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East End News

Dear Historians: a little help uncovering the Fairfield Race Course history?

Fairmount historians out there, Eric Huffstutler needs your help uncovering the history of Fairfield. Does anyone know when the Fairfield Race Course (horse racing) opened and closed? Eric’s request below:

Long before Baseball and Football, Horse Racing was the game of choice which appealed to all social classes. It is said that one of the first, if not “the” first horse races in America occurred in Henrico County around 1674. Those early races were similar to modern-day drag strips where the horses ran on the streets in a straight line.

Oval courses started to show up around the time of the American Revolution, including one that served the Church Hill community called “Fairfield Race Course”. The 56-acre property was situated between current day Fairmount and Fairfield Avenues and at the ends of 25th through 27th Streets in what is now the Peter Paul neighborhood – named after a later owner.

I do know that it was in existence by the year 1800 through recorded race results. Most race tracks disappeared after the Civil War when men and horses were involved and lost in the conflict and the land used for camps. Fairfield is seen as the “old” race course by the 1860s in books and on later maps… and, the lack of any further race notices seem to validate that.

My questions are: What year did Fairfield open and who was the owner? Also, what year did it close and the property transferred to Peter Paul (1842-1906). Early Richmond maps cut short North Church Hill but it is seen on Henrico maps. I have not been able to find detailed 18th Century maps.

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12 comments

Eric S. Huffstutler
Eric S. Huffstutler 03/25/2018 at 3:09 PM

I was slightly late in getting this map of where the race course sat…which on this 1867 map, N 25th runs right to it. Later, N 27th would run in front of the property. Note, Battery No. 5 is a Civil War fortification sometimes called Fort Longstreet and is where the Garrison Hospital was also located. It sat near the corner of Nine Mile Rd. and Creighton Rd.

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Church Hill People
Church Hill People's News 03/25/2018 at 4:20 PM

Updated on the post also Eric. Just FYI

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Bill Hartsock 03/25/2018 at 3:14 PM

You may want to check more Henrico records as the area was not annexed to Richmond until 1906.

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Eric S. Huffstutler 03/25/2018 at 9:04 PM

First, I want to thank our gracious new host at CHPN who offered to post my query.

@2 Bill Hartsock. So true and why so many historic Richmond maps omit much of Church Hill in the Northern section. A chunk of it was not annexed until 1867 and a larger portion in 1906. But, with the Peter Paul area, the race track property was split at some time and the bottom 3/4 was annexed in 1914 while the north 1/4 in 1942. Just like the Oakwood Cemetery property was split and the old section annexed in 1906 and the newer section in 1914.

The earliest owner I have found thus far is relatively new in 1831 being John S. Corbin. I say relatively new because the course was supposed to have been opened during the American Revolution which was 1775–1783. The problem is finding Henrico maps from that period of time showing landowners.

I do know that the 1901 Henrico map shows the land lines minus any track and the owner was Peter Paul, who died in 1906. There is supposed to be an 1890 map stating the “old” race course, that I have not seen yet.

I mentioned the Battery No. 5 seen on the above 1867 map because it was used for heavy artillery while troops with lighter artillery were set up at the course.

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Eric S. Huffstutler
Eric S. Huffstutler 03/26/2018 at 12:16 PM

Researcher, David Talley, offered some new information:

The Fairfield course was on land leased from the Fairfield plantation, which was owned by James Talley (no relation). After his death in 1858, it passed to his son James C. Talley. He was declared a lunatic and the land was sold off in 1886.

I wonder if Peter Paul purchased it in 1886 or someone else? Or, how old the plantation was and if the course started there?

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Eric S. Huffstutler
Eric S. Huffstutler 03/26/2018 at 2:56 PM

Obviously, James Talley (1792-1858) was not the original owner. But still curious about the “Fairfield Plantation” of Henrico County instead of others by the same name in different counties. Coming up empty for the one in Henrico 🙂 At least this is a good lead when it comes to the property for a descent deed search.

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David Talley 03/26/2018 at 4:07 PM

A couple of notes about the map above. The Redwood household near the race course would be Joseph C. Redwood, who married James Talley’s widow in 1862. They were probably living in James Talley’s old house. The Belcher household would be John Belcher, who, according to newspaper ads, leased the race course after the death of James Talley.

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Spacecat 03/26/2018 at 4:13 PM

There’s a brief mention of the Fairfield Race Course in the book ‘Richmond: Her Past and Present’ by William Asbury Christian regarding a duel that took place near there.

https://books.google.com/books/about/Richmond_Her_Past_and_Present.html?id=rZw-AAAAYAAJ

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Eric S. Huffstutler 03/26/2018 at 5:42 PM

@7 David Talley, thanks! Also @8 Spacecat thanks!

Note on the map, the vertical road on the left is Mechanicsville Tpk. The two roads coming off of it to the track are current Brauers Ln and Fairfield Ave that goes through the Redwood property.

I ran across another entry from a 1913 published book “Life Gleanings” by Thomas Joseph Macon. It is a collection of personal narratives about life during the Civil War era. This is the complete narrative he gave of the Fairfield Race Course…

” An entertaining gleaning is that respecting “Fairfield race track,” situated on the Mechanicsville Turnpike. This was the most prominent race course of its day in the State. It was run and owned by a Mr. James Talley, who was one of the best horsemen in Virginia. When the place was at its zenith it had a long string of race horses in its stables, among them being some of the most celebrated the world has ever seen; there was the great racer, and sire of racers, “Revenue,” owned by Mr. Botts; “Talley Ho,” owned by Mr. Selden C. Mason; “Engineer,” a splendid grey; “Red-Eye,” sire of “Planet”; Martha Washington, “Iina” and many others. These were the very flowers of the thoroughbred stock of the South. Every Sunday evening in the spring of the year the horses were exercised around the course and were given a “right sharp brush.” Several of my friends and I were in the habit of going out and viewing them while at their exercises and it was well worth the while to see such spurts of swift speeding. Truly those were the palmy days of racing, and they will never again be reviewed in Virginia, at least in this part of the State, for conditions are greatly changed. “

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Cadeho 03/27/2018 at 12:05 AM

How did I not come here? I have info but… more land info…

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Eric S. Huffstutler 03/27/2018 at 10:26 AM

@10 Cadeho, the land info will also help if you will share? Thanks!

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Eric S. Huffstutler 03/30/2018 at 11:30 PM

Over time, the 315 acre Fairfield property was sectioned and sold off. By 1915 it had basically only the course left of 77 acres and then 56 when investors wanted to create an athletic complex there but by 1918, still trying to sell the land. I am not sure yet when the race course was finally sold for the Peter Paul community to be built?

Cadeho has been very helpful with who owned the property when it was sold in 1800 from William Savage (estate) to Miles Selden Sr. Selden also owned the Tree Hill plantation where another race course stood.

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