About Rockingham Racetrack
Located in Salem, New Hampshire, Rockingham Park Racetrack opened its doors on June 28, 1906 to more than 10,000 fans who came by trains from Boston, Rhode Island and New York City to see the racecourse that the press had proclaimed "the world's finest".
Gambling was still illegal in New Hampshire at the time and officials were forced to shut the track down. It remained closed for the next 25 years, but Rockingham Park wouldn't remain idle.
During this time the nation was fascinated with a new invention, the airplane, and in 1911, the New England Aviation Company sponsored an aviation exposition. In 1912, the first Rockingham Fair opened on the grounds. The weeklong event included a horse show, Grand Circuit harness racing, a carnival and exhibits. Though harness horses raced on the Grand Circuit, wagering was not allowed.
By 1917, World War I had erupted across Europe, and Rockingham Park was used as a bivouac site for the 14th United States Army Corps of Engineers, before they sailed off to France. By the 1930s, a man named Lou Smith had a vision of restoring "The Rock" (as the track was known) by giving it a facelift and legalizing pari-mutuel wagering. He succeeded. By 1933, wagering was legalized in the state, and with its facelift Rockingham Park was reborn as New England's first and finest racetrack.
All of the action on the racetrack, plus Smith's genius at promotion and customer service, reaped great rewards. As the crowds flocked through the gates and showed their support at the betting windows, revenue flowed into the state's coffers.
While other states instituted broad-based taxes such as statewide sales, income or property tax, New Hampshire was able to remain tax-free with the help of Rockingham Park.
New Hampshire instituted the nation's first state lottery in 1963, and Smith had another flash of brilliance. The Rock created the New Hampshire Sweepstakes in 1964, which was patterned on the Irish Sweepstakes, and it was the nation's first sweepstakes lottery.
The race was televised nationally on "ABC Sports", and although a crowd of 65,000 was projected, only about 17,000 people actually attended because there was too much advance publicity. A costly infield footbridge built just for the occasion wasn't needed.
The good times came to an abrupt end on July 29, 1980. A Tuesday morning fire destroyed the grandstand and damaged the clubhouse, and the 68-day meeting was canceled. Smith was no longer around to resurrect the track, because he passed away in 1969. Most people felt this would be the end of the story for The Rock. Nevertheless, The Rock would rise again. The current ownership of Max Hugel, Joseph Carney Jr., Thomas Carney and Edward Keelan formed Rockingham Venture Inc., and brought The Rock back to life.
Rockingham Racetrack re-opened in 1984 with a state-of-the-art Clubhouse that blended beautifully with the surviving historic structures. A lush turf course was installed in 1986, and after full-card interstate simulcasting was allowed in 1991, a plush sports club and family picnic pavilion were added. In addition to the excitement and action of live harness racing and full-card simulcasting from all of the top thoroughbred, harness and greyhound tracks, the track offers family-oriented entertainment and promotions, charitable bingo, and trade shows to better serve its community. Since 1906, Rockingham Park has been a proud part of Salem's history. It also plans to be a proud part of Salem's future.