Galesburg’s Rich Horse Racing History

Galesburg’s history has so much to do with the railroad, and a local historian says a sport that will be in the national spotlight next weekend was practiced in town, thanks in part to the railroad.

Historian Rex Cherrington says a year after the railroad came to town in the 1850’s, a horse racing track was formed, but it was small — in that only one horse was taken around the track for harness racing at a time.

Cherrington tells WGIL’s Galesburg Live the city’s founders might have found horse racing a little too risqué had it not been for a small amount of necessity.

“The way they came about this, was through the concept of an agricultural fair, and saying ‘how can you tell how well a horse trots unless you watch a horse trot?'” Cherrington said.  “‘And, how can you watch a horse trot a mile if it’s not on a track?  It’s either coming toward you or going away from you.  So you have to put it on a track.'”

Cherrington says that led to the younger generation of Galesburg residents at the time getting involved with horse racing, including William Gale, the son of George Washington Gale, being a horse racing promoter.

A second horse racing track was built in Galesburg near what became Lombard College. Cherrington says racing stopped for a time around the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, but eventually was built back up again.

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