Quintessential Barrington

The Village Equestrians: A Barn in the Backyard


story by Barbara L. Benson



Even before the Barrington countryside had become home to recreational riders and serious equestrians, the Village had seen some equine activity that went beyond the necessary role of horses in commerce and transportation. Arnett C. Lines in his “Do You Remember When?” vignettes included in his “History of Barrington” recalls a time when riding on village streets was not uncommon, and there was excitement at the track!

The photograph of Bernice Hawley and two companions on horseback was taken in the early 20th century on Ela Street across from St. Anne Church. But Arnett Lines asked his readers if they remembered “When the Hawleys were often seen about town driving a sulky, exercising a fine horse.”

Another entry note asks if readers remember when “Frequently a man was seen in the center of the street with a horse at the end of a long rope trotting in a circle about him for exercise.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of these “Do You Remember When?” entries for us today is this: “When Hawleys had a race track midway of Dundee Avenue and Hough Street, and Hillside to Monument Avenue. The present Lill Street would have bisected it. Hawleys kept fine horses, and many a day of fun was enjoyed looking over the rail at races such as Leroy Powers black racing other local favorites.”

This was followed up by noting that the Hawley Brothers had refused $10,000 for race horse Boaz, as reported by the Review on January 4, 1890.

But, as the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper reported on March 30, 1894, more ambitious equine activities were being planned for Barrington. “An enterprise that has been talked about for over a year is now about to result in the construction of the fastest trotting track in the world. In terms of financial backing, natural advantages of location, and management, they claim it will be the Mecca of turfmen of every country. Some of the best-known horsemen in the country, whose combined fortunes cannot be estimated in less than eight figures are said to be actively connected with the new venture.”

The article indicated that 125 acres of choice meadow had been purchased for $12,500 and that the tract of land was a natural amphitheater in the center of which is a marshy flat.

“The drainage for years from the surrounding hills has left a rich deposit over the surface, so that the course which will be laid out on the flat will run entirely over a bed of peat. This one feature it is said, will give the track an advantage over any other track in existence.” The newspaper said the plan provided “for the expenditure of $150,000 in constructing a track, clubhouse, grandstand, and stables.”

Today, we know this as Baker’s Lake Nature Preserve. The story came to light during Barrington’s Centennial in 1963. The names of the investors were not known and this grand plan to bring equine fame to Barrington became a history mystery. And, instead of horses trotting, we have birds nesting. Either way, Baker’s Lake is a jewel in Barrington’s open space crown.

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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.