The famous Race Track historian Allan E. Brown wrote the following in his book The History of the American Speedway: “One of the most famous sprint car tracks on the East Coast was Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway near Ridgewood, New Jersey. Like Legion Ascotin California, almost every top driver ran Ho-Ho-Kus at one time or another.”
The Ho-Ho-Kus Race Track and grounds were developed in late1860 thru early1870. Some suggest it may have pre-dated the Civil War, 1861-1865, but no evidence has been found to confirmthese dates.
The race track and grounds flourished for almost seven decades. It was considered one of the more important and historic tracks in the UnitedStates and many years an important stop on the first circuit of auto racing from 1920-1938. The big racing and fair days were Opening Day, Decoration Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Election Day and Closing Day.
Over the seventy some odd years the groundswere used for numerous venues. Baseball games, horseracing, trotting races, motorcycle racing, band concerts, autoracing, balloon rides, livestock exhibits, movie making, dining and dancing, horse stable, foot racing, wedding chapel, bicycle racing, fireman field days, polo events, emergency landing field, stock car races, automobile shows, parades, fireworks, Ho-Ho-Kus road department storage yard, military drill field, parachute jump field, airport, military debarkation center for horses (WWI), carnivals, machinery and equipment shows and the first air mail delivery in the eastern United States.
The track had many names during its long history; Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Park, Ridgewood Race Track, Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway,theDriving Park, Ridgewood Driving Association Park, Bergen County Fair Grounds, Ho-Ho-Kus Park Incorporated, Ho-Ho-Kus Race Track.
What ever the name, the people came by horse and wagon, horseback, stagecoach and train in the late 1800’s. The Erie Railroad ran special trains to Ho-Ho-Kus station.
The Ho-Ho-Kus Valley Gentlemen’s Driving Association was formed in early 1879. The Officers included:
Jacob Bamper, President
B.B. Vreeland, Vice President
J.E. Zabriskie, Secretary
J.A. Bogart, Treasurer
The association leased some 12 acres of land from Samuel Banta Trust. The property was perfectly level and was conducive to building a racetrack. The property had been used in this fashion previously for many, many years. The Ho-Ho-Kus Valley Gentlemen’s Driving Association focused on making it a legitimate business.
They set about making a quarter mile track and had a workable field by early June. Samuel Vreeland was so enthusiastic about the track he built a 50 foot grandstand at his own expense. He had it ready for the 4th of July opening. Vreeland owned a highly rated trotter and wanted friends to see it run properly.
A flag pole was erected near the entrance and was featured in the opening day festivities. A judge’s stand was constructed on the infield and was also ready by the 4th.
People came from all over the area to test the race track and grounds for free on Saturday afternoons.
The Fourth of July 1879 was the opening of the Race Track as we have come to know it. A large crowd arrived for the opening ceremonies and races. The attendance was so impressive that Jacob Bamper attempted to have the County Fair transferred to Ho-Ho-Kus for September. However this was not successful, it was held in Spring Valley as it had been for years.
The Bergen County Agricultural Association was formed to run its own fair in Ho-Ho-Kus on 7, 8, and 9th of October 1879, a week after the official county fair in Spring Valley.
The Agricultural Association erected an additional 75 foot long grand stand for use. Special stalls were constructed for the various animal displays.
Young Garry Bamper, Jr. started running a wagon service, for passengers, from the train depot (Hollywood Avenue) to the track.
Opening day of the fair was a bad weather day and only 2000 people attended. The second and third day’s attendance shot up to 4000 each day.
Over 100 exhibitors were on display in the following categories: Farm Products, fruit, flowers, poultry, manufacturing, fancy articles, woman’s work and miscellaneous. The New Jersey National Guard gave an exhibition drill and a band played every day for entertainment. A major display of art and cultural items were exhibited in the Banta House sponsored by the actor Joe Jefferson.
The impact of this first fair in North Jersey (Bergen and Passaic Counties) set the future of fairs at this track for the next 30 plus years.
On October 24, 1879, members of the Ho-Ho-Kus Valley Gentlemen’s Driving Association and the Bergen County Agricultural Association were invited to the Ramsey Driving Park (Ramsey Race Track). The group was honored for their work in establishing a track and fair ground in Ho-Ho-Kus.
The Driving Association conducted a special race day for Thanksgiving which was also well attended.
In the late fall, a local designer, John Drake, assisted the Driving Association with major upgrades and renovation of the grounds and the track itself.
By Memorial Day, 1880, the grounds were expanded by an additional eleven acres from the Banta Estate. The short curves and radii were widened. The track was widened to 60 feet and lengthened to a full half mile. The grandstands were torn down and a larger one put in their place.
The Track now covered over 23 acres. The land was all part of the Samuel Banta Farm, located on today’s West Race Track Road. The entrance was at the current day Arbor Drive. The track was now half mile oval dirt roadway. It would be banked in later years.
The 4th of July celebration featured fireworks, bicycle races, wheel barrel, and foot and sock races, musical entertainment and refreshments. Trotting races were held in mid-afternoon.
The second fair put on by the Bergen County Agricultural Association was held October 5, 6, 7, & 8th. The grounds were fenced in and another display building was constructed for exhibitions. The fair was a financial success using the same venue as the first fair. The crowds were large and word spread that this was the place to be.
Memorial Day 1881, the track was in excellent condition. Large crowds arrived to see races from all over Northwest Bergen County and lower New York. No politicians were on hand for this Memorial Day.
By July 4th, The Driving Association had constructed some stables to house visiting horses. Over 3000 people attended this day. A problem of drinking, noise and rudeness occurred. Some people were on the track during races. Injuries occurred do to this problem. President Bamper assured all this type of conduct would be handled.
