Timonium: The Racecourse Before the Racetrack

On March 19, 2023 please join us for our Speaker Series featuring the History of the Fairgrounds. More info here: https://hsobc.org/event/history-of-the-fairgrounds/

By  Ann Royston Blouse, Andy Clemens, Ilka Knuppel

Thoroughbred racing has a long history in Maryland—the first jockey club in the  colonies was  founded in Annapolis in 1743, making Maryland the first colony to organize the sport. The Baltimore Jockey Club was organized in 1806, counting the Ridgely family among its founders. There were small tracks throughout the city and county—including one at Govane’s Town (Govans) organized by the Baltimore Jockey Club and The Central on Old Frederick Road owned by the Maryland Jockey Club. Paul Belz describes the Central Racecourse as “Baltimore’s first nationally prominent thoroughbred racing facility. From 1831 to 1861, Central was in the top tier of  the nation’s prestigious racecourses.” It was built on the grounds of the Arlington estate in the area of what is now Woodlawn.     

One of the lesser-known and shorter-lived venues was a race course at Timonium, built on the grounds of the house known as Timonium Mansion, originally Belle Field, (BA-71). The house was built in the early 1780s, probably by Archibald Buchanan, son of Dr. George Buchanan, a wealthy Scottish physician, and prominent Baltimorean. 

The estate passed out of Buchanan family ownership in 1831 when it was sold to Amon Bosley, a farmer and lime manufacturer who owned large tracts of land in Baltimore County.

When the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad reached Timonium in 1832, Bosley turned the house into a resort hotel and, with the backing of James Garrison Esq. of Virginia, added a one-mile race course that opened in 1833.

Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser June 23, 1834
Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser June 23, 1834

The Baltimore Patriot and Mercantile Advertiser breathlessly and with the hyperbole typical of newspapers of the day announced that the races at Timonium would commence on October 22, “and from present appearances is fair to offer every inducement to the admirers of this animating and manly sport.” The article continues at some length, describing its accommodations—a 2,000-seat pavilion for ladies as well as stands for gentlemen, and stables for 60 horses. This excerpt does not do justice to the excessive description of Garrison, the hoped-for attendees, the grounds, and the “manly sport.” Were reporters paid by the word?

Advertisements for the races appeared regularly in local newspapers and as far afield as Easton throughout 1834. The Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad timed its departures around the racing schedule, stating “Every possible arrangement has been made to insure safe and expeditious, as well as frequent means of reaching and returning from the Race ground.” Race purses included: cash ($1,000); a complete chased silver tea service (one coffee pot, two tea pots, one slop bowl, one sugar dish and sugar tongs, one cream pot, two pitchers and two goblets); and, for at least one race in 1833, 1,000 bushels of wheat (the price of a bushel of wheat in 1830 was $1.32).

Excerpt from “The American Turf Register and Sports Magazine” which was published monthly in Baltimore from 1829-1844, showing a Gilmor entry in the Timonium races in 1834.

One well-known resident who regularly entered his horses in these races was Robert Gilmor III who built Glen Ellen (BA-411). This Robert was known as Robert Gilmor Jr. after his grandfather Robert Sr. died (to further confound the future researcher). Gilmor was born on May 31, 1808, and grew up at his father William’s estate, The Vineyard, which was located near 29th Street and Greenmount in what is now the Waverly neighborhood. He had a passion for horses and  equestrian sports which was predictable for his socioeconomic status. Reportedly, he had one and  possibly two race tracks at his Dulaney Valley estate.

Due to ill health, Amon Bosley tried to sell, or lease, the property, first advertising in January 1834. There were no takers, and racing continued until 1835 when the track was demolished by the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad as it was built northward to Texas and Cockeysville.

Racing returned to Timonium in 1879 when the Baltimore County Agricultural Society leased, with an option to buy, 37 acres from Dr. Grafton Bosley (Amon’s son) to be used as the site or their fair. One of the first facilities built was a one-half-mile driving track (meaning it was for harness racing). The Maryland Journal of August 30, 1879, described the track as “[in] admirable condition to make a ‘speedy course.’” There was a grandstand seating for 1400 people. The first race was held at the fair in September 1879. A person who attended the races between 1904-06 remembered that acrobats performed in the midfield between races. Thoroughbred racing continues to be an integral part of the Maryland State Fair held every August/September at the Timonium Fairgrounds.



Maryland Historic Trust Inventory of Historic Properties BA-71
Timonium, site, (Belle Field, Bellefields)  https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/BaltimoreCounty/BA-71.pdf

Central Racecourse  Baltimore’s First Great Thoroughbred Track 
By Paul H. Belz       http://www.paulbelzwriting.com/central-racecourse.html

Maryland Horse Collection https://www.visitmaryland.org/baltimore-city-horse-collection

Gunnarsson, Robert L. The Story of the Northern Central Railway, Greenberg Publishing  Co, Sykesville, Md, 1991

Articles retrieved from Genealogybank.com January 2023, in HSBC topic file “Timonium Racecourse”

HSBC topic files Glen Ellen; Timonium Mansion;” Timonium Mansion Title Search; Maryland State Fair: History; Maryland State Fair: Horse Racing.


On March 19, 2023, join us for our Speaker Series: 

History of the Fairgrounds at the Maryland State Fair Museum