HORSE RACE, ca. 1936. Leslie Jones Collection, BPL Print Department
Over 35,000 visitors attended the opening day races on July 10, 1935.
AIRPLANE VIEW OF SUFFOLK DOWNS, 1935. Leslie Jones Collection, BPL Print Department.
During the 44-day inaugural racing season, parking lots were packed and the Boston & Maine Railroad began running a non-stop Suffolk Special from North Station.
HORSE RACING, ca. 1939. Leslie Jones Collection, BPL Print Department.
In its first year, Suffolk Downs enjoyed an average daily attendance of nearly 15,000 fans.
UNIDENTIFIED COUPLE AT SUFFOLK DOWNS, 1936. Leslie Jones Collection, BPL Print Department.
Horse racing was one of the most popular spectator sports in New England from the 1930s to the 1960s. Well dressed patrons filled the VIP sections of the clubhouse and rooftop balconies.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, cash-strapped state governments looked for new means to increase their treasuries during hard times. In 1934, Massachusetts legalized pari-mutuel racing and, within a year, the Eastern Racing Association—led by Boston Bruins founder and president Charles F. Adams—constructed Suffolk Downs, the state’s first thoroughbred racing track.
Built on 200 acres of mudflats in East Boston, Suffolk Downs opened its doors in July 1935, making front page news throughout the region. Construction had been completed in only 62 days at a cost of $2,000,000. The racetrack included America’s first concrete grandstand; featuring 16,000 seats, it was the largest grandstand in the nation.