WINTHROP — It was Arthur Roy, a member of the Winthrop Maine Historical Society Board of Trustees, who noticed the stone memorializing Winthrop Messenger was missing. 

As a horse owner, Roy appreciated seeing the stone that commemorated a foundation sire of the standardbred breed. The importance of horses — and that horse — to the town motivated him to locate the missing stone. 

“In the 1800s, the horse was the car,” Roy said. “That was very important to Winthrop to get some good stock horses.” 

But Winthrop would get a horse who became an important sire.

Alvan Hayward, motivated by the premium to bring good stock horses to Winthrop, brought Winthrop Messenger to the town in 1819, 200 years ago. The big, gray stallion had speed and stamina. 

“It turned out he was better at that than producing good stock horses,” said Roy.

The horses Winthrop Messenger produced were also fast.

“It was probably a good thing that it turned out the way it did because it started the sport of harness racing in this state,” said Roy. “That creates a lot of green space, it creates a lot of jobs and entertainment.” 

According to Stephen Thompson of Hallowell, Maine was one of the states who led the development of the standardbred breed. 

Winthrop messenger was part of the process of creating the standardbred,” said Thompson during a phone interview Friday before departing to the Cumberland Fairgrounds, where he worked as a video control officer recording harness racing, as he does throughout the state. 

Winthrop Messenger and other offspring produced by Imported Messenger, an English thoroughbred, were the foundation of the standardbred.

This drawing depicts the English thoroughbred Imported Messenger, the sire of Winthrop Messenger. Imported Messenger and his offspring are credited with being the foundation stock to the standardbred horse. Photo courtesy of Michael Hendricksen and The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center.

As the standardbred developed and gained recognition, Thompson said, horses were sold out of state in the late 1800s, taking away Maine’s edge on the breeding — but not its interest in racing trotting horses. 

Researching tracks around the state for his blog “Lost Trotting Parks,” he discovered tracks throughout Maine, including in Readfield, West Gardiner, Augusta, China Waterville, Litchfield and Monmouth. 

“In Alexander, Maine, their track essentially was the streets,” he said.

Now harness racing takes place only at the Northern Maine, Topsham, Skowhegan, Union, Windsor, Farmington, Cumberland and Fryeburg fairs, Thompson said, along with the Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs. 

The harness racing sport is probably the oldest and most authentic sport in the state of Maine,” he said.

Winthrop Messenger was born in 1807. Though the sire of Winthrop Messenger is known, records do not show his dam, or mother. Breeds such as the Morgan, crossed with the thoroughbred, may have contributed to the breed, Thompson said. 

Winthrop Messenger was sold by Hayward to Dixfield. He died in Anson in 1834.

The information known about Winthrop Messenger was researched by Clark Thompson of Bangor, the cousin of Stephen Thompson, and was published in “Maine’s Trotting Horse Heritage Trail” in 2009. 

“Clark Thompson in his research believed there was evidence that would support the idea that Kennebec County was the cradle of Maine’s Trotting Horse Industry,” said Steve Thompson. “There were three horse families associated with Kennebec County that accounted for more than half of the horses that were bred in Maine prior to 1874.”

Clark is responsible for placing memorials around the state acknowledging Maine’s trotting horse history. 

The Memorial to Winthrop Messenger was one of these memorials and was placed in 2005 at the site of the livery where the stallion had been stabled on Union Street. 

This spring, it went missing. 

Town officials could not find it, said Carl Swanson, secretary of the Winthrop Maine Historical Society. He said that Public Works foreman Matt Burnham determined it was probably picked up with a front end loader. 

A municipal parking lot is located on Union Street across from the location of the missing stone. Snow removed from the town was brought to a lot on Route 202, Swanson said, and fill was brought in after the snow thawed.

“We have several town artifacts that we have to keep track of, and this one we lost track of,” Swanson said. “We need to check them annually so we know if they are missing or not.”

Arthur Roy, member of the Winthrop Maine Historical Society Board of Trustees, is pictured with his wife, Jeanne, and their thoroughbred mare, Bloodfire, who is stabled in Ocala, Florida. Roy led the committee that replaced, relocated and rededicated the stone memorializing Winthrop Messenger. Submitted photo by Arthur Roy

Roy, an owner and breeder in the thoroughbred racing industry with his wife, Jeanne, was inspired to lead the society’s efforts to get a new stone to replace it, which would be gray, the color of Winthrop Messenger. A new location, safe from snow removal, is located on Main Street at the corner of Union Street. 

During the rededication of new stone, traffic rumbled along Main Street, making it hard to imagine that the sounds of motors were once clopping hooves, snorts and clucks from riders and drivers. 

“Today, people have forgotten the importance that the horse played in Maine’s history,” Thompson said. “Back in the day, the horse was the worker in the field, transportation in marketplace, mover of economy, a warrior in battlefield. Horse  had significant role in society.

Thompson feels it is the responsibility of Maine to keep harness racing alive in the state for its economic importance, and he speculated that the impact would be felt by people who own pleasure horses as the cost of feed and services would rise.

“It impacts a lot of people — owners, breeders, trainers, drivers, grooms, farmers who grow the feed, race directors, judges, (spectators and betters), farriers, vets,” he said. “Then you have the person who clicks the button to take the photo finish.”

Comments are not available on this story.