The Agricultural Association moved the fair date to September 13th. The Spring Valley Fair was no longer a factor in New Jersey. The Association continued to use the same program they started as with the first fair. They cleared over $4000, making it another successful event.
The end of September a well was dug to provide water for all the track needs. Water had been an issue for the horses and the livestock on fair days.
Memorial Day in 1882 was a very desirable day. A large crowed arrived to enjoy the events.
The 4th of July suffered from a very rainy day, small crowd and slow and poor racing conditions.
The Agricultural Association and the public were in a state of shock when the fair opened October 3rd, 4th, and 5th. The heavy rains in late September caused flooding and the Zabriskie Dam to burst. Some roads and bridges disappeared. The best method of travel was train to Hollywood Avenue Station and Stage Coach by back roads to the fair grounds. Many came to see the vast destruction and ruins. (for details see Zabriskie Dam)
Jacob Bamper was granted a tavern and liquor license by the County. He opened a hotel on the western side of the track. It was a three story structure on a hill. It was considered part of the track grounds. He and his family lived there. It was eventually destroyed by a fire in March 1939.
On Columbus Day 1886, the Orvil Athletic Association conducted a bike race, foot race and a horse race. At the endof the daya baseballgame was played between the Orvil Athletic Association and the Ridgewood Field Club.
July 1895 the Ridgewood Driving Club was organized for the advancement of trotting. They rented the track and grounds to promote trotting. [Dates are out of order]
Memorial Day 1893 was the Orvil Athletic Association’s seasonal debut to the public. They had a lively crowd to see a baseball game between married men and single men. The married men won. They also sponsored several bicycle races that were three mile events. Horse racing was cancelled due to lack of entries.
The Orvil Athletic Association continued baseball most weekends since they had one of the best fields to play on.
The 4th of July and Labor Day events were not well attended. The poor crowd attendance was blamed on management by the Association members. In addition, its own baseball team had a losing season.
The Orvil Athletic Association had better results in 1897. The Memorial Day events were well attended. They had multiple contests which included horse and trotting races. Prizes ranged from five dollar bills to bushels of oats for the horse racing.
The 4th of July had a large crowd for the various racing events. They continued into the night with a picnic for all who attended along with entertainment.
Labor Day, the crowd exceeded 4000. The Association advertised in the local papers which may have helped with the high attendance. They continued racing into late October.
The Memorial Day Program, run by the Orvil Athletic Association in 1898, was only fair. Again they did not have horse and trotting events on the schedule to create interest in their program. The Association had John Rogers “The Mansion House” present the winner of the 4th of July trotting race the grand prize, which was a new harness set. It was a very hot day which reduced the attendance. Nevertheless, those attending felt enthusiastic for the holiday events.
For the first time in any ones memory, a baseball team of color was permitted to play baseball at the track. Permission was granted by the Orvil Athletic Association for Saturday July 30th.
The Labor Day program only generated 2000 people in attendance. The scheduled events were all the same as the other holidays.
Early 1891, the Ridgewood Driving Association took charge of operating the track and race programs. Opening day there was a special parade with horse drawn carriages, in a procession from Ridgewood into Ho-Ho-Kus. They lapped around the track for a grand display.
The Ridgewood Driving Association tried to conduct a race every Saturday afternoon. Anyone with a horse could enter. They even conducted bicycle races before the horse race to keeptheenthusiasm for the track programs. In the fall of the year the Bergen County Agricultural Fair was held (1891-1916).
In1894,the North Jersey Agriculture and Driving Association took charge of operations. They expanded the use of the grounds. The horseracing was expanded toinclude trotters,a more refined type of horse race. The local venues were expanded to include more entries from around Bergen County. Horses were now housed and trained on the track grounds.The track was part of the Metropolitan Race Circuit which covered New York and New Jersey. Grand Stands were constructed and the track was upgraded. The group ran the track for five years.
Horse racing kept everyone’s attention because it was the main source of entertainment and transportation. The local type fairs did not do well because many of the large farms(cattle and agricultural) were being sold off to people moving in from the city. The new people were not interested in exhibits for farm and cattle items. They were interested in horses. The track grounds were where one could find the best type of horsefor sale and sales were very good. Doctors were the top customers. They were always in need of a strong, dependable horse to make house calls.
The Bergen County Athletic Association held a double header baseball game on Memorial Day 1898. A large crowd came to see Ridgewood loose to Paterson in one of the games. The rest of the days, entertainment consisted of bicycle and horse racing.
In 1899 rumors were circulating that the property was going out of business or may be sold. It had been almost twenty years since the original group had started the track. In December a group from Ramsey agreed to purchase the track for $5715. They were known as the North Jersey Agricultural and Driving Association.
By the turn of the century a new group took control of the track, the New Jersey Agricultural and Driving Association, along with the Orvil Athletic Association.
In January 1900, E. Leary, Trust Administrator, sold twenty three and a third acres to North Jersey Agricultural and Driving Association The new Board of Directors had a plan to revitalize the track and grounds, to excite the visitors along with the help of the Orvil Athletic Association.
In April 1900 a large work force appeared at the track. Martin Henlon, of Ramsey, had the contract to improve the grounds. He erected new stables and fences in the track area. Christopher Courter, of Ridgewood, constructed of new judge’s stand and built a new grandstand. The entire grounds were transformed by Memorial Day. A bar and restaurant service also became available.
The Memorial Day attendance reached over 4000. Stage coaches met trains at the Undercliff Station and transported people to the track. About 1000 horse and buggy rigs surrounded the track. Reportedly, most town residents attended.
The Suffern Race Track closed due to the successful Ho-Ho-Kus Race Track. The 4th of July program was a good mix for all. Cash purses had been increased in all events. Unfortunately the weather was a factor and attendance was only fair.
By Labor Day the attendance was back up over 4000. The weather was good and all had a grand time at the races.
