Derby Day activities & Covid update
Posted on 05/12/2022
Mayor Brian Turnbull Northvillians and friends,

To round out spring traditions, I am going to touch on Derby Day activities that have surrounded our historic Northville Downs over the years.

Before jumping to the “Run for the Roses” and the Downs, let’s take a look at what’s happening in town:

Downtown Social District Update

• To view survey results and supporting documents of the street closure survey, please click here.

Northville Strategic Planning – We need your input!
• Starting in 2019, our “Way Forward” strategic plan was just beginning. The formation of various task forces was unanimously approved by City Council for long-term projects such as the Rouge River Restoration and Riverwalk initiative, Ford Field development and visioning of the Farmers’ Market. I am incredibly grateful for this outpouring of participation.

• My ask of you is for your input and perspective on these initiatives by taking the survey

State of Community Presentation
• Thursday, June 2, Northville and Northville Townships will team-up to review the State of the Community. It will also be available via Zoom.

Let’s take a look at the latest COVID-19 data 

Confirmed cases: Northville has had 748 cases/6 fatalities, Township: 6,393 cases/83 fatalities, Michigan: 2.5 million cases/36,000 fatalities, Nation: 83 million cases/1 million fatalities, Global: 522 million cases/6.3 million fatalities. (CDC)

Now let’s transition to a historic spring activity in the “Ville” called Derby Day at the Downs

• As you come into Northville cresting the hill at Sheldon and 7 Mile on any given weekend night (during race season), you may see the lights and excitement of Northville Downs.

• Before 1900, the location of what is today Northville Downs was just a wetlands area on the Middle Rouge River. This river runs through the Downs on a north/south trajectory and was routed underneath to create dry land above. Incidentally, the river on the southern edge of the property (Johnson Creek) is home to some of the greatest fly fishing in the metro area.

• Early on, this property housed a small golf course which backed up to town.

• According to the Northville Record, going back to the latter 1800’s, locals held horse races in downtown Northville on a five-block straightaway on Dunlap St., from Rogers to Center. Imagine the setting – many of the wonderful Victorian homes on Randolph were new or recently built.

• In those early days of racing on Dunlap and later at the Downs, the group known as the Driving Club would gather with the horse owners and jockeys at the Ambler Hotel on Center and Main Street before and after the races. Later on, they met at the Starting Gate Tavern on Center Street (where Center Street Grill is located today).

• Around 1900, a local group bought the Downs land and spent a great deal of time filling in the swampy ground and hauling away huge boulders with horses and wagons.

• In 1907, the new track at 7 Mile and Sheldon was completed. In 1916, it was decided that a Wayne County Fair should be held in conjunction with the racing activities. This fair continued for 27 years at the Northville Downs venue. It was renowned as the “finest fair in Michigan,” surpassing even the State Fair. In 1926 a brand-new grandstand was built at the Downs.

• After WWII, a group of business folks modernized and invested in the track. John Carlo was part of this group, and his family has co-owned and managed the track since that time. John, Ed and Mike Carlo are part of the 3rd generation operators of the Downs today. With this group in place, the harness racing got momentum when they pioneered Northville night races. I am told that my grandfather, the electrician in town, was part of the team that “got the lights on” at the Downs.

• Derby Day this year was reminiscent of the past, when you couldn’t find a spot to park at the Downs … the action was tremendous. For Derby Day, I went to the Downs with a group to take in this historic and nostalgic venue. It was just like when I was young, with parking always at a premium every night that the Downs was running.

• I strongly suggest that you experience the Downs by making dinner reservations and watching the ponies from your dining table during the weekends of May and June, and September through December. It’s a treat to watch the parade of drivers navigating their two-wheeled chariots called sulkies.

• Feel Lucky? You never know when a long shot will come in like it did this year at the Kentucky Derby, with an 80:1 underdog surprising everyone. No wonder his name was “Rich Strike.”

• A thoughtful development on this Downs acreage could come to fruition soon, ending the last live horse races in Michigan. So visit while you can. We tip our derby hat to the Carlo family for all they have done for this community in making the track a landmark of excitement and fun for many years in the Ville.

If you do go to the Downs, contemplate the site’s long history. Just think, when the first Kentucky Derby race occurred in 1875, the horses here were running down Dunlap Street. Once the track was built and after the Carlo family modernized this facility, it put Northville squarely on the racing map.

Experience Northville and all it has to offer ... “Run for the Roses” in your life each and every day!

Month of May – Chamber of Commerce Military Veteran banners: Walk around town and view our Heroes. Impressively, 187 banners of our Veterans have been posted.
May 27 and 28 – Northville Chamber of Commerce Spring Flower Sale
May 30, 11 a.m. – Remember our veterans on Memorial Day. Give respect and attend Northville’s Ceremony for those that have fought for the freedoms we enjoy today (Rural Hill-7 Mile & Rogers St.). The half-hour event includes military honors/bands/choirs/remarks.

Keep that Northville Faith,

Brian Turnbull
Mayor – Northville
[email protected] / 248.505.6849

Downs building and race track