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Monroe Speedway (1933)

Welcome back, Monroe history lovers. This week’s history takes us to the Monroe Center District, specifically to the land where St. John’s and B'nai Israel cemeteries are located at 500 and 472 Moose Hill Road. In the 19th century this was farmland owned by Charles B. Clarke and family. Their fine home with a tower still stands today at 521 Moose Hill Road and was once adorned with a full Victorian veranda. In the early 20th century, the home and farmland were purchased by Ambrose S. Hurd and was formally named HURDSDEN. This home is included in David Merrill’s historic mural in the lower level of the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library. Be sure to make the time and have a look the next time you’re there.

Like so many of Monroe’s residents from his era, Ambrose was an industrious farmer, known locally for his prize-winning herd of registered Guernsey cattle and his association with Harmony Grange. In 1929, an unexpected tragedy befell the Hurd family when Ambrose was kicked by a farm animal and died shortly thereafter from his injury. With Ambrose’s untimely passing at 57 years old, his widow, Florence, temporarily moved in with her sister in Trumbull, and eldest child, son, Benjamin S. Hurd, was now the head of the farm and had the responsibility of supporting his own growing family.

Ben Hurd was then in his mid-20s and was inspired by modernity. He loved automobiles, airplanes, and radios and had little interest in making a living in traditional farming. And yet, despite the Great Depression that gripped the globe, Ben set out in a completely different direction with his eyes focused on the future. He sold off his father’s herd of cattle, transformed the farmland into a ¾-mile car racing track and named it Monroe Speedway. Today, the cemeteries located on this land are some of the most serene locations in Monroe, but starting in 1933, this hilltop speedway was loud enough to wake the dead. The roar of the racecars’ revving engines echoed for miles across the valleys from the hilltop.

Very few know of this Monroe history today. I’ve attached a period photo from when the track was active, showing the cars racing down the straightaway at speeds near 90 miles per hour - blistering speeds for the era. There was another racetrack nearby at four corners in Shelton. It was the former Huntington Fairground’s trotter track. Its smaller design, intended for horse drawn sulkies, couldn’t support the increasing speeds of the era’s racecars and was eventually closed due to numerous crashes and eventual fatalities. For all out high-speed action, the Monroe Speedway was the place to be. The boys could really “let ’em rip” on the track’s long straightaways.

In the late 1930s, with the threat of war in Europe, our government looked to the private aviation sector to train America’s young pilots who would eventually be sent abroad to fight the Axis powers by air. The days of the Monroe Speedway came to a close and Ben transformed the track into an airport and flight training school. The airport officially closed in the early 1970s and many of you surely remember the local airshows and skydivers as common sights over Monroe Center. As an airport, a portion of the former racetrack was used as a taxiway, but all evidence of the once great racing attraction is gone today. Or is it?

Modern LIDAR technology maps the earth with lasers and the resulting images show the slightest variations in the terrain’s elevation. Have a look for yourself. The attached LIDAR image shows the remains of the northern portion of the track are still visible, and you can still see them on site if you know where to look. The main drive into St. John’s Cemetery is highlighted in red. Park in the cul-de-sac and walk just a few feet into the cemetery field and you’re standing right on the track, travelling back in time over 90 years to a very exciting time in Monroe history.

I hope you enjoy this week’s historic spotlight on the Monroe Speedway. You’d never imagine today that this peaceful location was once the loudest and most exhilarating spot in the entire town, bar none! And you thought all of Monroe’s action was over in Stepney. Please share this post with your family and friends, or any race fans you may know. As always, thank you for your continued support and interest in Monroe’s rich history. Until next time. GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present

1 - Monroe Speedway.jpg
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