This time of year we think of Saratoga as being the horse capital of the Northeast. For a short time in the late 1940s, Oneonta attempted to establish itself as a key equestrian center of New York state, enjoying moderate but short-lived success in the process.
“Taking a first step in a movement to establish Oneonta as a key horse show and racing center, members of two city committees yesterday authorized $7,500 for a horse show for August 13-15 at the new Webb Island center,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star of April 12, 1948. Catella Park now covers most of the former Webb Island, which was altered during the construction of Interstate 88 and the James F. Lettis Highway in the early 1970s.
The horse show was an enterprise of both the Oneonta Recreation Fair Association and Oneonta Horse Show committees. They retained the services of Joe Maguire of Williamstown, Mass., a prominent show manager, to direct the three days of activities in August. Proceeds from the show were planned to further develop Webb Island. The area was used for athletic practice in a variety of high school and college sports, but not much else at the time.
The First Annual Oneonta Horse Show opened on Friday, Aug. 13, 1948. Nearly 200 horses entered in the 73 classes of the 12 show divisions, according to the Star.
“The horses on hand include some of the most famous and outstanding performers in the show world and are from the Middle Atlantic States, New England, Middle West and the South. Early arrivals among the exhibitors have already mentioned that the Webb Island setting is among the finest they have seen.”
While Webb Island had a track, there was no racing during the weekend event. Activities took place inside the ring of the track. It wasn’t a show entirely brought in from outside our area. There was a pet pony division, one that enabled all horses owned and stabled within 50 miles of Oneonta to compete against each other without the obvious disadvantage of being in the same class with champion, professional show horses.
“City fire truck will be on the grounds throughout the entire show and three police officers will be on hand to direct the traffic,” the article read. “John Woodward has donated the services of an ambulance, which will be manned by members of the Junior Chamber of Commerce.”
“Concessions will be in the capable hands of Fred Cannistra and Billy Hughes, assuring the best, and Harry Scott, the Old Wrangler, will be on deck to help things roll smoothly for show manager Joe Maguire and Wesley Hoffman, general chairman.”
Area horse lovers were enthused about the show, as nearly 1,500 people showed on the first day.
“The darling of the night performance was Gail West, 11-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George West, who gave a brilliant exhibition on her five-gaited grand champion pony, Beloved Belinda. The blonde youngster won the hearts of the spectators with her riding ability and the pony was a thing of beauty as it went through the gaits.”
Despite the rain on Saturday, which hurt attendance that day and turned the grounds into a bit of a quagmire, conditions improved on Sunday.
Steve Shields, Star Sports Editor wrote, “The show, from the standpoint of horses and exhibitors, was a great success, and the men who did the work can be proud that they brought to this city the recognition and standing from the horse world. With a year to prepare for it, next summer’s show should be an improvement, if it can, over this first show.”
The 1949 show went on as planned, but whereas 200 horses competed in 1948, only 140 were in the second annual event. From an observation of newspaper coverage, it was far less than in 1948, with only a preview of the show on the sports page, no advertisements and no results on Monday. There was no mention of Joe Maguire, the show specialist.
The horse show apparently ended in 1949, as there were no indications of any show in July or August 1950.
This weekend: Abraham Van Horne was remembered by his village in 1928.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.