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In the 19th century, Westfield had a fairground, race track and Civil War training camp

March 31, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

Fairgrounds in Westfield? A driving track? Horse races? A Civil War training camp?

Yes! Yes! Yes! and Yes! There really were fairgrounds and race tracks in Westfield; in fact, more than one of each.

The best known and most highly acclaimed was the Metropolitan Fair Grounds. It was first proposed, as noted in the Westfield Republican of October 12, 1859, as a Farmers' and Mechanics' Union by W.S. Hinckley, E.C. Bliss and others at a meeting held in the famous Westfield House (Stage Coach Inn) at the northwest corner of Main and Portage. At that time, Bliss and Hinckley were appointed to prepare the articles of the association and close the bargain for the purchase of 80 acres of the lands, including a 20-acre grove at the upper end of Union Street, where it ended on Bliss Road at that time, for the purpose of a Fair Ground and mile-long track or trotting course.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This is an engraving from the 1854 Chautauqua County Map that shows where Hinckley Hall was located. This is the north side of Main Street, and Hinckley Hall shows just to the right of the tree, upstairs above the Carlisle and Hart stores. The stores were where the Inner Lakes Federal Credit Union is now located. Hinckley Hall was where Westfield’s citizens met to raise troops for the Union in the Civil War.

According to a June 27, 1860 article in the Westfield Republican, "Active efforts for a Fair Ground and a mile track, in Westfield, are on foot; and with every prospect of success. It is proper perhaps, to say that is but a revival of the effort made last fall." Both articles boasted that Westfield would have "the best track in western N.Y." By July 4, 1860, "the land has been leased, and the track surveyed, and the necessary steps for grading it, and fencing the grounds taken some 60 acres one of the finest groves that could be found, sufficiently undulating to render it perfectly dry, and across the whole piece runs a living stream of water, and large enough to afford an abundant supply, at any season of the year, and so situated that water can easily be conducted to almost any part of the grounds It is now expected that the grounds will be completed in time for a Fair in the fall."

And indeed it was! A notice in the Sept. 26, 1860 Westfield Republican reads, "The Metropolitan Fair Ground Association have fixed upon the 10th, 11th and 12th days of October, for holding their first annual FairOne of the attractive features of the occasion will be the exhibition of the three Arabian Horses presented to Gov. Seward." In October, the newspaper printed the full program for the fair, listing several halls filled with exhibits, horse and cart activities on the track and much more, taking fully half a page of the paper.

The dates above may remind you that about this time a young girl by the name of Grace Bedell wrote a letter to soon-to-be-elected President Abraham Lincoln, encouraging him to grow a beard, and early the next year, Lincoln himself stopped in Westfield on his train ride to office, and met Grace. About two months later, the Westfield Republican of April 24, 1861, describes "A large and spirited meeting of the citizens of Westfield held at Hinckley Hall to consider measures for raising volunteer forces, and the necessary means for equipping them" Hon. George Patterson was called to the chair, a committee consisting of Hon. Austin Smith, Col. Joshua H. Babcock and Alpheus Baldwin Esq. was formed to draft resolutions to respond to Lincoln's proclamation and call to arms The resolutions were unanimously approved, and Rev. Drake was called forward Capt. Thomas Baker of company "C" came forward ready to lead his company "wherever duty called" and the appreciated citizens of Westfield procured him a complete officer's outfit. Volunteers were called to join the company, and a subscription was opened that immediately raised $1000...

The May 1, 1861 Republican published news that the Ladies and other citizens of Westfield "are making commendable efforts to furnish the members of company "C" with the comforts that are indispensable to a soldier's life fitting out the military" The company filled rapidly and by May 29th, "C" Company was going into encampment the following Tuesday for one week on the Fair Grounds and were furnished with full uniforms. Interestingly, also on May 1, 1861, "Attention is directed to the notice of the Metropolitan Fair Ground Association - The track is in good condition, and it will be seen that there is to be a trial of speed on Saturday."

On June 5, 1861, when the newspaper noted that "C" Company of the 68th Regiment went into encampment on the Fair Grounds, it also reported "Flag Presentation - A Stand of Colors will be presented to 'C' Company by the Ladies of Westfield, on Thursday June 6th at 6 o'clock P.M. on the public Green." The same issue, interestingly, had a notice: "The Horse Show at the Metropolitan Fair Grounds in this village opens tomorrow and continues two days." It seems that the 60 or 80 acres provided enough space for the Civil War encampment as well as horse shows and races.

The Agricultural Fair and Cattle Show of the Metropolitan Fair Ground Company occurred again on their grounds in October of 1862. Nothing was found for the fairgrounds, fairs, or races in 1863, but in September 1864, the 28th annual Chautauqua County Fair was held at the Metropolitan Fair Grounds Various horse shows, races, and fairs were noted in 1865 and 1866.

In July 3, 1867 there was a short notice that the Metropolitan Fair Grounds had completed a new track. Later that month, July 24, an article reprinted from the "Jamestown Journal" reads as follows, "Played Out - The Westfield managers of the Chaut. Co. Agricultural Society have concluded to make no independent Fair this year, but to merge with the Fredonia Farmers' and Mechanics' Union in a Fair. It is probable this is the last we shall ever hear of the once popular and successful County Society. The Westfield people by turning it into a Jockey Club and gambling institution and by general mismanagement have succeeded in pretty effectually playing it out. It was a good and useful institution till the horse jockeys got hold of it. Good bye."

Although the editor of the Westfield Republican wrote a scathing rebuttal to the above story, in which it was explained that the decision had been made the previous fall to merge the two fairs into one at Fredonia, it is significant that no more articles or notices for the Metropolitan Fair Grounds or driving track have been found in later issues of the paper, as of the writing of this BeeLines (March 28, 2016).

 
 
 

 

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