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Cherry Park, Canton, CT

Cherry Park Speedway

CT-177, Avon, CT

Built as a horse track in 1882

1/2 mile dirt oval (1933 � 6/16/1935) (5/30/1939 � 7/23/1939)

1/5 mile dirt oval (7/28/1946)

1/5 mile paved oval (8/11/1946 � 1951) (1954) Torn down in 1959

Annual agricultural fair in Avon, Conn., held for 1 week in September from 1883-1910. Run by Farmington Valley Agricultural Corporation. Property sold in 1911 which later became speedway for autos; developed into residential area in 1960's when grandstand was torn down.

An Afternoon of Boating, Ballooning & Horse Racing in Canton

Remembering Cherry Park 1883-1911

From the early 1880s to 1911, the area between Lovely Street and Secret Lake was an unparalleled hub of entertainment. Straddling the Canton-Avon town lines, Cherry Park and Cherry Pond attracted thousands of visitors from Canton, surrounding towns and many others who came by train to witness whatever was the greatest, the ultimate, the biggest thing going, for the times.

If you consider Cherry Park as a predecessor of the Big E, the broad reach of its influence as a destination site will come into focus. Canton schools would close for at least one of the two days during the late September fair at the Park. At the heyday of the fair, 8,000 to 10,000 people were attending.

The 140 acres of Cherry Park were managed by the Farmington Valley Agricultural Corporation; many of whose members were from Canton and Collinsville. The Park offered everything from: a renown agricultural fair and farmers' market; balloon rides and demonstrations by the pioneers of these aeronautical transports; bike and horse racing; band concerts, boating and fireworks.

For a dime, Connecticut Western train passengers could catch a shuttle from the Cherry Park crossing stop, at Canton Springs Road, to the site. In the 1870s and 1880s, one of the most popular attractions at Cherry Park was the so-called balloon ascension. The acknowledged father of Connecticut ballooning, pioneer Silas Markham Brooks made a reported five balloon ascensions from Cherry Park. As a matter of fact, it was at Cherry Park that Brooks, a supposed prot�g�e of P.T. Barnum, made an historic balloon ride from Canton to Hubbardston, Massachusetts.

A wicker balloon basket, that carried Brooks on some of his ascensions at Cherry Park, was loaned to the Canton Historical Museum for a time and then sent for permanent exhibition to the New England Air Museum. The other star attraction at Cherry Park was racing.

A July 1883 notice in the Winsted Herald described the 1,000 attendees which had come to watch the horses run. The story mentioned that Dr. Flint and H.S. Gillette of Collinsville served as race judges and that Collinsville native and FVAC secretary, E.A. Hough�s horse Major had won a second place showing. Given the times, there was no gambling permitted on the Park grounds, nor was liquor served. However, one was able to purchase a bottle of cola or sarsaparilla for 5 cents.

A grand stand was built in the late 1890�s and by 1901, the winner�s purse was up to $200. Admission to the Park was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. In 1909, Cherry Park�s half-mile track was so well regarded that it made the listing for the Hartford Country Circuit for Great Stakes Races. The top purse had also increased to $500. By 1911, the Park was considered a premier race track by the Hartford Courant. 1911 was a pivotal year for Cherry Park. A lawsuit was filed after an accident at the track.

The payment for damages, due to the accident, ultimately forced the Cherry Park that so many were familiar with, to close its gates. For a while there, though, Canton did rein supreme as one of the coolest 19th and early 20th century towns.

Post Script: Over the next 50 years, there were still good times to come at Cherry Park. For example, Canton Historical Museum curator Kathleen Woolam remembers taking her first airplane ride, as a young teenager, on the grounds of the Park, courtesy of the Fiske Ventres family who owned the land at the time. Stock car racing also became a new attraction.

But, by 1928, the trains had stopped coming and in 1961 the grandstands were taken down to clear the land for housing developments.

CREDITS: Local Historian, Mary Ellen Cosker who has lived in town her entire life and from whom all manner of Canton history, folk lore and knowledge flows.

The original impulse to start searching for this park is credit to Kristen Berggren.

..... My mother also remembers a small amusement park at nearby Cherry Hill Park on Lovely St. near the Avon town line. She said there was a carousel, bumper cars and several other rides, but none of my other relatives remember it, and I have been unable to find any information (this would have been in the mid-late 1960�s, when Myrtle Mills was still in operation).....