Corrie McDermott’s History of Narragansett Park, including a collection of photos, stories, and memorabilia.
A home-made YouTube documentary about the park (and others like it if you continue to explore).
A sad little discount store lies in what was at first just a strange structure. Once inside, near the exit doors is a wall of newspaper clippings detailing the history of the place – that is how it all starts to make sense. The strange wedge-shaped building was the Grandstand for a large and popular horse racing track built in the late 30s. While browsing you can see some remnants from its racetrack past – the betting signs, the bull horns, the escalator to nowhere.
For more history and photos of this place, please visit Corrie McDermott’s pages dedicated to the history of Gansett Park. Links are above.
Facts cobbled together from the internet and from Corrie McDermott’s site
Judge James Dooley worked for 15 years to pass legislation that would allow horse race gambling in RI. Speculating that the necessary bill would one day pass, Judge Dooley and mill operator Walter O’Hara bought 130 acres in Pawtucket – what was once the site of the What Cheer airport. The land cost them $150,000.
The park cost $1,200,000 to build and consisted of 10,000 seat grandstand, a clubhouse which held an additional 4,000, stables for 1,650 horses, and judges’ stand. The track was a one mile oval with footing of sandy loam. The width of the stretch was 90 feet 6 inches. The width of the backstretch was 70 feet 2 inches. Width of the turns was 87 feet. The distance from the judges’ stand to the first turn was 360 feet and 1,050 feet from the last turn. The track had an automatic starting gate and camera finish, which Narragansett was first to adopt.
The Park opened on August 1, 1934, just two months after the proper legislation passed to allow horse gambling. After its first few years, the park was quickly profitable. In 1936, the Park showed a clear profit of $507,000 after handing out $717,000 for winner purses and other expenses.
Races such as the Narragansett Special, Rhode Island Handicap, Governors Handicap, King Phillip Handicap, Providence Stakes, Narragansett Nursery and Sophomore Special were held at Narragansett Park. Famous horses such as Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Alsab, War Relic and Gun Bow raced there. Crowds of 40,000, sports celebrities, movie stars and millionaires such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gergig, Cab Calloway, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, and Milton Berle appeared for races. There were even racetrack trains to bring racing enthusiasts to the park run from Boston and New Haven.
After many successful and profitable years, the 1970s struck. Massive crowds that once turned out at the track dwindled. Financial peril hit due to smaller crowds and new types of gambling. Gansett Park was forced to close in 1978. A year later, the city of Pawtucket bought the land and developed it into an industrial park and residential housing. Many of the streets in this new neighborhood were named after some of the famous horses that ran at the Park. Today, all that remains is part of the grandstand, which has been a Building 19 1/9 discount store since the late 1980s.
michaelj.dupuy Nov 4 2012 My dad was a jockey in the middle thirty’s. His name was John Dupuy. He also was a trainer there He was from New Orleans la.
Patricia McGowan Aug 31 2012 My grand-uncle, Henry Daniel McGowan (13 May 1886- 1948) was the Betting Sign Painter at the Track. He lived with his family at 129 School Street, the former home of his father, Michael Henry McGowan. We still have family living in RI that can verify this.
Donna My mom and her sister sat with their 17 year old brother for lunch in 1942. My mom was his legal guardian at the time. He begged her to sign enlistment papers for the Navy. She did, and she never saw her brother again. He was washed overboard somewhere near Itlaly. Every time we drove by that diner she would point and cry. Sorry about the sad memory. I wish I had a picture of the dinner in his memory.
Richard C Parker My Granddad owner of EB Parker trucking of Amesbury MA delivered frieght to J B Judkins in the 1930 ies and 40ies and as a boy and teenager I was there with him many times. Fond memories.
The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.