The first fair carried out by the New Jersey Agricultural and Driving Association in mid-September, was very successful. They now went forward with the construction of a club house that had been planned. It was built at the south end of the track comprised two floors with a balcony overlooking the track.
In 1901, the season started off with good attendance on Memorial Day. A large contingent came from Ramsey to support the track owners; but the rest of the year was disappointing.
The fair was scheduled to September 17-20th. This was one of three fairs scheduled in the area. Two were over the state line in New York. The operators were under heavy competitive pressure. On opening day, the nation was in a period of mourning. President Mc Kinley had been assassinated. The nation had scheduled September 17th as a religious remembrance day. However, the track organizers went ahead with a full fair day including racing. The organization came under a very heavy criticism and later suffered in attendance.
In October 17, 1903, a high class horse show was scheduled. Groups from all over the tri-state area were expected. Unfortunately, the largest flood in the history of the area forced cancellation of this event and all other events for the remainder of the year.
The disaster of the previous year had an impact on the tracks operation. Even the Governor, who attended the annual fair, did not help the future of the track.
The organization lasted about five years, but they were not financially successful. They did not have the business experience to run an entertainment facility.
In 1905, Samuel Nagle purchased the business and the fortune of the track turned around. He was a lover of horses and he understood the racing market andhow the public wanted to be entertained. Heownedthetrackfor24yearsuntil1929whenhe died.Duringthattime,he renamed the facility “The Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Park” and set about to get local, county, and state interest in his track. Heexpandedthe grounds, acquiring additional property. Thetrack covered almost 30 acres under his tenure. Hear ranged for the Ridgewood High School Athletic Association to hold its first field day on the track grounds. It had nine events where students competed for trophies and prizes. He promotedlocalhorsesin races. These horses dominated the racing season in 1925. This was the last year this would happen.
The racing season in 1906 was very successful. Columbus Day was very special to the new owner this year. A celebration was held at the existing club house, where the best social event of the year took place. Horses and carriages of various sizes brought people to the park to be seen and to see the races. They were paraded around the track and in front of the balcony of the club house, which also over looked the track. After the parade and race a grand dinner dance program was held in the club house.
Sam Nagle was always working on methods to improve the track and its entertainment program. In 1907 he had the local base ball teams play a game, Ridgewood Baseball vs. Undercliff. He had local people for special neighborhood racing. Dr. Hopper raced his famous horse “Top Notch” several times during the year. The doctor won all his races.
Decoration Day1908, started with a Grand Parade from Ridgewood Avenue, Ridgewood, to the Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Park. The parade consisted of 100 horse drawn carriages and rigs. They were led by the Post Band who also provided entertainment between races. The track flourished during the year. Sam Nagle started racing his own horse“FlybyNight.” Dr. Hopper was still involved with a new horse“Torreau.” Crowds kept coming back because of this local competition.
Upgrading of the track facilities was carried out before and during the racing season. The clubhouse and grandstands were expanded and modernized. Thestablesandshedswere upgraded and new ones added. The blacksmith shop was also renovated. The Ridgewood Driving Association held all its meetings in the clubhouse. The club house became the major social center of the area. The population of Ho-Ho-Kuswas about 480 at this time.
Five years after Sam Nagle took over the track’s operation, the attendance was very, very good. The Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Club was sponsoring races followed by clam bakes and waltz dances.
History was made on July 4, 1910. The trolley line started service to Ho-Ho-Kus Station form East Paterson (Elmwood Park). The local stop was just down the street on Franklin Turnpike. This new service greatly enhanced Sam Nagle’s attendance to track activities (see: North Jersey Rapid Transit).
By 1912, the trolley line was in full service from East Paterson (Elmwood Park) to Suffern, NY. The local stop was just down the street on Franklin Turnpike. Attendance was very large. People came by horse, auto, and trolley.
August 3rd, the Greater Aviation Company sponsored an air show and aviation meet. The show was to have airplane displays, bomb throwing contests, monoplane demonstrations, passenger rides, sky diving, altitude flying, and at the end of the day a cross-country air mail delivery to Ridgewood. This was the first attempt at airmail service in New Jersey. The Post Office provided special first day issue postage. The service was authorized by the U.S. Post Office, in Washington, D.C., and was officially designated as Route 609002.
Temporary hangers were installed to house some of the planes. A military band was on hand to provide entertainment. The track was fully decorated for the big aviation event. Over 10,000 people came for the day. Theytoured the temporary hangers and observed people working on the aircraft. They visited the few planes on the grounds, but the main events never took place. Several aviators got lost; two others had engine trouble, another arrived very late, decided not to compete and left. The crowd believed they had been scammed and became very restless. Mr. Nagle forced the show operator to refund the money to calm the people.
Later that afternoon one plane took off, piloted by Joe Richter, and flew around and did some mild aviation demonstrationsand landed. He picked up a mail pouch to deliver to Ridgewood. He took off and headed north towards Suffern. Obviously lost, he flew back, did a speed demonstration, and landed. After getting directions to Ridgewood he took off, shortly before 7 PM, and dropped the 40 pound bag of mailon the grounds of the old YMCA and flew offinto the sunset. This was the first air mail delivery in the state of New Jersey.
The first of two movies was made on the track grounds in 1914. A silent movie“ Polly of the Circus” was filmed by Goldwin Movie Picture Corporation. The movie setting was1898. The horse race and some fair scenes were filmed using local people in the cast, crowd, and race.
Also, this year the Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Club was formed. The purpose of this group was to promote quality breedingofhorses and training for horse shows and races of a higher class.
The annual county fair was reorganized as a business and returned to the grounds in a big way. Two large buildings were erected for displays and exhibits. One building was 200 feet long to accommodate cattle, sheep, and swine.
By May 1914, the Ho-Ho-Kus and Goshen Tracks were known to have the most money purses in the East for that year’s racing season.
