News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 9, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: At the Four-Cornered track in 1895

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — During the first week of October 1895, metropolitan newspapers and harness racing periodicals from coast-to-coast gathered at Terre Haute’s Four-Cornered track at Brown and Wabash avenues.

Robert J. Boylan of the Chicago Inter-Ocean, a major daily newspaper in the Windy City, was among them.

Though Boylan was only 23 years old, he was no ordinary journalist. He had a sense of history.

Among other things, he reported that “every well-regulated household (in Terre Haute) has a picture of Axtell hanging on the wall and the great horse is one of the attractions of the town.

“I rode out to Mr. [William Putnam] Ijams’ stock farm, Warren Park, last week to see the horse which created such a sensation by trotting a mile as a 3-year old in 2:12 and later became the talk of the country when he was sold for $105,000.”

It was the largest sum ever paid for a horse of any age, breed, sex or gait.

Axtell was injured soon after he established the world record for stallions at the Four-Cornered Track in 1889 and was not in harness during 1895. Boylan reported that Axtell was “leading a life of near luxury.”

He pointed out that a man was assigned to wait on the horse‘s every need. “Altogether,” Boylan wrote, “his life was a dream of pleasure.”

Three of the four members of the syndicate that acquired Axtell were at Warren Park that morning: Ijams, Col. John W. Conley of Chicago and Fred T. Moran of Detroit. The fourth member of Alfred E. Brush of Grosse Pointe, Mich.  

Boylan took advantage of the opportunity to have them explain the transaction that brought the the great horse, originally owned by Charles W. Williams of Independence, Iowa, to Warren Park. Ijams did most of the talking:

“It was at a little dinner party at the Terre Haute House that Mr. Brush asked me to make Mr. Williams an offer of $100,000 for Axtell. I called the party to order and said, ‘Mr. Williams, I am authorized by a gentleman at this table to make you an offer of $100,000 for Axtell. Will you accept it?’

“Mr. Williams answered as cool as a cucumber, ‘That is something I would have to consult my wife about.’

“The subject was dropped. When we went out from the dinner table, Andy Welch and John Madden, who heard about the offer, approached Williams with an offer of $101,000. Col. Conley heard this and said to Williams, ‘I will give you $105,000 for him.’

“This offer was accepted and the colonel came to me and said, ‘I’ve got him!’

“Well, I answered, ‘that’s alright but how are you going to pay for him?’ Previous to this, there was no thought of forming a syndicate to buy the horse but Mr. Brush said he would take a quarter, Mr. Moran said he would take another quarter and the colonel and I each agreed to take a quarter apiece. Thus, we formed on the spur of the moment  the syndicate that has since owned the horse.

“There was not a man at the party that had any money but we found that Budd Doble [America’s greatest driver-trainer] had $1,000 in his pocket and we got him to make a payment on the horse to bind the bargain.

“The next week,” Ijams recalled, “I gave Mr. Williams a draft for $54,000 and our note for $50,000, payable on or before the expiration of one year, with six percent interest.  At the end of the year Mr. Williams received $53,000, so we really paid $108,000 for Axtell.”

Doble came from California to Warren Park each April between 1890 and 1895 to train horses.

Boylan noted that Axtell earned $173,000 in stud fees during the first four years the Warren Park syndicate owned him, making his purchase a shrewd investment.

“It is a significant fact,” Boylan noted, “that the Terre Haute Association, one of the foremost in America with more world records to its credit than any other, has decided to abandon the giving of stakes …”

On Aug. 15, 1894, the Terre Haute Futurity was the most lucrative harness race in U.S. history. Indeed, during the six-day August 1894 meeting, the Terre Haute Trotting Association paid out purses totaling a record $91,000.

Though the nation was still recovering from the Financial Panic of 1893, the Terre Haute Futurity headlined what was referred to as “the most prosperous season in the history of harness racing.”

The notoriety of the track was well-established worldwide after Nancy Hanks and Mascot broke world records in 2:04 on successive days in September 1892.


On July 21, 2012, while weekly installments about the 1947 Terre Haute Phillies were being published here, Wally Jakowczyk — that team’s leading hitter — died at Logan Memorial Hospital in Russellville, Ky. He was 88 years old.

The son of Walter and Martha Jakowczyk, Wally was born Dec. 12, 1923 in Flint, Mich. Nearly 70 years after graduating from St. Mary High School in Flint, he still is  recognized as the best athlete the school ever produced, earning four letters in football and basketball and two in baseball.

With 9.9 seconds 100-yard dash speed, Wally led St. Mary to an undefeated football season and became the first parochial school athlete to be named to an all-Michigan backfield. Then he steered his school to the state finals in basketball.

Though St. Mary dropped baseball during World War II, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Wally to a pro contract. While playing for Utica of the Class A Eastern League in 1946, he was named to the All-Star team. He played for Terre Haute of the Three-I League in 1947, hitting .333 and 14 home runs, and returned in 1948 but was injured.

One of the most popular players ever to don a Terre Haute uniform, Wally wed Barbara Joan Brown of Terre Haute on Jan. 6, 1951, the couple settled here permanently in 1958 to raise two children, Jack and Elaine (Grohovsky). Wally was a foreman at Anaconda Aluminum (later Alcan). Barbara died Oct. 27, 1995.

Wally is survived by his daughter Elaine of Russellville,her husband, Gary Grohovsky, and their children; son Jack, daughter-in-law Patti and their children, Ryan and Eric, all of Terre Haute; two sisters and one brother.