WWW.QNS.COM RIDGEWOOD TIMES APRIL 11, 2019 37
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
Tracking the roots of horse racing history
PRESENTED BY THE WOODHAVEN
CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY
One of the major contributing
factors to the early
development of Woodhaven
(and Ozone Park) was horse racing.
It begins in 1821 when the New York
State Legislature legalized racing
in Queens County. These “trials of
speed” were allowed between the
months of May and October and led
to the development of not just one,
but two major tracks.
The first track to be built was
the Union Course, a mile-long track
which was laid out the very same
year racing became legal. Union
Course became famous the next
year for the race between Eclipse
and Sir Henry.
The two horses, representing the
North and the South respectively,
ran a race that saw over $200,000
The second track to come to life
was originally called the Eclipse
Course, likely named after the
winner of that historic race a few
years earlier. Founded in 1825, this
course soon changed its name to the
The two tracks were very close to
one another, a short 20-minute walk
separated them and when all of the
famous horses traveled to New York
to race, they ended up running at
both tracks. But the Centreville
Course never came close to the
fame or popularity of its neighbor
to the west.
One reason for this was the fact
that Centreville was a bit more
This sketch of a $10,000 match race between trotters Prince and Hero at Centreville Course.
isolated than Union Course. There
was no immediate settlement and
no hotel (the famed Centreville
Hotel at what is now Rockaway and
Woodhaven Boulevards was not
built until 1853).
In contrast, there were hotels and
saloons all around the grounds of
the Union Course including some
famous ones owned by Hiram
Woodruff and John R. Snedicker.
More importantly, getting to the
Union Course racetrack was made
easy by the Long Island Rail Road,
which had a stop named after the
Photo and map courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society
track (at what is now 80th Street
and Atlantic Avenue).
There were no railroad stops at
the Centreville Course meaning that
not only did spectators have to walk
to the track (while probably lodging
right next to the Union Course), but
all horses and supplies also had to
be transported from the train to the
track a short distance away.
But the Centreville Course
experienced periods of prosperity
namely due to its willingness to try
different things. One popular form
of racing at Centreville was the
harness racing which brought out
spectators looking for something
Ask residents of today where
the old Centreville Course used to
be and you’re likely to get a lot of
wild guesses and blank stares. But
the truth is that it sat in a spot that
locals have passed a million times.
Looking at some of the earlier
maps of the area (so old that it
identifies Woodhaven, Ozone Park,
South Ozone Park and Richmond
Hill as still being part of John R.
Pitkin’s plan for a new city named
‘East New York’) reveals that the
Centreville Course sat at the
intersection of Connecticut Avenue
(now Woodhaven Boulevard) and
what is now Rockaway Boulevard.
To put it in modern perspective,
if you were on Cross Bay Boulevard,
just south of Rockaway, the outer
rim of the course would be right
behind Payless Shoes (formerly, the
OTB). The course ran eastward along
Rockaway, covering the ground
where John Adams High School sits,
all the way to Centreville Street.
The area where the track once
lived changed its name from
Woodville to Woodhaven in 1853
and that portion of Woodhaven later
became known as Ozone Park.
In the 1850s, all tracks found
themselves under scrutiny for
corruption as well the public
turning against various forms of
drinking, gambling and other vices
which were normally found near a
Although the Centreville Course
had enjoyed periods of prosperity,
these were far and few between and
it was not well-positioned to survive
this downturn in fortunes.
The land sat empty for the next
two decades, an eyesore. The
Centreville Hotel fared even worse;
it had fallen into disrepair and the
tenants were housing live pigs and
The residents of the area
complained and the Board of Health
shut down the hotel in 1895.
The land where the Centreville
Course sat was eventually sold to
the Ozone Park Land Improvement
Company in 1899 and they began
carving up the property into lots
and building homes. The Centreville
Course faded from memory and was
Today, apart from Centreville
Street, there’s nothing to indicate
that a popular racetrack once
This 19th century map of what was then called “East New York shows the
ovals of Union Course and Centreville Course.