Arcanum Horse Racing, Horse Tracks, and Darke County Fair

Featured Picture: Horse photo and info from Dixie Baker Kepler of her grandfather, Dale Baker and Peter-At-Law.

Info is from William Gunder’s  and Anita Short’s book “Arcanum Chronicles”, chapter on Fast Horses.

Fast horses and horse racing was of extreme importance to Darke County including the Arcanum area. 

Among those horse lovers was Lon Smith who owned a farm of 140 acres located on Arcanum-Hollansburg Road, former farm of Galen Oswalt.  Back in Lon’s day, the place included a large barn to stable them as well as a racetrack to race and exercise them.

In the Arcanum Times dated July 23, 1959 we read about the account years back when Dr. Hawes needed some medicine from Richmond.  Lon Smith said he would have it back to the doctor’s office in three hours.  He drove Old Cotton (hitched) to a race cart, went to Richmond and was back in the designated time which was fast in those day.  By the way, Old Cotton was the mother of the horse that held one of the world’s records for speed. 

C. O. Hoffman was Arcanum’s local druggist.  Him and James Braden, owner of the Livery Stable, had a race.  According to the Arcanum Weekly Times dated August 2, 1906 “James Braden knows now that his ‘trottin’ mare isn’t the only warm baby in the bunch.  It seems C. O. Hoffman took out his big farm horse one day and took a half-mile heat from Branden.” 

In the 1870’s the Darke County Agricultural Society organized what was known as Horse Fairs.  These were races that were held on the Old Darke County Fairgrounds now the area encompassed by Chestnut and Oakwood Streets. 

In the Arcanum Times of August 7, 1930 this was a brief summary of the Matinee Club.  Darke County was at one time the home of the largest matinee club for harness race horses in the United States. That was back in 1908, 1909 and 1910.  From the Arcanum area Charlie Hoffman and Dr. L. H. Hawes are listed along with other Darke County area residents including those from New Madison.

Other area names were:  George Stevens, Robert Clark, Mike McGuire, Ed McCue, and Ira May, Arcanum blacksmith. 

Other tracks in the area were the half-mile track on the Charles Baker farm, located on the west side of Arcanum-Ithaca Road south of Grubbs Rex Road, Per Bill’s book. However, in speaking with area horse owners, it was reported this track or place was before Grubbs Rex Road. There was another Baker family who did have horses on the corner of Arcanum-Ithaca Road and Grubbs Rex Road.

Also was the half-mile track on the Haines Farm near Gordon.  The woods east of the farm was known as Haines Grove where many family reunions and recreational picnics were held. Per Gordon residents this was confirmed and stood on the north side of Gordon. Readers recalled the reunions and family gatherings more than the race track.

Another racer was Dale Baker and Peter-At-Law.  Don’t you love these original horse names?  Dale was the owner of the Dale Baker Dairy and the local milkman during the 1920’s.  Also a farmer, Mr. Baker loved horses.  So with the milk bottling a thing of the past in the 1930’s Dale began to create a place as a horse trainer and owner.  His farm was two miles north of Arcanum.  We will have another story about his dairy in the near future.

We read from the Arcanum Chronicles that “Arcanum Hoss Wins Big Race At The Fair.  Great Young Pacer owned by Dale Baker takes $800 race.  Beats favorite to take the honors.  Colt is to start in $1500 race at Ohio State Fair this week.” 

Must have been a lot of Arcanum folks at the Darke County Fair at Greenville Thursday afternoon from the way they cheered when the handsome Arcanum-owned pacing colt, Peter-At-Law came home first in the $800 pacing stake and brought high honors to his home folks.  Peter-At-Law is owned by Dale Baker, who lives three miles north of town and has been racing well most of this season.  He was trained over the Greenville Track and won in the races held there in June, taking the money in sensational time for a “green” colt. 

Per Dixie Baker Kepler, she writes “Dale was my grandpa and he was born on a farm owned by his maternal grandfather on the corner of what is present day, Bears Mill & Delisle-Fourman Road, Sec 27 Van Buren Twp.   That farm is no longer there as it has been sold off over the years in smaller lots.   When he married my grandmother, Mary Emma Baker, they lived at 3931 Arcanum Bears Mill Rd., George Baker’s farm, where Dale had his Dairy business.  Dale purchased the farm after George passed away.”

Peter-At-Law. After sold-Photo off internet.

Please share your race horse stories-wins or losses as well as photos. Looking for photos of the old Smith-Oswalt farm and track as well as photos of the Baker track and Haines track or woods in Gordon.

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