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Maxwelton Race Track
and Wellston, Missouri

Maxwelton Race Track
on the St. Charles Rock Road at Pennsylvania Avenue

was a St. Louis County, Missouri site for Horse Races,
Barney Oldfield and Howard de Palma Auto Races,
Wellston Kennel Club Greyhound Races, 
Gambling and "Dinty" Colbert of Willie Eagan's Rats Gang,
and a great abandoned landmark for young boys to explore in the 1940s.

Boys memories from Wellston, Missouri in the 1940s

This story is about a vanished landmark just 2 miles from the center of our universe in the 1940s. 

The community of Wellston, and our memories, reached far beyond the geographical limits of our city. Our town was just a small part of Metropolitan St. Louis, our adventures as youngsters growing up were expanded by our transportation; on foot, bicycles and that marvel of mass transit, "streetcars" or what some called trolleys.  Just a few of our families in the early 40s had cars, and gasoline was rationed.   So travel by foot, bikes and ten cent street car rides were the "prime" methods we used to explore the far reaches of our community.   (We were pre-teen and early teenage)

At the junction of Pennsylvania and St. Charles Rock Road on the SW section of land, there was a large square of open and overgrown land.  At the north end of the property was an abandoned grandstand of concrete. In the 1940s this was all that was left of the Maxwelton Race track.

My friend, Bill Reed and I, just had to visit the place. 
( I know others were there with us, as we rode bikes in packs of riders most of the time. Sorry, but the names of the others have faded from my memory in the last 65 years)


1907 View is South East     Click Photo to enlarge

We had heard the stands were where people used to stand to watch horse races and greyhound races.  When the races were shut down, We were also told ( usually in hushed whispers), that after the races were shut down, some of the Egan Gang had target practice there with pistols, shotguns and machine guns. Legend was they would shoot at tin cans, bottles and even the concrete stands. 

With a story like that;  Bill, and myself and others jumped on our bikes and rode the two miles out the Rock Road past the large cemeteries, past St Vincent's Asylum for the insane, which we thought was a pretty scary looking place...Dracula could have lived there, or probably Frankenstein, since cemeteries were so close. 
(photo of St. Vincent's Asylum here)

1953 View is NW  Grounds clear of underbrush
(Bill Voos '48 sent the four B&W
photos shown here)
Opposite Zion Cemetery at the Rock Road and Pennsylvania, we pulled into the deep weeds and overgrown bushes.  On a slight rise there it was. . .the  huge abandoned concrete grandstand.   No doubt, we felt we had made a pretty impressive discovery. We walked around looking for bullet holes, sadly, I do not remember finding any. Then we climbed to the top level for the view.  Nothing of interest.  No race track or even a clue of what might  have once been there.  South was just grass, weeds and volunteer trees, to the left was the open country like Pennsylvania Ave. and beyond that towards Wellston was more open fields and a new Cemetery called Laurel Hills..


1953 View is NW.  Arches and angles. The steps to the rear of the grandstand were unusual.

No great discoveries here at this place, and we left for the ride back.  We had walked where gangsters walked and survived, and left with a feeling of excitement.
 I recently wrote some of my old classmates, and they had memories of the old abandoned grandstands also.  I asked them to share their stories for this  project.   Below is "EDITED" portions of what they wrote.

From Bill Voos,  Class of 1948:  
Bob ....... I remember it well. One of my aunts lived just a short way east of Pennsylvania and south of St. Charles Rock Road and I used to ride my bicycle out there frequently to play with my cousins. I rode over to Maxwellton several times to look around. I heard the same stories about the Egan Gang, etc. We drove by there a lot, too, because I had other relatives who lived farther out off of the "Rock Road".


1953 St.Vincent's is
visible in the distance
in this view to the NE

From Bill Cary, Class of 1947 :
Hi Bob.........Yes Ray and I use to ride our bikes to the Maxwelton track area and have camp outs. All was fine until mom found out and banned me from going.  When she was a girl she lived in St. Johns and when she and her brother would ride their horses to Wellston on Saturdays they would gallop the horses when they got to the race track area as they didn't want the Egan gang to see them.

NEW 03/30/2007  From Bill Voos,  Class of 1948:  
Bob ....... These photographs show the Maxwelton grandstand on a warmer-than-average January day in 1953 after heavy equipment had been used to clear trees and brush and to grade the area, evidently in preparation to tear the structure down. My then girlfriend, (now wife), Louise, and I were driving by on Pennsylvania on the way to visit some of my relatives when we saw the Maxwelton superstructure, which had been largely obscured by foliage and undergrowth in the past. We drove in on a construction road to get a closer look at it before it was destroyed. This was the only clear view I ever had of the place close-up. 