The Memorial Day event was very disappointing. It rained most of the day, events were poor and many cancelled.
A special long program was presented on the 4th of July. This program was designed to make up for the Memorial Day disappointment. A very large crowd filled the grounds and was pleased with the day’s events.
The Bergen County Fair took place on August 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8th 1914. The harness race purse was $10,000. They had a 150 horse entry for the races. The midway was filled with side shows and well lighted at night. The exhibits included farm products, cattle, sheep, poultry, horse, dog and flower shows. Automotive displays included tractors and farm machinery. For additional entertainment each day, there was an aeronautical show over the fair grounds. Ruth Lew “Slim, Princess of the Air” performed in a Wright bi-plane. In addition, each night a music and dance program was available for all on a large dance platform.
The Bergen County Historical group had a display on the top floor of the Club House. The Woman Suffragettes were well represented and had their own booth. The grounds were filled with politicians all week.
By weeks end, two special events were presented. Several motorcycle races, one (1) mile and five (5) mile, took place. Two world records were set for a dirt half mile track for motorcycles.
The other event was the first auto race at Ho-Ho-Kus Track. There was a $100 prize for the winner. Four drivers registered, but only three raced. The “National Racing Car” was eliminated in a test run accident. Eugene “Hugbie” Zinn, drove Bob Whites car in the ten (10) mile race and won the prize. The car was brought to the track from Paterson. The next time Eugene “Hugbie” Zinn will race in Ho-Ho-Kus is 1917, when auto racing is re-introduced. The track grounds were maxed out for shows and space. The crowds were beyond expectations.
After another successful year of racing a very large Bergen County Fair took place on September 14, 15, 16, 17, & 18th 1915. This was a five-day event. This fair differed from the previous ones held on the grounds. The focus of the fair was special county resources, local manufacturers and farmers of North Jersey. The Bergen County Fair Association erected two large buildings to hold exhibits, plus a 200 foot long structure for cattle. The Association was concerned about attracting the manufacturers, farmers and merchants of Bergen County. Exhibits and competitions were judged and prizes were awarded for cattle and horses, ladies baked goods, including apples, peaches, cabbage, corn, and potatoes. Art and needle work was also judged. The fair midway featured games, rides, balloon ascensions and high-diving acts. Band music wasplayed all during the fair days.
On the last day of the fair the New York-New Jersey Volunteer Firemen’s Association sponsored a firemen’s field day. They raced horse drawn and motorized units, conducted hose laying contests, tug of war, water bottle spraying, and a greased pig contest all for cash prizes. In addition fair goers saw a firemen’s parade andviewed a fire truck exhibition.
The attendance at this fair was estimated at 20,000, including the governor who came by train. The Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department had 10 men on duty to assistthepolice. The Borough hired a retired New York City Detective Sergeant, James McKahey, to organize the policing of the grounds.
In 1916, the track had another successful season and in the fall, October 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, the five-day Bergen County Fairwasback,biggerandbetter. In addition to the previous year there was an auto show, trap shooting contest, trick riding, a flower show and exhibit, a five mile bike race, clay pidgin contest and skeet shooting was introduced, sword swallowing, an elephant display, a dog show, gladiator contests, a vegetable and poultry exhibit, chickens, pigeons, pheasants, hawks, and water fowl. The New York-New Jersey Volunteer Firemen’s Association held its usual program on the last day. This time 50 fire departments participated in the events for $500 in prizes.
The governor came, made a few speeches, met with political groups, saw a demonstration by the Vote for Women Group and the Woman’s Temperance Union.
By 1917, clouds of change were starting to appear. The Home Guard, today’s New Jersey National Guard, was formed and they drilled on the track grounds, where maneuvers and guard duty was taught. The track became an assembly area for its activities in Northwest Bergen County.
The Bergen County Fair was held for five days August 29, 30, 31, September 2nd, and 3rd, thousands attended including the Governor. The Army and Navy had recruiting tents for the first time. The cattle exhibit had been reduced in size, but the Guernsey’s and Jersey’s were exhibited. A very large car show was the featured attraction that year. The music was supplied by the HomeGuardBand. The New York-New Jersey Volunteer Firemen’s Association field day was the last day of the fair. This year’s fair had a special event wrestling contest,The Masked Marvel. He took on all comers in spirited matches four days. This was part of the circus side show entertainment.
In September the function of the track changed. Itbecamea big hit as a collection center for horses and mules used by the French Army. The Federal Export Company handled the process on the grounds. The animals were shipped by train to the Ho-Ho-Kus freight yard at Hollywood Avenue. The horses were unloaded and herded down Franklin Turnpike by cowboys and drovers to the track. These wild horses had to be “broken” to the bit and saddle ,shoed, housed, fed, and trained for the French Army.
In October a team of inspectors found conditions ideal for the mission. They found 20 tons of hay, 2 tons of bran, and 4 tons of oats. Quartering was found to be very good and clean with plenty of water and food. Search lights lit up the area at night. Doctor Hopper (Ridgewood)was also involved with the inspection process. The U.S. Army had people stationed from the U.S. Veterinary Corps conducting final inspections before shipment overseas.
By January 1918, the U.S. Army was processing hundreds of horses. They had been very diligent in horse quality and control of diseases. There was a report that the U.S. Governmentwasgoingtotakeoverthegrounds and set up a military post. The Army denied any takeover or plans for a permanent military facility to the relief of the community.
In March a nineteen car train arrived with 340 horses. The control of the horse movement was much improved. The horses were herded down Franklin Turnpike in lots of 150 each. This insured protection of flower and vegetable gardens from hungry horses. This was the last load of horses to be delivered.
