As I was looking through these old maps, I noticed that Brunot Island once had a race track. It’s noticeable in the 1903-7 maps, and again in 1910, but not in the 1923 map. Why not? A little digging led me to find out more about this long forgotten era.
The island was originally named for Dr. Felix Brunot, who settled the island in the late 1700s. The flood of 1811 devestated the estate and by 1819, he had sold the island. It became farmland until 1894 when George Westinghouse bought it and soon after constructed an electrical plant. It wasn’t soon after that the race track also appeared.
There was a group of Pittsburgh businessmen organized under the name Pittsburgh and Allegheny Driving Club that created the track. Members kept their horses on the island and held friendly races each Saturday.
The only bridges that have been built to connect the island to the other sides of the river have been for railroad use only. There was a ferry service near Ontario St. for the time when the race track was in service. This was a one mile dirt track that hosted races for only a short time, from 1903 to 1914, and featured horse racing and occasionally auto racing. Since the island was so inaccessible, the horsemen who raced there were already trying to find a more suitable location east of Highland Park, as early as September 1903.
In a Pittsburgh Press article from 1964, the track was closed in 1907 because the owner said the motor vehicles were damaging the dirt track. While regular racing may have stopped, that didn’t mean that thrills disappeared from the track.
In an old article from 1915, master driver Barney Oldfield is set to take on De Floyd Thompson, an aerial marvel. The two had races against each other- motor car vs. airplane. Oldfield would speed around the track with Thompson overhead and fly so low that he could “reach out and pull the cap from the head of his rival.”
—Take me to it! (Remember to switch the basemap to the 1903 or 1910 maps)