J Marriott Hill was nothing if not determined. He was certain that the Driving Club’s problem was its failure to think big. On the first day of 1894 he executed a pair of transactions to own, rather than simply lease, the racetrack property. First, James Patterson purchased the former Markham farm from Samuel Merrill for $6,000. Just a few moments later Patterson executed a deed re-selling that same land to JM and his brother Frank Hill. On the same day Hill leased from Alexander McKerichar (often rendered McKericher) a 13 acre contiguous lot of land to the NW of the former Markham plot, extending it to the electric trolley line, now Commonwealth Avenue.
JM Hill was well-versed in promoting entertainment, but knew next to nothing about horse racing. Mr Patterson, on the other hand, had been moderately successful in breeding and raising show and racing horses. Indeed, at least one of his horses had raced at the former driving club facility and one would go on to win top honors at the 1898 Washington Horse Show. Patterson had also owned a bar further to the north.
There thus followed, in March, an agreement between JM Hill and Patterson in which the latter agreed to act as “superintendent” of the racetrack, essentially running the facility. In exchange “James Hill agrees that he will pay to him ten per cent of all profits derived from the bar-room business, the dining room business, the races on the track and the pool selling and book making on and at the track, receipts to the grounds and all other receipts in connection with said track and business, with the exclusive right to sell all food and provender that may be furnished horses at said track….” with a guaranteed minimum of $50 per month.
The second racetrack was set up on land owned by JM and FM Hill and leased from Alexander McKerichar. For reference, some of the street names were changed by the City after the 1930 annexation: Carroll to Uhler, Peyton to Del Ray, and Lloyd to Custis.
At the same time Hill leased his land to the reborn Alexandria Gentlemen’s Driving Club, of which Hill was the primary owner. He presumably sub-leased McKerichar’s land to the club to insulate himself from any future legal or financial difficulties. Then he formed the Virginia Jockey Club to organize and run the races. Also formed was the Hiawatha Social & Pleasure Club to run the drinks service – bars were illegal in Virginia, but “clubs” could serve liquor, even those with only nominal membership requirements.
Thus, JM Hill owned half the land and leased the other half, but his Driving Club owned the buildings and facilities on the land, his Jockey Club ran the races in those facilities, and his Hiawatha Club provided the drinks. All were legally separate entities.
The contract for construction of the large enclosed grandstand, a club house and stables for four to five hundred horses was awarded on May 21 and was to be completed in the remarkably short time of one month, although racing would not start until the fall. This was estimated to cost $30,000 to $40,000, and also involved lengthening the old half-mile to track to six furlongs (¾ mile). The track would be shaped as a figure 6, with the oval track being six furlongs, with a chute coming in from the south if an extra quarter-mile was needed.
When it was built the St Asaph grandstand towered over everything in Del Ray and still looked imposing in 1912, years after its abadonment. The judge's tower is at the right.