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SC Rewind: Old Grandstands

Published: July 24, 2021 11:30 am ET

Last Comment: July 30, 2021 9:26 am ET | 13 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind, Robert Smith remembers the old grandstands of days gone by and the important role they played in the sport of harness racing. His piece centres on the story of a once well-known structure that stood in the State of Ohio for many years.

For some strange reason I really like to see pictures of old grandstands; they serve as a reminder of the early days of harness racing and were always located right at the heart of it all. These ornate old structures, constructed mainly of wood, served the needs of many racing sites for parts of two centuries. It is my understanding the old time barn builders often fashioned these stately structures. For the most part they are now all gone or at least replaced by newer type structures. In many instances not only the grandstands are gone, but also the entire fairgrounds. Such is progress and the passing of time.

A view of the quaint old grandstand that was located at Lancaster, Ohio for many years. It served the needs of the local community and was a big part of the annual Fairfield County Fair for many years

Many communities now have procedures and guidelines to follow when faced with the possible demolition of old structures within their jurisdiction. It is always a difficult task to get money to repair old structures and the voices of those who wish to use the property etc. for other purposes often speak loudest.

A few years ago I came across a story about an Ohio community that had undertaken the restoration of their old grandstand. It is an interesting tale where something that obviously meant enough to a lot of people was being saved. Concerned citizens set about taking steps to save a treasured piece of history. Enough funds were raised to complete the restoration to a point where it would be safe and ready for further projects as funds became available. This was around 2009.

A winter time view of the old grandstand with Mt. Pleasant in the background. It was a much loved landmark of the area and remembered by virtually everyone who grew up in that area of Northern Ohio.

The City of Lancaster, Ohio, located in Fairfield County about 30 miles southeast of Columbus, was faced with the problem of what to do with their antiquated Grandstand. The slate roof badly damaged by a fallen tree, and much of the structure the victim of time, insects and rot, it appeared to be destined for the scrap heap. Fairfield County Fair organizers had planned to demolish the structure and sell off any parts that were of interest to anyone.

That plan was soon scuttled and a group of interested citizens set about raising funds to restore the aging structure. Something like $100,000 was earmarked for the project and the accompanying photograph shows what can be done when a group of people put their mind to a project. According to reports this was no simple task as people familiar with the older building techniques and methods were called in. They used huge oak timbers, some weighing as much as 1200 pounds to accomplish the repairs and keep the original theme of the structure intact. I think they still stage harness racing every year as part of their late Fall Fair held in mid October.

A local resident issued the following statement as spokesperson for those in favour of saving the grandstand. "Our fairgrounds is distinctly unique, not only in the State, but in the country, for its idyllic setting, lush grounds, and historic buildings."

Grandstand Destroyed By Fire

In 2016 the historic old grandstand at the Fairfield County fairgrounds was completely destroyed by fire.

Fast forward to September 24, 2016. In the wee hours of the night, the historic Lancaster grandstand that had so lovingly been restored was destroyed by fire. Immediately believed to be the result of the work of an arsonist, the ancient structure was completely consumed by the fire. Those who had worked so diligently to save the structure were dismayed that anyone could be so heartless and uncaring to do such a horrible act.

A piece appearing in the Lancaster Eagle Gazette newspaper at the time of the tragic fire read as follows:

LANCASTER - "An overnight fire destroyed the historic grandstand on the Fairfield County Fairgrounds. The Lancaster Police Department is seeking any information in what they're considering an arson. Lancaster Fire Lt. K.J. Watts said the grandstand is a total loss. Watts also added that juveniles were seen running from the grandstand area." It was not known if those individuals were involved or just in the area at the time.

A view of the old grandstand as it appeared for many years and was still standing over 100 years after its construction.

Wayne Custer, a structural engineer who assisted with the restoration said a lot of community members were involved in that restoration campaign, many of which were shocked when it was originally meant to be torn down.

"With the backdrop of Mt. Pleasant, it was a thing of beauty," Custer said. "It's sickening to know it's gone. It was a very unique building. There aren't many of those left."

Bob Rodenbaugh, who was instrumental in getting the campaign started, said he was only aware of two grandstands curved like the one at the fairgrounds in the state of Ohio, and five or less across the country. The grandstand was built in 1909 after a fire destroyed the previous grandstand after the 1908 Fairfield County Fair, according to the fair's website.

Dave Benson, then fair manager said there's no way to put a monetary value on the loss of the grandstand due to its long history and unique construction into the curve of the hill. He's hopeful that whoever's responsible for the fire is held accountable for their actions.

