“No man in the country was more widely esteemed by racing men.”
David Dunham Withers was born in 1822 in New York City; he and his family lived downtown on Greene Street, now in fashionable Soho. When his parents married, the couple was given a cottage by the bride’s father as a wedding present. According to Withers’ obituary, the cottage was on “the outskirts of town” and “given up as a place of residence and sold because it was considered too far from the business center to be desirable.” No, the cottage wasn’t on Long Island or in Westchester, or even across the river in Brooklyn. It stood in what is now Union Square.
Withers worked in banking and in the ferry business, and he lived for a time in Louisiana, where he owned cotton plantations. His business and land interests in both the north and south apparently made the Civil War something of a delicate time for him, so he left the country and spent the years of “the rebellion” (the Times’ word, not mine) in Paris. His obituary says that when he returned after the war, he sold his Southern interests and concentrated on business and racing in the New York area.
Deeply invested, financially and emotionally, in racing, Withers was a leader in the sport. A director of the American Jockey Club, he is said to have been “the acknowledged head of the American turf.” He served as Chairman of the Board of Control of Racing (a precursor to the Jockey Club) and was a member of both the New-York and Coney Island Jockey Clubs, overseeing New York City’s racetracks.