By April, the French Government ceased operation of the Remount. Thewar effort was now mechanizedwithtrucksandtanks. In addition, space to ship the animals was unavailable. The balance of the horses was sold in the United States. The French Remount program closed and the Army and the export team moved to Washington.
A week after the last horse was shipped; a brush fire broke out west of the track in May.The fire was out of control. The two-day fire consumed the club house and all its furnishings, 200 tons of hay, a carload of feed, and the cattle shed and grand stands were badly damaged. The stable area was saved. The Bergen County Fair Buildings were not damaged, but were sold at auction. The organization went bankrupt due to the track closing, the war, and attendance problems. SamNagle was the winning bidder.
Nagle had the track back in shape by May of 1919. The war was over and people were looking to enjoylife. Thetrack introduced autoracing. Largecrowdscametoseethisnewform of racing. The old military band provided musical entertainment. The early auto races were not successful because the track was soft from horseracing. This problem was corrected by the July4th Race Day. The Ho-Ho-Kus Police had to hire 12 extra officers to handle the crowd and the traffic on Franklin Turnpike.
On July 4th, Eugene “Hugbie” Zinn returned for the auto racing. The events were ten (10) mile races with a $1000 prize for the winners. Four races took place. The local Band played music for the crowd during the intermissions.
The Labor Day program featured auto racing again. This was the largest crowd up to this time assembled for automobile racing (6000). The crowd also witnessed one of the early racing accidents at the track. The vehicles went through the fence barrier but no injuries occurred.
In November six rail cars filled with circus equipment were transported to the track for storage over the winter.
Memorial Day 1920, horseracing was back for the first time since the war. Over7,000 people attended opening day. This time almost all who attended came by car or trolley, only a few came by horse. The rest of the year was uneventful, but the attendance and interest was coming back to prewar levels. The Police Department assigned three policemen to handle the traffic and Franklin Turnpike and Maple Avenue.
During the racing season gambling was detected and three-card Monte type games were being played on the grounds. Extra police were now required to contain this new problem. The population of Ho-Ho-Kus was close to 600.
August 1920, the Goldwyn Corporation completed all the background track scenes for their movie “Forever and Ever”.
Sam Nagle lost two valuable race horses, “Elgan and Mary Winter” in a fire, September 17, 1920. Three others were saved. Four farm hands also lost their housing that night. The building was 150 x 60 feet. It took Ho-Ho-Kus, Ridgewood and Hillsdale Fire Departments most of the night to control the fire.
On Labor Day the New York-New Jersey Volunteer Fireman’s Association held a two-day field day and carnival. Over 10,000 people showed up for the largest event in Bergen County for1922. About 2,000 firemen from 112 fire departments participated in a wide variety of programs and contests. The New York-New Jersey Volunteer Firemen’s Association had a 50 piece band to provide entertainment for the two days. In addition, the Association ran 35 of the booth games and concession stands. Theyalso provided two days of fireworks for those who attended.
The Bergen County Driving club took control of track events in 1923. On Memorial Day they arranged for a band concert, refreshments, racing and parking at no charge. In July they had motorcycle racing including a side car race which was won by a Ridgewood resident.
The1923 ,racing season had a growth in attendance. The Post Military Band from Waldwick provided entertainment during the year. Motorcycle racing with and without sidecars, was the highlight of the year. The New York-New Jersey Volunteer Fireman’s Association moved its field day programto Westwood. They now controlled theentire financial operation of all field day operations. They realized the money making ability of their events from prior year’s successful program.
The Bergen County Driving Club conducted the fair September 3, 4, 5, & 6th 1923. Attendance reached 25,000.
Competition, on the equestrian level, opened on the other side of Ho-Ho-Kus in 1924. Bell- Ho Stables opened with great fanfare led by the Ridgewood Riding Club (seeBell-Ho Stables - Historic Element).
Another large fire took place one night in late October. The grandstands and judge’s stand were destroyed. However,Sam Nagle still had the grounds ready for the Thanksgiving Day program. A dare devil driving demonstration came in from Chicago. They performed all types of maneuvers. They also had races with all challengers from theEast. The show was billed “East Meets West.” Thiswasthefirst time at this track and maybe New Jersey that black drivers competed with white people on the race circuit.
By mid-May 1925, new grandstands were erected to replace the ones burned down in last fall’sfire. A large crowd attended a special motorcycle race on May16th. The Precision Motor Cycle Club of New York City conducted the program of solo bikes and sidecar bikes before a very large crowd. The following week, Memorial Day, 5,000 people attended a horseracing program. Another successful year for the track, as auto racing became the main event for attendance.
In 1926, record crowds attended horse races and motorcycle races. The auto races set an all-time high a the July 4th venue. The trolley system operated at capacity with extra runs. Buses started to bring fans.
Shortly after Labor Day the Ridgewood Polo Club was formed with its headquarters at the track. They scheduled a polo match on a Sunday. Unfortunately, nothing was permitted at the track on Sundays. The Ridgewood Mayor had made promises about the Ho-Ho-Kus track he could not keep. The Club had publicized the match extensively. After a series of meetings with the Ho-Ho-Kus Mayor and Council and the Ridgewood Mayor the one Sunday game was permitted.
The field was put in order to play the game on the infield. Both Mayors threw the first ball on the field. The game was slow because the grounds had not settled enough from the renovation but, it was a start. The new Ridgewood team beat Saddle River. TheEssex Troop Polo Club moved to the track from Sea Girt, New Jersey for future polo events in North Jersey.
The beginning of 1927 the Kent Riding Academy, North Maple Avenue, Ridgewood moved its operation to the stable area of the track. This allowed the Academy to stay in competition with Bell-Ho Stables for a few more years. During the year horse racing tried to compete with auto and motorcycle races. Midget cars were a popularcrowd pleaser.
