Dear Mr. Perry,
My mother used to tell me there was a race track built back in the day where the Riverview Forest is now. There was also a swimming hole where my dad used to swim. Mom and Dad have passed but I always wondered,“ Could they be imagining this”?
– Emma T.
No your folks were not imagining this! In the early 1900s, a syndicate calling themselves, “Speedway Country Club,” was formed with the intention of constructing a large elaborate, athletic field for Detroit, to include an 18-hole golf course, a rifle range with trap shooting, fields for polo, baseball, tennis, motorcycle races, and an aviation field.
One of the more important features was a 2-1/2- mile motor car speedway likened to the Indianapolis track in Indiana. Also included in the plans were a magnificent clubhouse which would include a café of the highest order together with sleeping apartments, with bathrooms and for a large number of members, a swimming pool, bowling alleys, all the facilities for indoor sports of every nature and open the year around.
Grandstands were to be erected with a capacity for 300,000 people for International automobile races. The requirement for the ground was that it had to be high above the river and can be easily drained. Also had to be clay based to make for a solid bottom for a heavy track.
The syndicate purchased several tracks of land from 15 landowners, but the largest tracks from a James H. Vreeland and Reid and Smith of Detroit. The location was between Trenton and Wyandotte, situated between Mud Street (later known as Sibley Road) and King Road.
On March 12th, 1915, men from the J.A. McCarthy Co. of Indianapolis, Ind. began to arrive to build the Speedway. They began making arrangements with the local livery man for horses, mules, and wagons and etc.
A formal ground-breaking ceremony took place on Thursday April 8, 1915 at the Mud Road entrance. A large gathering of men with top hats, including the mayors of Wyandotte and Trenton and the President of the Detroit Motor Speedway Club, Judge John B Whelan, and many others were on hand.
The track was to be a 2.72-mile oval, made of concrete, with elevated turns so they could be taken at 90 miles-an-hour, making it the fastest track in the world.
There would be parking to accommodate 10,000 cars and have entrances, at the north end (Mud street) one at the south end of the track King Road, which was to be the main entrance with a 100-foot wide concrete walk.
The track was to be complete and ready for racing by September of 1915, an ambitious undertaking. The plan was to work night and day, so there was a large tent with many bunks for the workers to sleep. There was also a blacksmith shop, two dining halls with a cook house in the center that fed upwards of 100 men daily and could feed up to 400 men.
By the end of July, a serious turn of events popped up when it was reported in a Detroit paper, “It seems to be that stock in the speedway was not selling as fast as the promoter had expected” and the money that had been taken in was expended.
A reporter for the local paper stated that “only a few men and teams were at work. No concrete work had been done and carpenters were putting up high board fences around the property. The advertisement of work on the gigantic grandstand are a myth. The Idea that “a 500-mile race will be held on Labor Day this year is preposterous.”
By December 1915, the newspapers were reporting “Speedway in bad way” and by 1916, the Speedway Motor Race Club was bankrupt.
The last mention of the speedway was reported by one local paper that in August of 1916 a boy had drowned while bathing in one of the subways partially filled with water.
For years up to the 1950s, the speedway’s water filled subways were used to pasture the Vreeland cows and by the local kids as a swimming hole.
Probably the ones your folks talked about.
Thanks for writing.