Oil City’s early history featured a favorite four-legged critter – horses.

As the city prospered in a roaring economy fueled by the oil and gas industry, local residents boasted fancy horse-drawn carriages. Liveries and blacksmith shops were nestled into neighborhoods throughout the city.

There was another dimension, too – horse racing. At the close of the 19th Century, Oil City boasted three elaborate race tracks.

The first one, built soon after the City of Oil City was incorporated in 1871, was on Clark’s Summit. Spectators as well as competitors could reach the track via an incline railway that extended from Main Street along the river and up over the hill to the summit.

In news accounts of the races, most of which were of the harness racing type, there were colorful stories associated with the track. One involved a featured race between four Native Americans from Canada competing on foot against a single race horse. The runners competed as a four-man relay and managed to beat the horse on the oval track.

Another tale involved local businessman Wesley Chambers who was riding his horse to the racetrack on Clark’s Summit. Arriving just as a race started, his horse ran onto the track and won the race.

The second race venue included a track as well as a driving park and was located at the head of what would be Cowell Avenue on the city’s South Side. The oval track was about where Bouquin Circle is now. It flourished from about 1880 until 1898 when another race track project got underway across the river.

St. Joseph Church towers are seen behind this photograph of a Stubler Beer delivery wagon.
Advertisement for Pressey & Son Livery and Stable on Elm Street in Oil City.
The Moore Ice Cream delivery wagon is pictured. Frank Moore owned the company which later evolved into Famoore’s.
A 1917 receipt from the Daum Bros. Livery & Stable.
A driving park and racetrack, one of three in Oil City, was located at the top of Cowell Avenue. The oval track, visible in the upper level, was located where Bouquin Circle is now.
Horse races and an annual fair drew large crowds to the Oil City Fair and Trotting Association’s grounds. The location is now the site of the municipal swimming pool and ball fields.
The Oil City Fair and Trotting Association built & maintained a track, judges towers, the infield & the grandstand on land donated by Capt. William Hasson on the city’s Hasson Heights.

In 1898, local philanthropist Capt. William Hasson donated 36 acres of land in the Hasson Heights area to the Oil City Fair and Trotting Association. The city swimming pool and ballfields are now located in that area. The track, reported to be the best and fastest oblong half-mile track in the country, opened with much fanfare on June 14, 1898. It featured a judges’ tower, an entertainment platform and a large grandstand. Special guests for opening day were Civil War veterans attending a large Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) encampment meeting in Oil City that week. The Fair and Trotting Association held the Great Oil City Fair for four years at its track property. The fair, which typically lasted three to four days, featured horse racing as well as agriculture and animal exhibits, entertainment and more.

The well-dressed members of the Oil City Riding Club are assembled in front of the Carnegie Library, later renamed the Oil City Library, on Front Street.
The Great Oil City fair, held annually from 1898 to 1901 in the city’s Hasson Heights neighborhood, was sponsored by the Oil City Fair and Trotting Association. One big draw was this staged fight between a kangaroo and a boxer in a ring surrounded by spectators.

The fairgrounds featured a large tent to accommodate entertainment. In that tent was shown Oil City’s first movie, “The Great Train Robbery,” shortly after its release in 1903.

The fairs were discontinued after four years but horse racing contests were held until 1909. The property went into mortgage foreclosure and the fencing and grandstand were torn down in 1925.

Clark Brothers Livery was located on State Street. The business was owned by James, Samuel and George Clark.

Little Pat

One of the most successful horses on the national harness racing circuit was owned by a Cranberry Township man.

Little Pat, a racing champion, was owned by Homer Biery, a businessman and oil dealer. The Biery homestead was a large farm on Route 322 in the township.

The horse won numerous races, including the Berea Harness Racing’s Walter E. Seely Cup and the 1939 McKelvey Stakes at Canfield, Ohio. Little Pat was reputedly the first “million-dollar harness racehorse” in the U.S.

One note of publicity showed a photograph of Little Pat with Homer Biery, driver Harry Short, and world feather and welterweight boxing champ Henry Armstrong. The newspaper article was headlined “Champ Meets Champ.”

Oil City resident Mary Tonkin is shown astride her horse.
The McGuigan Livery at 229 Seneca St. is shown behind the horse and cart. The carriage and horse are on top of a wood sidewalk. It was one of eight livery stables in the city in 1900.
The Oil City Fire Department’s horse-drawn wagons are shown in this photograph at city hall on Seneca St. The fire department building was adjacent.
This horse-drawn wagon is decorated for a firemen’s convention in Oil City. The signs note the wagon is owned by American Express which had offices at 9 Elm St. and 8 Railroad Ave.
The Osenider Funeral Home hearse was a fancy carriage pulled by two matched horses. The funeral home was located on the city’s South Side. Mary Johnston Earp, wife of Samuel Earp, is believed to be the last person carried to her grave by horse and buggy in Oil City. Born in 1846, she died in April 1916 and is buried in Grove Hill Cemetery. The family lived at 112 W. First St.
This 1890 photograph shows an elegant carriage behind Eagan’s Store on Center Street. Entertainment ads cover the building wall behind the elegantly dressed coachman.
Clinger’s grocery wagon is shown on Oil City’s South Side. Orders would be taken by phone on either the Oil City Telephone Exchange or the Petroleum Exchange.

Written by Judy Etzel with research by Kay Dawson and design by Natalie Cubbon.


Oil Region Alliance

Gates & Burns Realty

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