By T. D. Thornton
The grandstand at Green Mountain Park, a former southern Vermont racetrack that last hosted Thoroughbreds in 1976, was completely consumed by flames in the overnight hours of Sept. 16-17. Authorities are calling the blaze in the vacant structure “suspicious” and deeming it a total loss.
At least 10 fire departments from Vermont, Massachusetts and New York all responded to battle the flames starting at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, and some firefighters remained on the scene Thursday morning containing hot spots. No injuries have been reported.
Fire officials told WCAZ-TV in Vermont that the grandstand was “made of wood contained in concrete, making it like an oven.”
According to the website for the radio station WBEC in western Massachusetts, “Smoke could be seen pouring from the back of the 64,000 square-foot grandstand building located on the side of the track. By about 1:20 a.m., heavy fire began to appear in the front of the building.
“A long line of emergency vehicles and tankers paraded up and down Route 7 as they refilled from a hydrant,” the WBEC report continued. “However the size of the structure and especially access to water appeared to be hampering firefighters’ efforts, according to scanner reports.”
In its prime, Green Mountain was nestled in one of the most picturesque settings in all of American racing, tucked among the trees at the southern tip of the iconic mountain range for which it was named. For Thoroughbreds, it featured a unique 13/16ths of a mile oval, with an inordinately long stretch of 1,106 feet.
Founded by Lou Smith, who owned Rockingham Park in New Hampshire, Green Mountain first hosted Thoroughbreds in 1963 and added Standardbred racing a year later. In 1968, the track was the first on the East Coast to host Sunday racing, drawing busloads of horseplayers from as far away as Philadelphia.
But the track’s rural location far away from major highways and cities largely worked against it, and Green Mountain had solvency issues almost from the start. The harness meet ran through the brutal Vermont winters, and in 1973, four years after Smith died, the Rooney family of Pittsburgh bought the track.
By 1976, Green Mountain had become the first track in the country to host Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and greyhound racing in a single year. But the lower-cost dog racing eventually forced out the horses. The final Thoroughbred program on September 12, 1976, was marred when jockey Thomas Arroyo was trampled to death.
Greyhound racing ceased by 1992, and the property changed hands several times. Over the last three decades, various developments and businesses have been proposed, including mixed-use housing and a water bottling facility. The former track also staged outdoor entertainment events like concerts and auto shows, and the vacant infield later became a popular spot for drone-flying enthusiasts.
When a TDN reporter last visited in 2005, the property was under heavy video surveillance with numerous trespass warnings prominently posted.