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  • Chad Hobbs

Iron horses would lead to the demise of the Big Spring horse track

An old tin type photo of McHenry Meador and his family in Big Spring. Meador was the owner of a horse racing track in the town that drew horses and spectators from across the state in the 1800s.

There was a time, back before trains, planes and automobiles, when the now-sleepy town of Big Spring in southern Meade County, north-western Hardin County and eastern Breckinridge County, was a really big deal. In fact, it's said that it was much bigger than even Elizabethtown in its heyday. Serving as a stagecoach stop between Louisville and Nashville, the town had three saloons and two hotels. It was reported that many would flee the noise and stench of Louisville during the summer months, back before modern plumbing, to stay in Big Spring.

With many in Meade County focusing on Louisville and the Kentucky Derby today, it is ironic that one of the big draws for entertainment back in those days that led city folk to stay in Big Spring was its renowned horse racing track, which drew people and horses from all over the state.

McHenry Meador (1827-1887) was a prominent man in Big Spring and quite the entrepreneur in his day. Not only did he own the horse racing track, but he was the owner/operator of a general and furniture store, a hotel and a saloon. Along with all that, he found time to serve as the undertaker in Big Spring, too.

The Breckinridge News out of Cloverport had several accounts of the track and Meador from the late 1800s. Its September 29, 1880 issue announced, "There will be a match race for $50 on the Big Spring race course, between Mr. A. Stiles of Vine Grove and Dock Cannon of Constantine." In its October 20, 1880 issue, it reported, "Three days races will be held at Big Spring on the Ten Broeck Race Course, commencing November 10, liberal purses offered." There was also reported, "The races here, commencing November 10, will continue for four days. Big hop each night, and band of music for the race field. Come all you who love fine music and dancing."

The track was named after a famous Kentucky racehorse from the 1870s, Ten Broeck, who set many records in his prime that would hold up for one hundred years according to the Rural Kentuckian (July 1988 edition).

In the December 22, 1880 edition of the Breckinridge County News, two stories appeared in conjunction with Meador and his track. The first stated, "The Mite Society met at McHenry Meador's last night. Plenty of cider, good apples, and pretty girls, and Charles says he was 'thar' by large majority; and also Dr. Hayes of Hardinsburg was 'thar'."

It also reported that "work on the Ten Broeck Fair Grounds and Race Course will be commenced early in the spring, and completed in time to receive stock, etc., next fall."

Photos of McHenry and Mary Meador. The couple lived in an elegant Big Spring home. McHenry was a very prominent citizen who owned a general and furniture store, hotel, saloon, and race track. He also served as town undertaker.

Meador had traveled to Frankfort to go before the Kentucky General Assembly and had been granted incorporation of a fairgrounds to go with his race track in Big Spring.

By February 2, 1881, the newspaper reported that "Mr. Zack Herndon of Brandenburg comes out tomorrow to commence surveying the race track and fairgrounds." And it reported on March 30 of the same year that, "The building of the fairground is progressing rapidly." But for unstated reasons, the May 25, 1881 edition reported that "the prospect for a fair here this fall is blasted. McHenry Meador has given up on it."

The race track continued on, as was evident in the November 29, 1882 edition of the newspaper which reported that "the races closed Saturday evening, the 18th, after a season of five days duration. A statement by McHenry Meador of the races on the Big Spring Course last week follows. The weather was not very favorable, but a great many were in attendance... This, including a few scrub races, ended the Big Spring races for this fall. The track was heavy, but with all the rain and mud, we had some very fine racing, and a nice sober, quiet crowd."

While Big Spring was thriving at that time, there was a force that was building steam out of the east that would eventually lead to the demise of the town's success.

The Lexington and Ohio railroad first came to Kentucky in 1830, and railroads continued to spread both in popularity and miles of track over the following decades. A piece in the Breckinridge News on December 29, 1880, written by someone in Big Spring, stated that "our town is 16 miles from the 'beautiful river', and 10 miles from the 'Iron Horse'."

Those iron horses (steam locomotives) would in many ways cripple the town of Big Spring and its way of life. With the town being bypassed by the railroads, the stagecoach stop that helped it once thrive would be replaced by train stations that would enhance other towns outside Big Spring, like Brandenburg Station, Ekron, Guston and Vine Grove.

Ironically, it would be 'Iron Horses' and their tracks that brought an end to the once-renowned horse track in Big Spring.

McHenry Meador's grave site.

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