Baltimore City

The use of horses principally fell into two categories—their horsepower was needed for work, and for war; or for enjoyment in all types of sporting events, mostly racing.

Horses pulled fire engines, and one named Goliath, a giant Percheron, was celebrated as the “hero” of the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Baltimore started its Mounted Police Unit in 1888, considered the oldest in the country. Arabbers, who are street vendors selling fruit and vegetables and other kinds of household items from horse-drawn vehicles, started a unique Baltimore tradition during the Civil War era.

Horses also served important roles during times of war. Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count who organized the Continental Army Cavalry. He recruited many of his troops in Maryland and came to be known as the “Father of the American Cavalry.” He is remembered with a granite and brick statue in Patterson Park. Henry Thompson, who built Clifton Mansion, started the Baltimore Light Dragoons in 1809 and in 1813 formed the First Baltimore Horse Artillery.

Horse racing also came to the City through the influence of the prominent citizens such as Henry Thompson and the Ridgely family at Hampton. The Ridgelys were members of the Baltimore Jockey Club, founded in 1806. Races were staged at various tracks throughout the city, at “Potter’s Course” in Canton, Locust Point, Herring Run, Lexington Market and Pine Street, “The Central, ” the racecourse of the Maryland Jockey Club on Old Frederick Road and at the Baltimore Jockey Club’s track Govane’s Town (Govans on York Road). It was reported that it was at the races in Baltimore, that Marylander Betsy Patterson first met Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother, whom she later married. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson, who was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club and kept a stable of racehorses at the White House, raced his horses in Baltimore and Washington.

At the time, horse racing was the nation’s number one sport and Baltimore was the country’s second largest city. An article in the Baltimore Sun in 1861, reported that the nationally famous trotting mare, Flora Temple, owned by Baltimorean Gen. William McDonald appeared on the stage of the Holliday Street Theater.

Then the Civil War intervened and it was not until 1870 that Pimlico Race Course was founded. The Preakness Stakes first ran in 1873. Since then, the finest racehorses in North America have competed there including Man o’War, the famed Seabiscuit-War Admiral Match Race of 1938, and Secretariat. In 1877 Congress adjourned to travel to Pimlico to watch a 3-horse interregional match race between Ten Broeck, the Best of the West: Tom Ochiltree, the East Coast champion; and Parole, America’s top 2 Year-old. Parole won by 4 lengths.