Fans experienced fast driving and unexpected thrills on Saturday June 15, 1929. Besides the record breaking auto race by Wild “Bill” Albertson (who broke the speed record this day) they witnessed a terrifying event. In the midst of the auto race excitement, the roar of an airplane motor caught everybody by surprise and shock. The plane owned by the Bergen County Aerial Police crashed at the track during the race. The plane was on a test maintenance flight when it lost power. The Wright Aeronautical Mechanics had flown some aerobatic stunts for the crowd when the engine went dead. As the pilot tried to straighten out to land, the landing gear caught the top of the trees and forced the plane into a nose dive. People on the field rushed to the crash and rescued the crew. They also righted the plane on the ground. The pilot was unhurt, but his assistant, Phil Carter from Midland Park, suffered some injuries. The ambulance that was on hand for the track (AAA racing regulations) was assigned to take the crew to Paterson General Hospital.
Chief of the Bergen County Aerial Police, Peter Siccardi, arrived about an hour after the crash. He arranged for the aircraft to be removed. The next day, Sunday morning, a crew moved the plane back to Teterboro Airport.
The Ho-Ho-Kus Motor Speedway Inc. applied for permission to conduct a charity auto race on a Sunday. The Borough Council heard the presentation at their meeting, on Wednesday July 17th. In a unanimous vote, the request was denied. The fear was that this would lead to auto racing on all Sundays.
The 4000 plus crowd for the Labor Day race witnessed an exciting day. Lew ‘Bozo” Balus showed up and parachuted to the track signaling the start of the race. But he missed the track and landed in the trees, delaying the race. Another stunt was conducted on a motor cycle with the operator driving around the track twice while sitting backwards. Multiple accidents occurred during the day due to the high level of dust that the cars generated. All the drivers had trouble seeing the track.
On Sunday afternoon November 10, 1929, a Department of Commerce bi-plane made an emergency landing at the track. Weather conditions forced them to land. They left the next day when the weather improved for safe flying.
In early May of 1930, the newly organized Ho-Ho-Kus Driving Club introduced free horse racing matinees to which the public was invited to participate. Many interested people raced on Saturday afternoons. This approach allowed the track-trained horses to gain experience. The Driving Club provided these free matinees up until Memorial Day when admission would then be charged.
Before Memorial Day, the Ho-Ho-Kus PTA sponsored the Ho-Ho-Kus School Field Day at the track. These field days would beheld until the early 1940’s when the program moved to the new Ho-Ho-Kus Public School and became the current day Memorial Day Program.
By the Memorial Day 1930 opening race, the track was known as one of the best horse country centers in theEast. This came about because of an excellent track promoter, Forrest E. Davis. Purse money had been enlarged toattract a good field for racing and also to help people in the Depression. A half-mile track record was set on this day.
The Bergen County Motorcycle Police sponsored a motorcycle race on Saturday afternoon in mid-June, 1930. An extra thrill was added whena motorcycle Polo gamewas played during intermission. The purpose of this event was to provide money for the Bergen County Police pension fund.
In late June, 1930 the grandstand was struck by lightning and damaged but did not catch fire. A crew completed repairs in time for the Fourth ofJuly races.
As a result of the Depression, auto racing was not as prominent as it had been in past years. Horse racing was the favorite sport for the year. On Fourth of July, over 5,000 fans attended the race.
On this Labor Day a very large crowd turned out to see one of the few auto races and stunt drivingexhibitions. Theracewassanctionedby theAAA. The crowd was not disappointed. The big thrill was performed by“ The Millionaire Race Driver” who raced and did various stunts with a high speed car.
On Columbus Day, last day of the race season, another AAA-sanctioned race card was presented. Again almost 5,000 turned out to see a local Ridgewood driver who did well, but not in the big money. The next year he would be a Labor Day’s star performer.
In January, 1931the Ho-Ho-Kus Road Department moved its offices and equipment from the racetrackto the barn behind the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn because it was more centrally located and was less costly.
The traditional Memorial Day opening had an extra attraction this year. For the first time in the State of New Jersey colt horses raced. A large, enthusiastic crowd showed up for the colts. Trotters and pacers were still part of the race card.
In early June a new baseball diamond was built on the infield in front of the grandstands. The Ho-Ho-Kus Men’s Club built this first-class field for a team they sponsored and for local use.
At this timea portion of the northeast corner of the track grounds was sold because the New Jersey State Highway Authority needed the land to build Route2 (17) as part of a negotiated realignment agreement with the Borough.
In this year theRidgewoodIndependenceDayfireworksprogram wasmovedtotheHo-Ho- KusRaceTrack. TheBoroughgreetedthiseventwithmuchenthusiasm. Atown-wide effortwasmadetomakethisafestiveoccasion withflags,lights,anddecorationsplacedon allthestoresandstreets leadingtothetrack. Additionalseatingfor5,000morepeoplewas provided. Floodlights were installed.
The Ho-Ho-Kus and Ridgewood Fire Departments, Police Departments, and Councils joined forces to handle all aspects of the July 4thprogram. Thetwomunicipalgoverningbodieshad agreed that money generated would be placed in their relief funds for the unemployed.
Duringthisdayalargecrowdattendedtheauto racesandsawmotorcycledaredevildisplays, trick riding, and fancy stunts.
This same evening the largest crowd, up until this time, attended the Ridgewood IndependenceDayfireworks. Thecrowdwasestimatedat11,000. Theprogramhadlasted anhourandahalf,showingextraattractions—anelectriclightdisplay withfiveelectric fountains, 20 feet high with electric wheels and spinners.
TheLaborDayWeekendof1931therewasalarge, three-dayevent. Theshowattracteda substantialattendanceto alltheevents. OnSaturdaythereweremotorcycleraces,displays anddaredevilperformances. OnSundayaseriesofbaseballgameswithall the local rivalries washeld. ForMondayBob Sallwasbilled,alocalRidgewooddriver. Almost11,000 arrivedon raceday to seeSallcapturethemajorracing honors. Hisfansswarmedontothe track, holding up the rest of the day’s events. It took a while for the track to be cleared.
