RICHMOND – The Fourth of July offered so much in the way of entertainment in 19th-century Hopkinton and Richmond, residents always had big decisions to make. Local groves were prepared to be illuminated by Japanese lanterns, gallons of ice cream were churned, bushels of clams dug and the local bands fine-tuned their instruments to provide the background music for it all.
For horse lovers however, there was only one place to be on July 4, 1882: the Wyoming Trotting Park in Richmond. This property later became Meadowbrook Estates.
Constructed by 40-year-old Clark Lillibridge the previous year, the racetrack and trotting ground was capable of seating 1,000 spectators. Admission for the day’s festivities, billed as a “Grand Celebration”, was 30 cents for adults and 15 cents for those under the age of twelve.
Full of patriotism, the owners of the Wood River Branch Railroad announced they were reducing their round-trip fare that day for those having to travel from Wood River Junction to the Hope Valley depot. Once off the train, the spectators would secure transportation to the trotting park.
Seven hundred tickets to the event were sold. The gates opened at 8:00 a.m. and the races began two hours later. There was much to do before and after the excitement. The Kingston Brass Band entertained the crowd and there were plenty of snacks and refreshments to be had.
The first race of the day, only for horses which had never run a race before, would reward the winners with $15 for first place, $10 for second and $5 for third.
The competitors included a bay mare named “Gipsey”, owned by J.P. Rogers; bay gelding “Robbie Sheldon”, owned by John I. Henry, a livery stable owner and horse trader; bay gelding “Tige”, owned by 46-year-old Hopkinton cotton mill superintendent Henry Phillips; chestnut stallion “Valley Boy” owned by 48-year-old George Hamilton Nichols, another cotton mill superintendent from Hopkinton; bay gelding “Billy Platter”, owned by W.H. Randall; and bay stallion “William H.”, owned by William Bennett Langworthy, a 36-year-old horse trainer from Hope Valley.
“Robbie Sheldon” won the first race, followed by “Gipsey”.
The second race, for horses that had never trotted better than three minutes, offered $25 for first place, $15 for second and $10 for third.
Rogers entered “Robbie Sheldon” in this race along with his bay stallion “Westerly”. They competed against S.A. Gardiner’s bay filly “Claud Merlin”, Amos Palmer’s brown gelding “Wild Dick”, Abial Browning’s bay stallion “Abdelia Star” and another horse of Henry Phillips, a brown stallion called “Thomas Rayland”.
“Robbie Sheldon” took the race again, with “Abdelia Star” coming in second and Roger’s horse “Westerly” finishing third.
The third and final horse race of the day awarded $30 to the first-place winner, $20 to the second and $10 to the third. It was open to all horses.
Rogers set up “Robbie Sheldon” to race yet again, along with his bay gelding “Bay Prince”. Also running was 39-year-old Providence farm manager John Henry Cranston’s bay gelding “W.H. Allen”, and a bay gelding named “Lazy Bill”, which was owned by 28-year-old Westerly blacksmith Leander Chapman.
After the amazing “Robbie Sheldon” charged passed the finish line yet again, “Lazy Bill” came in second. The obvious winning horseman of the day, John Henry, watched “Bay Prince” take third place.
The Wyoming Good Lucks and the Carolina Nine played a game of baseball with the Carolina team taking home the silver cup. And a five-mile footrace took place with its only two entries; 22-year-old Exeter cotton mill worker George Abby, and 23-year-old Walter Woodmansee who was boarding with Clark Lillibridge’s family and helping out on their farm. George won three dollars for coming in first, while Walter, who trailed not too far behind, was awarded two dollars.
While intoxicating liquors were strictly prohibited on the trotting ground property, everyone enjoyed the large clambake dinner that was served at noon. Win or lose, there was still something to celebrate for everyone in those carefree days of lighted groves, deep pits of smoldering clams, and freshly churned ice cream. It was the Fourth of July and they were Americans – that was more than enough to be joyous about.