage Books, New York, 1975, pp. 154- 155.
[7] Idem., Havemeyer, P. 279.
[8] Hammack, David C., Power and Society, Columbia Universtiy Press, New York, 1987, p. 101, 103, 111.
[9] South Side Signal, January 12, 1907, p3.
[10] Ibid., July 6, 1907, p.3.
[11] Ibid., July 13, 1907, p.2.
[12] Suffolk County Historical Society archives, Scrapbook Islip Town, September 11, 1907, p. 89.
[13] Long Island Press, Sunday, October 12, 1969, p. 64.
[14] Ibid" October 12, 1969, p. 68
[15] Ibid., p. 68.
[16] Islip Bulletin, Van Sicklen, Edward, Memorabilia of a Village, Installment 29, 1969.
"Nature's Most Beautiful Paradise - Nothing like it any where on the America Continent - Picturesque Bay Shore and Islip, the most famous yachting and fishing center on the Atlantic coast." [1] (Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library)
This was the advertisement of W. H. Moffitt real estate developer and promoter who by 1906, "….made three separate purchases of land, which he would call Willow Brook Park, Saxon Park and Olympic Park. It was purchased from the estate of David C. Conover, Islip's first developer for $40,000." [2]
Moffitt was selling half-acre plots at these sites for $250 with $5 down and $5 per month. Other land variations, entitled, "Prices of Choice" included the moderate pieces from $50 to $150 ($5 down and $5 monthly), Boulevard Plots: $175 to $500 ($5 down and $5 monthly) and Water Fronts on the Bay: $650 to $1250 ($20 down and $20 monthly). [3]
Moffitt, a New York real estate developer and a member of the Olympic Club, began renting "Raven Cottage" on Clinton Avenue in Bay Shore. [4] As noted by Harry W. Havemeyer in his book, Along the Great South Bay, " ...
Moffitt saw a great opportunity in Bay Shore and Islip to build new housing for those who wanted to escape from the city. Moffitt's first development was Bay Shore Manor. Described as '... the greatest real estate speculation Bay Shore has ever experienced". [5]
Interesting to note that while Moffitt was developing real estate for the working or middle class, his fellow members (New York and Brooklyn summer residents) of the Olympic Club where also buying huge tracts of land, particularly south of Montauk Highway, to keep the area sparsely populated. "Led by Horace O. Havemeyer, the "Sultan of Sugar," a group of them had seized the choicest area of the South Shore, a series of promontories below East Islip that jut out into the Great South Bay about midway along its sixty-mile length. They lived there in a splendor equal to that of the North Shore - and they displayed an equal determination to keep their privacy unimpaired," as noted by Robert A. Caro in his book:, The Power Broker. [6]
With the success of his Bay Shore development, in 1906 Moffitt moved further east in Bay Shore and into Islip. Unfortunately, the proposed developments were further away from the Great South Bay and were located in a sparsely populated area known in Islip as Brookville or euphemistically as "Rabbit City".
To promote his development, Moffitt restored the o1d Islip Driving Park, which had initially opened in 1881.[7] Recognizing the newly found leisure time activities of the wealthy summer residents, as well as the stratification caused by certain leisure activities, Moffitt decided to add the more common sporting style of horse racing or the "Sport of Kings" to balance out the more restrictive sport of yachting and the time honored sport of hunting and fishing. [8] The ancient sport of horse racing cut across all social, cultural and economic strata or standing. It should also be noted that being a sportsman at the time prior to and at the turn of the last century did not imply that the individual actually participated but rather supported their selection in an event with a wager.
