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We rejected greyhound racing in ’46

This post is based on a 1980 article by John E. Fogelberg in the The Daily Times Chronicle, and also borrows from his book “Burlington, Part of a Greater Chronicle.” The would-be dog track location is now a cluster of office buildings along South Bedford Street between the Mall Road the Route 128 overpass.

Proposed greyhound track location, Burlington MA

In 1946, most men who served in WWII were back home and looking for work. The state was planning a circumferential highway, which was to go through Burlington. The town had a population of only 2,700, and many big farms were still operating, including the Graham brothers’ farm on South Bedford Street

But the winds of change were blowing and many people in town felt that the time was ripe to invite business to come to Burlington to help lower the tax rate, to help pay for schools, to give returning veterans jobs, and to help pay the town’s bills in general.

William and Chester Graham ran the 100-acre South Bedford Street farm, which was about to be bisected by the new highway. The brothers, now well along in years — William was born in 1877 and Chester in 1880 — were offered a fair sum for their farm. They accepted a retainer and became almost overnight the focal point of another of Burlington’s hard-fought local issues.

Sometime either in 1945 or early in 1946, an association of businessmen, knowing that access to the Graham property would soon be an easy matter, decided the farm and certain other adjoining properties would be an excellent spot on which to build a greyhound dog-racing track. They began to prepare the foundation for acceptance of such a proposition by the townspeople.

Burlington was a conservative community and the mere thought of allowing racing and betting within the town raised the ire of many a long-time resident here. But others picked up the idea as a way to raise revenue and tried to promote the proposed track in every way possible.

To do this, the Burlington Improvement Association was formed. Its officers were Timothy Regan, president; Fred Williams, first vice president; Henry Rogers, second vice president; Frank Welch, treasurer; Tom Murray, recording secretary; and Mary Bennett, executive secretary. The new organization invited everyone to join and embarked upon a series of weekly or bi-monthly reports, which were mimeographed and became available to everyone in the community.

Those reports are interesting. The first one said in part, “We are proud of Burlington, but its future gives us grave concern. Our association was formed not simply to present the facts about greyhound racing, but to investigate all future problems affecting the welfare of the town. Burlington people….are entitled to FACTS about the subject, not theories and half-truths. The economic aspects of the proposed track…. immediate drop in the town tax rate …. from $42 to $33.”

The second report did its best to get the support of the veterans’ organizations by quoting, “At Raynham last year, in the six nights of racing, the entire profits of $53,000 were devoted to charity,” the biggest chunk going to the American Legion at $18,778.

The tracks at Raynham and Dighton were in towns similar in size to Burlington and thus were cited in the proposal. The proponents quoted Dighton’s welfare board chairman as saying, “There has not been one welfare case as a result of the track.” This to refute the argument that Burlington’s poor would spend all their money at the track.

Burlington residents were urged to see “Johnny Eager,” a movie starring Lana Turner and Robert Taylor, because it had footage of the Dighton track and would show “excellent views of the track, a typical crowd there, and a smooth-functioning traffic and parking system.” Subsequent issues gave answers to questions supposedly sent to the association by concerned citizens. Some of them were serious and factual, others tongue-in-cheek:

For instance:

Question: “I would like to put up a gasoline station in Burlington. Where can this be done?”

Answer: “It cannot be done. The only places left in town where any type of business may establish under our present zoning laws are two small areas, and neither property is for sale.”

Question: “We want this to be a residential town. What do we care if no business moves to Burlington?”

Answer: “No persons will build homes in any number here because of the high tax rate, lack of water and lack of transportation facilities.”

Question: “The association doesn’t put much in the letters of interest to women. Why should women care about the tax rate? Or about whether taxable business comes to town?”

Answer: “Suppose the tax rate dropped $8.80. That would mean that for each $1,000 worth of property your husband owns, you would have $8.80 more to spend. The average assessed value of property here is about $3,000. That would mean $26.40 more for you to spend. In nylons, that would be almost 22 pairs; 22 pairs of nylons each year! Madam, if you don’t care about the tax rate, you should!”

Article No.8 of the June 19, 1946 Town Meeting asked the voters to change from a Residential B zone to a business zone over 200 acres of land situated on both sides of South Bedford Street, bounded south by Blanchard Road to its junction with Wheeler Road, and then on a straight line northward crossing South Bedford Street again at its junction with Stonybrook Road.

The Planning Board held its meeting on the article on May 31 and then recommended to the assembled Town Meeting “that the area in question be changed.” However, only Allan Cronin and Alexander Brown had voted in favor; Carl Hall had voted in opposition and the other two members, Jack Moss and Ralph MacDonald, had not voted at all.

The meeting in the old Town Hall was jammed. Every seat in the hall was taken, the gallery was full, the stairs were occupied, the lower hall was crowded, people even stood on the outside fire escape and tried to peer through the open door.

The moderator had difficulty controlling the assembly. A motion to move the meeting to the high school was ignored. The attempt to set up a loudspeaker in the lower hall failed. A motion to vote by ballot was passed, Another motion to adjourn did not carry. Everyone wanted to be heard, but it was difficult to hear anything distinctly above the hubbub.

The ballot box set up in the banquet hall jammed several times and had to be unlocked and the mechanism adjusted before voting could continue. When it was finally over and the votes counted, the result showed 340 yeas, 252 nays and one blank, a total of 593. This total was challenged, but stood firm.

Since the motion needed a two-thirds vote (395) to carry, the rezoning article fell 55 votes shy and lost. Pandemonium, accusations, threats of illegality, noise! Chester MacDonald, the moderator; Maud Graham, the town clerk; and Henry Jackson, the officer on duty, had a very bad night.

Soon afterward, the Improvement Association claimed that 150 voters could not get into the meeting hall, rendering the vote illegal. No success. The Grahams returned the retainer and continued farming. The farm was later sold to the Carr-Fastener people and the house was demolished.

How orderly and dull are today’s Town Meetings by comparison.

Fogelberg never identifies the entrepreneurs or venture capitalists behind the dog track proposal. Surely the Burlington Improvement Association didn’t have the money to build a dog-racing venue. Whoever the money man was, he might have taken his show on the road to Dracut after rejection in Burlington. News archives show Dracut rejected a similar proposal a year later.

Greyhound racing is now banned in Massachusetts. The Greyhound Protection Act of 2008 mandated the closing of the state’s two tracks, Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park and Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, by 2010.

Raynham Park