The Old Clifton Race Track

The Bulletin of the PCHS, November 1962


This once popular race was located on a large tract of land to the northwest of Main and Piaget Avenues, Clifton.  It was the scene of many horse races in the 1870’s and continued through the years up to about 1890.  In 1888, the track was rebuilt for horse races and re-opened on October 1 of that year.  To celebrate this event, a party of New York turf men and a large number of the sporting fraternity from Paterson and the immediate vicinity gathered at the new track upon invitation for an elaborate luncheon and for an inspection of the improved track.  It was the considered opinion of the keenest men of the racing fraternity that the new Clifton track was one of the finest in the country.

The new track was sixty-five feet wide at all points with the exception of the home stretch. Here the track exceeded seventy feet in width.  It was beautifully graded.  It sat higher than the infield to prevent water from laying on it.  This permitted races to continue no matter how much rain had fallen.  The large grandstand with the greater portion enclosed with glass added to the comfort of the viewers of the races.  At the betting stand, steam heat and electric lights had been installed which, of course, contributed greatly to the comfort of those who frequented this area.

In the early 1890’s, the final curtain began to fall upon the activities at the track which, for so many years, was an integral part of the sporting life of Passaic County.  This was primarily due to a crusade conducted by ministers and other influential men of the County to end betting at horse races.  On January 19, 1891, an indictment was secured by the Grand Jury of Passaic County against the owner of the track; ten days later, he was convicted and fined $5,000.  This brought to an end betting at the old Clifton track and, with this restriction, much of the interest in horse racing all but disappeared.

However, as late as 1904, a Driving Park Association was organized for the purpose of developing trotting horses on the race track but this too came to an end quickly.

For many years thereafter the Ringling Brothers and other circuses used the former track site for this annual performances.  Here great crowds from Passaic, Bergen and other nearby countries came to attend the circus.  Then in 1920, due to the growth of the city, the City council and the Board of Education of Clifton began to look for a site on which to erect a new high school for the city.  The old race track property was purchased and a few years later its demolition began.  The hotel on the property was razed and the former race track was plowed under and leveled.  On its site now stands the lovely Memorial Park and the Clifton High school.