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Pittsfield Historical Society's

History of Pittsfield

Union Trotting Park

The Union Trotting Park was located on the current site of the Pittsfield Airport. The track at the park is visible as an oval just below the center of this section of the 1933 USGS map of Pittsfield at right.

In June of 1893, Col. Morrill purchased the old Pittsfield Driving Park from J. E. Connor and Isaac Lancey. The Colonel intends to make extensive repairs, the announcement of the purchase stated, building stalls, judges stand, seats for the spectators, improving the track, repairing the fences, and opening up a road from the park to Peltoma Avenue.

The opening ceremonies were held in August and it was a great day for Col. Morrill, the new Union Park that had been practically idle for twenty years, and for the racing enthusiasts throughout the area. Special trains were run into Pittsfield, bringing one of the largest crowds ever seen at the Park. The feature of the day was a ladies carriage race, the first in Maine. There was considerable doubt expressed when the event was first announced, but Morrill went through with it and it was a sensational success. He was later asked to put on a similar race at the other fairs in Maine and was invited to sponsor one in New Hampshire. It was the beginning of many firsts for Col. Morrill in his chosen field.

Colonel Morrill continued his interest in harness racing until the day he died in 1935 at the age of 93. He became the grand old man of racing, sponsoring dashes in all parts of the state. He was the first to feature races for women, as we have noted; he was the first to offer $1000 purses; he was the first to use modern sulkies. It would be difficult to enumerate all the innovations and unusual quirks he sponsored to arouse the public interest. He was a master showman. His last race program was put on at his old Union Park just before it was turned into an airport. It was a glad day but also a sad day, full of nostalgia. The grounds were pretty well run down, but everything was done to make it a Col. Morrill Day. The writer, who happened to be a member of the Legislature at that time, brought Governor Brann to Pittsfield to do proper honor to the Colonel, and both the Governor and the Colonel enjoyed watching the races and reminiscing about the sport, particularly as it touched on Lewiston, the Governors home town and the city in which the Colonel had had many triumphant experiences.

After the airport was finished, the writer also had the privilege of taking Col. Morrill, when he was well in his eighties, on his first flight. We circled Pittsfield several times and at first the Colonel hung on to the sides of the open cockpit rather tightly, but then he began to relax and look down at the town he had seen develop over a period of more than fifty years. He was a weird sight with his goggles and his beard, split by the wind, and I shall never forget his turning to me and shouting above the roar of the motor, Purty risky! This from the man who had gone through the fiercest battles in the Civil War, lain wounded for hours on the fields of one of those battles, and decorated more than once for bravery in action! What a man!

Today they continue to hold a Col. Morrill's Day at the Bangor Fair and offer a Col. Morrill race. This custom was inaugurated by J. R. Cianchette, who years after the Colonel had had his day, became interested in harness racing.

Original Version: 31-Jan-06.

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Version: Sunday 20 January, 2013