For a few years in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Independence was a nationally-known horse-racing center, and was sometimes referred to as the "Lexington of the North". This came about as a result of the meteoric financial success of Charles W. Williams. A telegraph operator and creamery owner from nearby Jesup, Iowa, Williams (with no experience in breeding horses) purchased in 1885 two mares, each of which within a year gave birth to a stallion. These two stallions, which Williams named Allerton and Axtell, went on to set world trotting records, with the result that Williams' earnings enabled him to publish a racing newspaper titled The American Trotter, to build a large three-story hotel and opera house called The Gedney, and to construct a figure-eight shaped race track on the west edge of town, on a large section of land called Rush Park, where he also built a magnificent horse barn, his family mansion, and peripheral structures.
Today, the primary location of Williams' race track (which was the original site of the Buchanan County Fairgrounds) is owned by the Independence Community School district. The school district has named the walking trial that intersects the original site of the Williams’ race track the American Trotter Trail in honor of the connection with the city’s past.