Racetrack’s legacy endures

Michael Bushnell
The Northeast News

The Kansas City-Smithville Race Track grandstands and the first turn are pictured on this postcard published by the Auburn Greeting Card Company in the 1920s.

The racetrack was host to mainly harness races. Races were held daily, except Mondays, during the season.
Smithville was named for Humphrey and Nancy Smith, who came from New York state in 1824 with their seven children and built a water-powered mill on the Little Platte River five miles north of the present city limits.

The racetrack was built in 1925 by a group of Kansas City and Clay County businessmen who formed an association and raised the money. Betting at that time was illegal. However, with Kansas City being known as a wide open town, a $2 “donation” got the patron a race card and betting privileges.
In 1928, new promoters took over the track and running horses replaced the harness horses as the primary draw.

Before the season was over, however, the promoters left town and left behind a mountain of bad debts. Another attempt the following year to reopen failed. The rural people were not as interested in running horses and the track was considered too far out to attract large crowds from Kansas City, given there was no direct rail line to the tiny hamlet.

Later automobile and motorcycle races were held there. In the 1940s the large grandstand facing the track was razed and the track faded into a distant memory. Finding the old racetrack today would be difficult given the site is currently about 80 feet under the surface of Smithville Lake, after the Army Corps of Engineers flooded the Little Platte River.

The postcard was one of a series of 16 cards of the old racetrack photographed by a Kansas City Journal Post photographer. Leon Morton, who owned the general merchandise store in Smithville, Elmer Iden of the Mitchell- Iden drugstore, purchased the negatives and had over 25,000 postcards printed. The black and white postcards sold for 2 cents each at Morton’s and the drugstore.

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