Inmid-September1931,theBergenCountyDemocraticCommitteesponsoredapolitical rallyforgovernor. Itwasknownas“HarryMooreDay.” Thepublicitymanforthe committeeproclaimed“Thiswillbethegreatest eventeverstagedinBergenCounty!” A country fair atmosphere with a midway, Ferris wheel, merry go-round, political floats, a baby contest, a semi-pro baseball game, a woman’s relay race, music, refreshments, prizes, and awards. Aspecialsurprisefeaturedaparachutedrop. NotablesincludeBabeRuth,the Governor of Massachusetts, former New York Governor Al Smith, as well as all local party political candidates.
Raindampenedtheday; howeveritwasapolitical success. Despitetherain,theeventstook place and Harry Moore was elected governor.
Inthefallof1931andspringof1932,Warner BrothersPicturesfilmedaseriesof background, track, and building scenes for a movie called “The Crowd Roars.” The movie starred James Cagney and Joan Blondell, and Howard Hawks directed this soap opera race film. Themainfilmingwasdone elsewhere,butthecommunitywasexcitedaboutitssmall role and the extra income it provided.
The 1931 Columbus Day Races were canceled because of the economic downturn.
By 1932 racing at the track was spotty and would be over the next few years. Racing was scheduledforeverytwoweeks,butonlyafewsanctionedautoracestookplace.
Prize money was also not available. However,thelocalsranraces on their own in secret.
Topreventpeoplefromgettinginforfree,and forsafetyandsecurityreasons,a10-foothigh boarded fence was built around the track.
ThousandscametotheFourthofJulyRaceto seetheracesintherain,buttheracewas cancelled. ButtheywitnessedaweddingceremonyperformedbyHo-Ho-Kus’sownBill Washer. TheracerKenFowlermarriedalocalgirlMarySpinotoatthetrackside. The coupletookalaparoundthetrackinhisracecaranddroveofftotheirhoneymoonasthe fanscheered. Bymid-JulytheBoroughCouncilvotedtopermitracingonSundays. A specialpermitof$300perracewasrequired. Thetrackwastohiretwentyunemployed residentsasspecialpoliceofficers. Grossreceiptsover$4,000weretobetaxedat10%. This money went to the Borough Relief Fund to assist the unemployed.
The first Sunday race July 10th 1932 turned disastrous when a racer lost control at the dangerous north curve whenhissteeringapparatusfailedandwasunableto completetheturn. Hewasthrownfrom the car and killed.
ThefirstnighttimebaseballgameinBergenCountywasplayedatthetrackinAugustof 1932. Lightsareinstalledforthebalanceoftheseason. About5,000peopleattendedthis first night game. The enthusiastic overflow crowd strained the police and track facilities.
OnLaborDayweekend1932,theBergenCountyPolicesponsoredafair. Itwasthefirst timethepolicesponsoredsuchanevent. A three-dayfairfeaturingVaudevilleacts,band concerts,fireworks,aFerriswheel,merry-go-round, bumper cars, pony rides, goat-drawn carts,apoultryshowwithprize,arabbitshowwith400rabbitsandvariousboothsofchance. In addition, the auto dealers ofthe County had 39 cars on display.
HorseracingtookplaceonFridayalongwithafullcircusprogram onSaturday. Monday, LaborDay,horseracingwithentriesfrom allovertheMid-AtlanticStateswasheldwithan attendance of 15,000. It was very profitable for the Bergen County Police Benefit Fund.
By1933theeconomywasstartingtoslowlychange. TheracescamebackandMemorial Day had a good purse. The track was under new management by the Automobile Racing Association(ARA). Thisassociationdidnothavethehigheststandards. Sometimesthe purses were not standardized and proper payment was not always realized. In addition, the safety rules were not enforced. Two drivers were killed in separate races.
The opening race in 1934 was sanctioned by the ARA. On the second lapa young driver was killed. For the rest of the year the races were sanctionedby AAA, resulting in immediate safetyimprovements. Dustcontrolprogram wasnowinplacetoaddressdriverandspectator complaints. The purses were increased and guaranteed, and racing events were expanded to two a month.
In August, a driver in a warm-up race jumped the rail at the north turn. In order to avoid spectators he then drove through the barn at the northwest corner. The driver was uninjured, but two boys, who had sneaked onto the grounds and were hiding in the building, were injured. The event was photographed. The photo of the race car entering the building was publishedinanewlocalsportspaper,TheNationalAutoRacingNews. (In 1943, thenamewas changed to National Speed Sport News)
In attendance at the track in 1934 there was a local 14-year-old Ridgewood boy who had developed an interestinracingandwasalwaysattheHo-Ho-Kustrack. Healsotraveledtootherrace trackswiththehelpoffamilyandfriends. AtHo-Ho-KushesoldtheNationalAuto Racing newstoearnsomemoney. Healsodisplayed a talent for writing and wrote copy of the race events. The racing news editor published his work. The teenager was a young Chris Economaki who wrote about racesatHo-Ho-Kusfrom1934to1938. Hewasknownas“TheDeanofAmerican MotorSportJournalists.” Hebecameowner,publisher,andeditorofTheNationalSpeed SportNews,thepremierracecarnewspaperinthe countrytoday. AfterWorldWarII,he became the voice of auto racing for more than three decades. For more on Chris Economaki, visit www.nationalspeedsportnews.comandwww.thevintageracer.com.
The Labor Day Races for 1934 were cancelled because of the weather.