1953 January.  Louise
(Bill Voos '48 sent the four B&W
photos shown here)

Below is a little of what I could find on the Maxwelton Race Track
Visit the linked photos or news articles for details
.



Click Photo to enlarge

The Track was open before 1907, per Post Card collectors.  The card shown was first published in 1907, and printed through 1917.  This card shown was post marked 1910.  [I have not found data confirming  opening date, or the owners of the track]

1917 - September 2  NEWS  "St. Louis, Mo., September 1, "Pockicho, well ridden by Eddie Taplin, won the forth race, a six-furlong handicap at Maxwelton park to-day. It was a good day for form players." 
The Syracuse Herald Sep 2, 1917  
Note additional  information: News article Aug 23, 1936 in the Los Angeles Times. "Old Eddie Taplin rode in 9000 races, and on this day he was given a standing ovation as he won it."  He retired as a jockey that day.   Los Angeles Times Aug 23, 1936


Click Photo to enlarge



Click Photo to enlarge
 


Click Photo to enlarge

Automobile races. . .There was a time in America when a traffic cop would flip on his bubble-gum lights, pull you over, saunter up to your window and ask, "Who do you think you are, Barney Oldfield?''

Golden Submarine and Barney Oldfield at Maxwelton July, 1917
Excerpt: " Oldfield drove the car to it's records in July, 1917, on the Maxwelton tract in St. Louis. He covered the mile in 45 seconds flat, which is merely 80 miles an hour and the 50 miles in 40:17,60, only 73.57 miles an hour. This may not seem fast to the fans who have watched the averages climb, but it is faster by far than any driver has ever been able to drive on a dirt track."   Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette Story dated Thursday Morning, May 1, 1919

1917 -- August 11  NEWS Barney Oldfield lowered two world's automobile records for a dirt track in three sanctioned events against Ralph de Palma at the Maxwelton race trace today. Full story here:
The Washington Post , Aug 12,1917



 

 

1917 Record  1918 NEWS article about Barney Oldfield's record runs in 1917 at Maxwelton. "Barney Oldfield will drive his famous "Golden Submarine" with which he broke all records for five, ten, twentyfive, and fifty miles on a dirt track at Maxwelton track, near St Louis, a year ago."
read full article  Ada Evening News, Ada, Oklahoma

For more photos of Barney Oldfield and his Golden Submarine visit this site. It is a great site for race fans. http://www.rumbledrome.com/barneyracer.html


Click Photo to enlarge

Greyhound races...  and the end of Maxwelton Racing

1927 - August  31  NEWS Large advertisement Wellston Kennel Club
"Greyhound Racing"    "Open every night except Sunday"
Edwardsville Intelligencer, Aug 31, 1927

1927 - October 27, NEWS "Court Order Sought To Stop Dog Races"
The suit was directed against Wellston Kennel club and three other Missouri greyhound kennel clubs.  The Washington Post  Oct 27, 1927

1932 - May 11, NEWS  "Dog Track Fight in St. Louis County"  Injunction granted restraining law enforcement from interference with the Wellston Kennel Club on St. Charles Road west of Wellston.
Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 11, 1932

1932 - May 19  NEWS Wellston Kennel Club opens tonight. Ten racing events on the program.   An injunction was issued to prevent interference from authorities.  Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 19, 1932


Click Photo to enlarge
Guns and Rats

 "Over a two-year period, the death toll in the Eganís Rats / Hogan Gang War reached 23. "

Reports of the last of the Eagan Gang using the site: crimelibrary.com
The link for the site and others is below.
  

"During the trigger-happy forays that were occurring, several businesses had their windows shot out and once a young boy was hit by an automobile driven by fleeing gunmen.  Public anger, caused by the mob shootings, forced police into action and "Dinty" Colbeck moved the gangís headquarters outside of the city to St. Louis County. The gang converted an eleven-room house into the Maxwelton Club, and took over an abandoned Horse and Motorcycle racetrack near St. Charles Rock Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. Here the Rats raced around the track taking target practice on tin cans and whiskey bottles, which terrorized the locals. "   
http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/family_epics/louis/3.html
http://www.americanmafia.com/Cities/St_Louis.html
  1958 - The Maxwelton grandstand was razed in 1958.  Today the land is the western addition to Laurel Hills Cemetery. 


Click Photo to enlarge

Most of St. Vincent's large estate is a now a nice St. Louis County Park.

The beautiful castle-like buildings and grounds are a home for the low income elderly.

This was all about the memories of several young boys adventures in a small part of St.Louis County, Missouri in the 1940s.  It seems some of the stories we heard about Maxwelton Race track were true! 

We had our bicycles, exercise, fresh air and fun!  Didn't everyone? 

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