Pop Horter and George Hosley, two of Buffalo’s most prominent horse men, built the mile-long track on Ferry between Michigan and Jefferson in the early 1860s, right behind the Cold Spring Hotel.
After the Civil War, a group of prominent Buffalonians, led by Cicero Hamlin, bought the place, made improvements, and created one of America’s early important championship horse tracks. America’s first $20,000 race was held at the track, and a handful of world records were made there that stood up for decades.
The place wasn’t without controversy. In 1884, Hamlin and several associates were arrested for allowing gambling in the park.
Past any trouble, Hamlin bought out the other investors and built the International Fair building on the grounds with the hopes of attracting some of the world’s greatest touring displays. But the International Fair Building, along with the grandstand and other structures, burned over the course of a few years.
Hamlin died at his East Aurora farm in 1905 at the age of 85. The mostly barren Driving Park was still used for expositions which needed space. The Five Ringling Brothers brought their circus to the spot several times.
In 1907, Buffalo Bill Cody brought his Wild West Show to Buffalo and the Hamlin Driving Park.
A Buffalo Express review of the show said, “Along every block within a radius of a mile of the showgrounds could be seen dust-covered horses and wagons that farmers had driven from miles back in the country to bring the little fellows to see the famous scout and his great train of horsemen.
“Colonel Cody, despite his age, seems young and graceful as ever, and was the most appealing part of the show.”
The Canadian developer who bought the property between Ferry and Humboldt, had hoped to call it Melrose Lawn, but the name Hamlin Park stuck, and the neighborhood is known by that name to this day.