LaterinSeptember,theRidgewoodHighSchoolAlumniformedafootballteamwhich playedmostofthegamesatthetrackinSeptember,October,andNovember. Theywere well-attended events which included teams fromnorthwest Bergen and Passaic Counties.
Inmid-September1934,theBergenCounty RepublicanParty,ledbyHo-Ho-Kusmayor Bernard Lamb, scheduled a political rally for governor. The four-hour event had an extensiveprogram offunandfrolic,butwascancelledthemorningoftherallybecauseof rain. Many people arrived to an empty track. The rally was not rescheduled. Motorcycle racing in 1936 drew large crowds during the scheduled events.
In 1937, the Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway was considered oneof the most famous of all auto speed spots. No other track in New Jersey auto racehistoryhassurvivedunderthesamepromoter, John Kochman, for so long and with such consistent success. Most racing has been eliminated on the west coast. Midwest tracks had limited the motors of competing race cars. As a consequence the “hot cars” competed on the East Coast.
Priortoopeningdaythetrackwasresurfacedwith clay.Thisallowedforafastersurfaceand less dust during the events.
Openingday,May2,1937acrowdof12,000sawaworldrecordsetfor halfmiledirttrack. Ben Shaw drove a machine that was equipped with an airplane motor.
TheannualMemorialDayprogramwasanAAA-sanctioned event. Theracecarddidnot feature any big name racers. This was reflected in the attendance of 6,000 for the holidayevent.
InearlyJuneover80citizensprotestedtothe BoroughCouncilthatthetrackisallowedto operate on Sundays. They filed a petition objecting to noise, dust and traffic problems. In addition,therewasanotherpetition requesting that the council rezonetwelveacresnorthof the Race Track as a business zone. The Council agreed to consider these petitionsand report back at a future meeting.
Inmid-September,MaryWigginsandherHollywoodDaredevilsputonamotorcycleand auto thrill show. This was one of thefew all female programs in the county.
At the end of the month the Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department held its annual outing at the race track.Theywouldcontinuethistraditionfora coupleofyearsatthetrack. In lateryearsthe outings would be held on Labor Day at various locations around town. The new fire truck, an Ahrens Foxwasbroughttothetrackforinspectionby theguests.A fewtestrunsaroundthetrack were made-however; no record of its speed was reported.
Thetrackopenedin1938. With races startingMay1st. Alocaldriverfrom Ridgewoodstartedthe inaugural meet breaking three track records infront of a crowd of 5,000. He set speed records inthe3mile,5mile,and15milecategories.ByMemorialDaytrackconditionsarethe fastest ever. But no records areset during the holiday program.
The annual 4thof July race was attended by almost 10,000 people. This AAA sanctioned race had a very good race for the Fourth. During the first lap of the 30 lap main feature, two cars lockedwheelsinfrontofthegrandstands.Astheypassedthegrandstandsthecarscareened into thepitarea ontheother sideof theroadway.Theyhitthetrackstarter,an11year oldboyand17otherpeople,plusseveralcarsin thepitsatsixtymilesperhour.Thepolice and trackpeoplepressedintoserviceseveralcarsandadeliverytruck tosendtheinjuredto various hospitals.Dr. Kalman Chase, from Ho-Ho-Kus am put atedaman’s leg with a pocket knife; this emergency operation saved the man’s life. Eventually ambulances arrived and transported the rest of the injured. The 11 year old boy and a photographer died of their injuries. The remainder of race day was cancelled.
The Borough Council held a Special Meeting on July 6th to ban auto racing and prepare an amendment to the amusement ordinance. By the July 13thPublic Meeting, the ordinance was amended to include a ban of motorcycle racing. Speed racing at the track came to an end.
In1939,andtheearly1940’shorseswerehousedin the stable area. Horse owners used the grounds to house and exercise their animals for the next few years.
Also in 1939, The Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department entered a lease agreement with the Nagle Family Trust. The department leased the track once a year, for $1, to hold the annual Labor Day picnic on the track grounds. The lease lasted till the end of the 1940’s.
Around 1939-1943 a couple of the Memorial Field Day Programs are held on the track roadway. The parents and visitors sat in the grandstand to enjoy the events.
In1942, and into the early war years, residents and other local families set up large vegetable gardens in the inner ring of the track. These are known as “Victory Gardens”, part of the war effort.
On July 4, 1942 a patriotic celebration was presented by the Town at the Race Track. The theme was “Ho-Ho-Kus will be home for the Holiday”. It is considered the largest event assembled at the track by Ho-Ho-Kus officials. The opening started with the presentation of the colors and the National Anthem. The program included children’s decorated bicycles, adult decorated bicycles, games for children and adults. A men’s soft ball game and a band concert was presented all day. Refreshments were available during the entire event. Late in the afternoon a patriotic parade around the track took place. It consisted of 500 people from every town organization involved in the war effort. The celebration concluded that night with a gala block dance. Virtually all residents attended the festivities along with many from out of town. Since the fourth of July was on a Saturday, some celebrations continued into Sunday. It was at this event that the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department was born.
After the war the buildings and track survive the lack of use. Young people are seen riding bicycles, motorcycles and cars around the track. In1950,the local Veterans of Foreign Wars promote a week long fair and carnival at the track. The event is well advertised around New Jersey and New York by radio and newspaper. The day of the carnival the amusement company does not show.This is the end of the Ho-Ho-Kus Race Track.
InMarch1950,the Nagle Estate sold an 18,750square-foot parcel of the RaceTrack to be known as 355 Race Track Road. A business associate, Thomas Shea, and his wife became owners of 355 Race Track Road. The balance of the track grounds and buildings were sold to Public Construction Company in October 1950. In less than two years, the area was known as Park Estates. Another owner, Park Estates Incorporated, was involved with the Public Construction Company to develop the property. These two companies developed the roads and built over 100 houses on the site of the former track.