Who Was Hartford Louise?


John A. Pilgard driving Hartford Louise at Sage Park, Windsor, 1934. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1982.80.36

The gentleman driving the sulky is John A. Pilgard. The horse is Hartford Louise. Pilgard had come to Hartford as a poor immigrant boy and became a successful merchant, banker, and civic leader. A butcher and grocer by trade, Pilgard greatest love was fast horses, especially those that he bred and raced himself. He was a member of both the Road Drivers Club and the Hartford Driving Club, and drove his horses in races at Charter Oak Park and at tracks in Riverside Park and on Albany Avenue. In the winter he took part in races on the ice-covered Connecticut River. He dreamed of winning the Hambletonian, the most prestigious trotting race in Americat , the “Kentucky Derby” of harness racing. In 1934, when this photograph was taken, he had three horses in training, all named for his children: Hartford Peter, Hartford Bertha, and Hartford Louise. Hartford Bertha had run the Hambletonian in 1934; Hartford Louise was entered for 1936. In 1935, Pilgard was elected Mayor of Hartford, fulfilling another lifelong dream, but his health failed, and he died nine days after the election without ever taking office. He left no will, so his estate was divided between his wife and children. I don’t know what became of Hartford Louise and Pilgard’s other horses. For many years, this photograph of Pilgard driving Hartford Louise hung in Honiss’s Oyster House on State Street in Hartford.

What is this?

playground-thumbOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?

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Today it’s standard practice for a photograph to be taken at the end of a horse race showing the exact positions of the horses as they cross the finish line. In the 1880s, this technology was in its infancy and this photograph showing the conclusion of the 1889 Charter Oak stakes at Charter Oak Park in West Hartford, Connecticut, is among the earliest ever taken. The very first photograph of the finish of a horse race was taken in 1881 in Plainfield, New Jersey, but the practice would not become commonplace until the middle of the twentieth century.  We don’t know who took this picture of the gray stallion Alcryon beating out the great trotting mare Geneva S. and the favorite Nelson on August 28, 1889, but he was definitely ahead of his time.  A handful of other photographs of harness races at Charter Oak Park may be found in Connecticut History Online, a collaborative digital library of historic visual resources.