An excerpt from the Fair's website outlining its history showed that harness racing had always been an important part of the fair's annual program. It stated "in 1868 Purses for the fastest trotting horse, mare or gelding were first $50.00, second $25.00, third $10.00. By 1880 the grounds had expanded to 36 acres and a new one-half mile race track was constructed with the contractor receiving 14½ cents per cubic yard for moving the dirt. At that time 600 shade trees were set out on the north part of the grounds, new cattle and sheep barns were built and much leveling and grading was done."

I believe many history buffs in Lancaster want to build another grandstand to replace the one destroyed but to my knowledge I don't believe they have as yet.

Today, most of our old grandstands have "gone the way of the buffalo."

The above photo appeared in an issue of Hoof Beats magazine showing the old Fairfield County grandstand as it then looked

Quote For The Week - "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Words of wisdom from my late mother.

Who Is It?

A baseball twist. During a recent 12 month period no fewer than 10 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame passed away. One of them had close ties to harness racing. Can you name him; he is one of the people pictured above?

Where Was It?

Who can tell us where this photo was taken? A small clue is that it was probably around the early 1970's.

Where was this grandstand located?

Can you identify the location of this old grandstand? I will offer a clue and that is it was located in a small southern Ontario town that held race days for many years.

July 30, 2021 - 9:26 amThis week's quiz contained

This week's quiz contained three pictures and the answers are as follows:

The correct answer to the first one was Charles Edward (nobody ever called him that) "Whitey" Ford, famous pitcher who spent his entire career with the New York Yankees. He passed away in October 2020. He dabbled in horse ownership with Delvin Miller and also worked as a sort of "ambassador" for the sport at Pompano Park, often with Mickey Mantle, also pictured.
The second picture showing the start of a race is from the old Orangeville track. Thanks for the interesting "facts and figures" from Gord Waples.
The third one asking the audience to identify the location of the pictured grandstand was correctly answered as Rodney, Ontario by Brad Schweitzer. Photo courtesy of Elgin County archives. I am told by reliable authority that this old stand was removed a few years ago.
Thanks as always for your participation.

July 27, 2021 - 4:11 pmMiddle picture has trees in

Middle picture has trees in background, otherwise with all those fans and shape of track sure looks like old Greenwood.

July 27, 2021 - 7:55 amThe second photo [with the

gord waples SAID...

The second photo [with the starting gate] is at Orangeville Raceway I know it too well, I was working the tote board turning dials to put up pay off prices at that time, when I was 15. When putting up the prices, you would get booed sometimes from the crowd......... you knew you had turned the wrong dial!!!

July 26, 2021 - 12:40 amSecond photo sure looks like

James Brown SAID...

Second photo sure looks like Dresden's Raceway's old grandstand, I have vivid memories as a seven year old playing in this grandstand. As I look at this photo today, from the end of the white fence to the right, it's perfectly in line with the back door to the small barn behind the grandstand. This building is still there today, but it hasn't been used as a shipping barn for quite some time.

July 25, 2021 - 8:54 amPic #2 photo looks like

Pic #2 photo looks like Rodney Fairgounds.

July 24, 2021 - 4:13 pmWho is it Mickey Mantle

Who is it

Mickey Mantle

July 24, 2021 - 3:44 pmWho is it? Great to see the

Bert Clish SAID...

Who is it?
Great to see the old stories and pictures as always..Famous Yankees Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle. Regards, Bert Clish

July 24, 2021 - 2:25 pmFirst picture looks like

jim morgan SAID...

First picture looks like Mickey Mantle. Last picture going to say Orono Ont.

July 24, 2021 - 1:38 pmFirst photo answer, Whitey

First photo answer, Whitey Ford
Second photo Dresden Raceway?

July 24, 2021 - 1:08 pmAs a long time Yankee fan, I

Howard Gluck SAID...

As a long time Yankee fan, I better get this right. It's Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle. Whitey owned a few horses with Del Miller.

July 24, 2021 - 1:08 pmWhitey Ford and Mickey Mantle

Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle

July 24, 2021 - 11:51 amIt is Whitey Ford and Mickey

It is Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, probably at Pompano Harness track

They owned a piece of a couple of horses with, I think it was Del Miller

July 24, 2021 - 11:50 amPic # 1 is Mickey Mantle of

Tom Foley SAID...

Pic # 1 is Mickey Mantle of Yankees.

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