Many don’t realize that while driving U.S. 23 in Raceland, they are passing over what used to be the grandstand for the “Million Dollar Oval” racetrack.
The intertwined history of CSX and Raceland might also have eluded some as time passes, and the street names are, to most, simply reference points for travel.
But Don Sammons, Raceland’s police chief, knows the history of not only the racetrack and the railroad, but of the streets and their names as well. And he believes Raceland’s rich history is something local residents and tourists alike would enjoy learning more about.
“We are working on establishing both a walking and a driving tour through Raceland,” Sammons said. “There will be about three blocks where people will be able to walk through town at a leisurely pace and learn about the history of Raceland through signs, displays and statuary. We are also working with the owners of the commercial buildings to renovate and do improvements that will fit in with the historic tour.”
Community support for the project, he said, has been excellent. “I have even had local residents call and ask me what they could do to their homes that would fit in with what we are doing.”
The project is an ambitious one that will involve the pouring of sidewalks and walkways, the repair and general refurbishing of Raceland’s cobblestone streets and the construction of numerous interest points that will showcase the history of the city. A micro-museum dedicated to the racetrack and railroad will be in the Raceland City Building, and visitors will be able to view displays such as “antique” train schedules and racetrack forms. Also on display will be photographs of historical value and other items of bygone days that chronicle Raceland’s development through the years.
A lot of the work involved in the project is being done by groups and individual volunteers, Sammons said. Those groups include local high school art classes and art clubs that are painting accurate representations of the squares local quilters have incorporated into their craft over the years. Those renderings will be displayed in the city park and will be signed by the group or artist who painted them. Sammons appreciates their efforts and talents, and thinks it is only fitting that by helping others to remember the history of Raceland these young people are becoming part of the city’s ongoing history themselves.
“We are the only incorporated city in the whole world with the name ‘Raceland’,” Sammons said proudly. “And you won’t find more hard-working, talented people anywhere.”
The Raceland renovation project will also include a center where local crafters can showcase their crafts and make them available for sale as well. The center will encompass the different types of local craftsmen in the area, Sammons said, such as quilters, woodcarvers and artists who paint using many different mediums. The shops these local artisans operate will have fronts directly on the walking tour so residents and tourists will be able to browse as they walk along the tour route.
Businesses along the tour route won’t necessarily be limited to history, but everything will tie in to the historic theme with signage and street signs that support the overall appearance. Sammons said a bike shop will open on one street corner that will sell and service more than historic bicycles, but it will fit the overall theme, and as a bonus there will be rentals for those who might prefer to ride along the walking tour.
The tour will include restaurants like The Corner Cone to provide refreshments, and several strategic lots will be dedicated for tour parking.
Sammons said completion of the tour is progressing, and he hopes to be finished sometime next month. Many things are already in place, however, with racehorse-themed statuary and landscaping being placed and completed daily. The Butterfly Garden for instance, though it will be more extensive than it is now, has already attracted butterflies. And on the same street as the garden, a lookout is being constructed so people walking along the tour route can stop and see some of the daily operations from a historic vantage point of CSX.
Sammons says Raceland’s history is everywhere one might care to look. The buildings all have some historic significance, and some of the local homes that will be showcased on the driving tour were bricked using materials from the old racetrack. Some of the barns used for the racetrack are still standing — with some still in use — and Sammons knows (and looks forward to showing people) all of their locations. And, of course, CSX carries its own attraction as both a railroad and for the impact it has had on the area.
Area residents who have access to historic photographs or items and would like to see them in the micro-museum are encouraged to make them available; and entrepreneurs who are interested in business opportunities might want to consider locating along the future historic walk. And Sammons said any group or individual who wishes to volunteer or participate is welcome to do so and can call the city at (606) 836-4522.