Brattleboro grandstand has long history

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BRATTLEBORO— More than 80 years ago, 30 men were working at the old Fairgrounds, laying out a new baseball diamond, football field and track.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration and the federal government created the Works Progress Administration to employ millions of people across the U.S. The goal was to carry out worthwhile public works projects. In 1938, Brattleboro workers were engaged in eight local projects. The previous year about 115 people had been employed by the WPA to build and improve sidewalks, the Harris Hill Ski Jump, the local sewer system, Abbott and Sunset Lake Roads and Orchard Street.

As 1938 began, unemployment continued to be an issue so the WPA looked to increase its involvement with Brattleboro area projects. On January 3, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress and stated that "the misuse of the powers of capitalism" must be ended "or the capitalistic system will destroy itself through its own abuses." The United States faced hard times.

On March 1, 1938, the Brattleboro Reformer reported that house values were on the decline, town government continued to cut taxes and reduce public services, but over 200 people were applying to various government agencies for any kind of work so they could make ends meet.

At that time Brattleboro High School was on Main Street and did not have any space for athletic fields. BHS teams had played many of their contests at Island Park but the clear cutting of the woods on both sides of the Connecticut River caused increasingly ferocious spring floods that washed out most of the island by 1927. When the Valley Fairs ceased to operate in 1931, the high school relocated its fields to the old Fairground.

Henry Culver, the local director of the WPA, in conjunction with BHS coach Raymond Draghetti, proposed to improve and expand the recreation fields at the old Fairgrounds. Workers began to layout a new baseball field, grade and seed it, and construct a grandstand for fans, with an area under the stands for players to change (locker rooms). Also proposed was a one-quarter mile cinder track to travel around a football gridiron. The goal was to complete these tasks by the end of September 1938.

Unfortunately, the biggest natural disaster to ever hit New England arrived in the third week of September - the 1938 Hurricane. The workers of the WPA were reassigned to clean up and repair the damages caused by the winds and water associated with the storm; and the fields and grandstand project were put on hold.

The WPA workers resumed work at the old Fairgrounds in 1939 and the recreation facility with a baseball field, football field and cinder track was not completed until 1940.

In 1946, a fire in the grandstands destroyed the wooden building. This caused the town to rebuild. It was decided to use concrete and steel for the reconstruction. The present layout of athletic fields next to the high school has existed for over 80 years. Throughout the years improvements have been made to the athletic complex. Lights came in the 1990s. The track is no longer cinder and the football field stands have been relocated to the north side of the field and upgraded. The last time a major renovation was done to the football field was after the 1964 football season under the direction of coach Andy Natowich.

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Recently, the baseball grandstands were inspected and deemed no longer safe for spectators. The Brattleboro Union High School Board and concerned supporters of the historic grandstand are presently struggling with the question of what to do about the grandstand. Should the structure be removed, remodeled or restored? Sometimes the history of a place has a way of stirring feelings in the present day.

Before the sports fields and present footprint of the baseball grandstand were constructed by the WPA in the late 1930s, there was a larger grandstand at the site during the Valley Fair days. That grandstand overlooked the half-mile Valley Fair racetrack and was in the vicinity of the present BUHS Gymnasium and Multipurpose Room. The racetrack grandstand was mostly used to watch horse races; but other events, such as bicycle races, livestock parades and automobile reviews were also observed from the grandstand. Events like horse diving, hot air balloon demonstrations and baseball games took place on the infield of the track and were also observed from the grandstand.

There has been a grandstand on the present BUHS #6 site for about 130 years to provide viewing opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities. Time will tell what happens to the present old grandstand that has anchored the northeast corner of BUHS #6 since before there was a school on Fairground Road.

Here are some ways to connect with the Brattleboro Historical Society.

Call: 802-258-4957

Visit us: brattleborohistoricalsociety.org

Facebook: @brattleboro.history

Twitter: @BrattHistSoc

SoundCloud: BrattHistoricalSoc

Instagram: @brattleborohistoricalsociety


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