Coon Chase

Coon Chase Ad

There are some Skaneateles amusements we are unlikely to see again. One would be horse racing on the frozen lake, such as the three races held in February of 1902, one for green (novice) horses, one for 2:35 horses (those able to run a mile in less than 2:35), and one “free-for-all.”

The horse races that day were accompanied by a fox chase, in which local dogs followed a scent trail left by a fox dragged over a course, probably unwillingly, with the winner being the first dog to cross the finish line at the end of the trail. The fleetest dog’s owner took home $3. That particular fox chase, however, was small potatoes when compared to the Coon Chase of 1940.

A coon chase differs from the fox chase in that the reluctant scent-bearer is a raccoon, and rather than a finish line, the raccoon is encouraged to climb a tree at the end of the trail where the winning dog will “bark him up.” The fans, already knowing where the tree will be, gather beforehand to see the finish and applaud the winners.

In 1939, Solvay promoter Mike Piano organized a 1940 New Year’s Day of ten (10) chases to be held over a six-mile course; he promised more than 100 dogs, some coming from as far away as Maine and Florida. The starter was George Chapman of Marcellus. The course was laid out to finish at Freddie’s Inn on the edge of the village, where the expected throng of spectators could surely find shelter and refreshment.

Freddie’s Inn was not always Freddie’s Inn. It was built in 1811-12 by Nathaniel Eells who moved to Marcellus (now Skaneateles) in 1804, and bought land from Jedidiah Sanger and Charles Pardee. His house and tavern, on what is now the southeast corner of Onondaga and East Streets, was known variously as Eells’ Tavern or the Somerset House. Noble Coe purchased the tavern soon after it was completed. He later formed a partnership with a Mr. Marsh, under the name of Coe & Marsh, and they also leased the Sherwood tavern west of the bridge; they kept both for many years.

The Eells tavern structure is today a private residence, but in 1940 it was owned and recently redecorated by Fred Elliott who came here from Baldwinsville where he had run a tavern for 20 years. And in 1940, Freddie’s Inn, at the top of the Onondaga Street hill, was on the edge of open country.

The weather, unfortunately, conspired against the organizers. Snow, cold and the scents of other animals are all hindrances to a coon chase. A wayward rabbit crossing the prepared scent trail can send an undiscerning dog off into the woods, and lost dogs have to be found, on foot, by their owners. Heavy snow on New Year’s Eve put a damper on the Coon Chase; only 50 dogs were entered, instead of the promised 100, perhaps because their owners did not relish looking for them in deep snow. The newspaper didn’t even report the names of the winners. But 500 people were drawn to Skaneateles for the event and one can imagine Freddie’s Inn doing a good business in hot toddies.

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