Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.
Osgood Mayhew, Bert Bradley, Frank Bodfish, Clyde Mayhew, and Carl Lair pose with their horses, Gano Wilkes, King Benton, Alert, Mable, and Coasterine at Girdlestone Park, Oak Bluffs, about 1909. This popular half-mile circular racetrack, cut out of the scrub oak by local farmer George Smith, was located off Barnes Road not far from the present-day roundabout. Remains of the foundations of the viewing stands can still be seen from the road between the two entrances to Deer Run. It was not saddle horse racing, but rather two-wheeled “sulky races” which drew both horse enthusiasts and gamblers to these popular events. Tourism ads in off-Island newspapers of the time boasted: “Lovers of the harness horse will see some very spirited racing during the season at Girdlestone Park at Martha’s Vineyard.” Girdlestone was only one of two popular Island racetracks, the other being “Whiting’s Farm Trotting Park” located near “Dead Man’s Curve” in West Tisbury, across State Road from the cemetery.
Cap’n George Fred Tilton recalled his days racing (and wagering) at Girdlestone during the winter of 1906-7 as part of a local driving club. “A bunch who were always racing for anything from a plug of tobacco to a sack of oats used to meet pretty regular…. We induced quite a number of men to bring horses from the Cape and New Bedford to race at this track, Girdlestone, and Whiting’s track at West Tisbury.… Fast horses were brought to the Island and faster horses were bought by the Vineyard boys, so that we made a pretty good showing every time we turned out.”