Downtown 1958

Downtown 1958

Monday, June 29, 2015

Doty Island Driving Park

As early as 1868, there had been talk of a developing a horse track and/or fairgrounds on Doty Island.  Later that year, 60 acres were purchased at the east end of "The Avenue," as Nicolet Boulevard was known then, but on the Neenah side. 

As reported in Memories of Doty Island (1999):

   Raising money to purchase the necessary land was difficult and things did not move along as rapidly as expected. A group of men had pledged $15,000, but it was not enough. In June of 1879, 20 acres of Moore's 60 acre tract on the lake shore was bought by the stockholders of "The Doty Island Park Assn." The officers at this time were: President - C. S. Felton; Vice- President - F. C. Shattuck; Treasurer - A. H. F. Krueger; Secretary - G. W. Dodge. Now both cities were represented.
   Finally, it was announced that the park was completed and would be open to the public on Sunday, August 23, 1879. Season tickets $5; carriage and two persons 25¢ and for each additional person 10c; children under 12 free. The track officially opened September 6, and most of the racing entries were local. On September 13 the Menasha Saturday Evening Press announced: "The opening of the Doty Island Driving Park took place on Saturday last. The weather was pleasant and a large crowd in attendance. Several turf-men present gave their opinion that the track was the best half-mile course in this part of the state."
    Regular sulky races began in October and were held on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The price of admission was 25c, and the first race had a purse of $225. Soon the races became an accepted part of the community, and for several years harness racing was a part of the 4th of July celebrations.

   A grandstand was built in front of a twelve-stall stable, and a huge barn in the Gothic style was also erected. Enthusiastic horse owners brought their sulkies and pure-bred horses from a considerable distance to have them race for the fairly substantial prize. It was said that the money won by betting was often larger than the prize.
   The attendance by the general citizenry was not as great as had been anticipated. Rumors of large betting and a brothel nearby to accept cash from the winners or to console the losers kept many of the church-going ladies and their husbands away. Constant changes of owners and officers were not conducive to establishing interest.
   By 1889 no races were being held on the Fourth, only in the Fall. By that time S. A. Cook was the owner but he was hoping to sell it to the Chautauqua Assembly. Finally, horse races were discontinued entirely, and the area became, in succession, a campground, a picnic grounds, a bike racing track, a baseball field, and a park. Families came by the wagonload for their outings.
   Eventually the prime location was sought for residential lots, and the Smiths bought part of the land. The Smith home was built in 1917, long after the last horse ran, but their driveway followed the curve of the track. Soon the entire area became a development of lovely homes and of the Congregational United Church of Christ.


  1. Gretat anecdote on Doty island. Our relatives never mentioned the history on several visits to Menasha.


  2. The original (1868) organization name was "Menasha Driving Park Association." Many old Menasha names were stockholders. I will send it on an email. Feel free to post it if you want.

    Don Nussbaum