Syracuse Parks Centennial: The history of Kirk Park

Syracuse Herald, 1890

Kirk Park, located on the Southside of Syracuse, was originally known as Kirkwood Driving Park. Kirkwood Driving Park was the center of horse racing, home to one of the best known half-mile tracks in New York State.

According to an article from the Syracuse Herald in 1933, the Kirkwood Park Driving Association was formed by president William B. Kirk in 1829. Kirk and his committee members led the constructed of the high class half-mile dirt track northeast of Onondaga Creek, west of Kirk Avenue. Competitive horse racing began the next year.

The park contained a grandstand and stables, quickly became one of the most popular entertainment areas in Syracuse. The Onondaga County Fair was often held on its grounds along with circuses and local bicycle races. Along with the race track, the park contained a picnic area with a wooden platform for dancing.

The park peaked in the 1890s as the city’s population and interest in horse racing grew. Interest was accelerated by the fact that several prominent Syracuse residents, including Anson Alvord, owned and raced some of the fastest horses to ever come out of area.

Dumont, known as the fastest horse to ever race at Kirkwood Driving Park. The Post-Standard, 1901

Anson was the son of Earl Alvord, a successful businessman who sold coal, lime and cement on an extensive scale. Earl was also known as a pioneer in the manufacture of macadam pavement in Syracuse.

Anson was educated in the public schools and upon graduation engaged in business with his father and following his father’s death became successor. Anson carried on the family business, employing over 100 local residents and furthered family operations by entering the stone crushing business.

In 1908, William M. Beauchamp, a known ethnologist wrote that “While Anson’s commercial and industrial interests were extensive and rendered him a valued citizen in the business life of Syracuse, it was his social qualities, his kindliness, his geniality and his deference for the opinion of others that won him the unqualified regard of young and old, rich and poor.”

Anson lived at 1818 South Salina Street, less than a half-mile from Kirk Park. If you look at the back of his former property, you can see the stable where he housed his horses.

The end of the Kirkwood Driving Park came in July 1902, when a fire destroyed the grandstand and the last wagon load of lumber was driven out six months later.

In 1910, a deed was filed with the County Clerk, transferring ownership of the park to the city to be improved under the Syracuse Parks Commission.

Today, the park features a community center, playground, swimming pool, softball field, multi-purpose athletic field, tennis courts, basketball courts and an outdoor roller-skating area.