As reported in the South Side Signal, William H. Moffitt contracted with Captain Edgar S. Raybert of Bay Shore to build a half-mile track between Saxon and Grant Avenues. The new track was to be completed for opening ceremonies on Decoration Day (Memorial Day). The article further stated, "A large grand stand 200 x 40 feet in size with restaurant and cafe below and having a seating capacity of 8,000 will be erected at once. The plans also include the erection of three stables containing twenty box stalls each, 10 x 12 feet in size .... The expenditure of not far from $15,000 will be required before the work in view is completed. If Mr. Moffitt carries out the foregoing plans as it is said positively he will, Islip, cannot help but be greatly benefited and the proposed park may become a dangerous rival to the famous horse show grounds at Bay Shore." [9]
The Willow Brook Race Track boundaries were Roosevelt Avenue (east), Root Avenue (north), Cullen Avenue (west) and Doxsee, now, Moffitt Boulevard (south). The entrance to the Race Track was Maddox Avenue off of Roosevelt Avenue.
Opening day saw six thousand loyal patrons crowd the grandstand of Willow Brook Race Track on opening day, July 4, 1907. The South Side Signal reported, "The track was said to be in very fine condition for a new course and good time was made. The nearest to an accident occurred when a toy balloon set fire to the roof of the grandstand, but an adequate supply of water enabled workmen to quickly extinguish the flames." The paper noted that addition, despite brisk business at the bar, "there was an entire absence of even boisterous conduct." [10] The following week three thousand persons gathered at the Race Track. "Society folks, as well as those drawn to the park by the love of good sport, were present and Mr. Moffitt, the present of the Association (Willow Brook Driving), who was presented with a large floral horse shoe on which was entwined the word, success, expressed himself as more than pleased over the patronage the park had thus far received," [11] Summarizing the first season it was stated, "The track has seen a success from the full of the flag in the first race on July 4, when it was opened to the public before an assemblage of 8,000 persons. Horsemen from New York, New Jersey and the New England states were present and their favorable comment on the excellent construction of the track and the first class accommodations provided in the modern stables attracted larger entry lists as the season advanced." Moffitt who was president of the now l00 member Willow Brook Driving Association noted that in building the track, " … was actuated principally by the desire to provide an opportunity for the permanent residents and summer colonists of the South Shore to enjoy clean sport." Moffitt spent according to this article $40,000 and intended by the next season to spend another $20,000. It should also be noted that Moffitt had made arrangements with the Long Island Rail Road to have special train service after the races each day owing to the large attendance from Riverhead to Brooklyn.[12] In the 1969 Suffolk Sportopics section of the Long Island Press, James Egan explained his involvement with W. H. Moffitt, noting that Moffitt Boulevard was considered, "boulevard of golden dreams." The articled went on to say, "Jim Egan was a flat racing jockey who scaled 101 pounds in 1907 and he came to Islip to ride another man's horse. He didn't get to the races that day because his horse didn't qualify in the special half mile event. But, it wasn't a complete loss. Egan got himself a job as No.1 rider for the Moffitt horses and remained in Islip until the present time." [13]
"From 1907 to 1909, I rode for Moffitt before he went broke and had to sell everything. I rode at half milers, three-quarter milers and mile tracks. We made all the Fair Stops, Riverhead, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, Dongan Hills, Long Brach and all the way to Montreal. .. " Egan stated. [14]
In 1911, Moffitt told Egan he wanted him to be his chauffeur. In 1914, when Moffitt sold everything to fight charges of a land deal, Egan went to drive for Moffitt's daughter, Juliet, who had married J. Byron Creamer. He remained there until 1930 then went to work driving Frank Gulden, the Mustard King. He remained there for 14 years before going into his own taxi business. [15]
After its 1915 closing, Willow Brook Race Track, was used for various events as described by Edwin Van Sicklen in his Islip Bulletin section, entitled, Memorabilia of a Village, "Willow Brook Driving Park was better known as the race track and hearsay claims it was built for social rivalry or prestige as against the Bay shore track. ... Years later came motorcycle races and small auto racing. A good baseball diamond with bleachers was set up and used for sometime. They also had fireworks on Fourth of July. The driving park was set up by Moffitt, whose name Moffitt Blvd bears. It was one of the fair buildings at Willow Brook Driving Park where Bob Bartley got our boys together in 1919 or '18 and drilled them as the Home Guard, and a picture in the Bulletin recently indicated that most of them signed up with "Uncle Sam."" [16]