Bring Me Back to Life
The Great Barrington Fairgrounds

Written by: Sean L.
Photographs by: Amanda H.

I first fell in love with the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2013. I was up there filming an action movie for a few weeks, and the town became like a second home to me. Nestled deep in the picturesque wilderness of the Berkshire Mountains, Great Barrington was the true personification of an old school New England town. Locally owned small businesses line the streets. There’s a farmer’s market once a week during the fall. An old mansion keeps watch over the center of town. It is a true community. But there is one place here in town that doesn’t quite fit in. In the shadow of the mountains, an old relic of the past slowly crumbles into the fertile New England ground. And though she may not look it anymore, she was once one of the crown jewels of the local community. This is the Great Barrington Fairgrounds, and she has been left to rot on and off for many years.

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The Great Barrington Fairgrounds opened during the late eighteen-hundreds. It began as a place for the local farmers to trade and showcase their goods with the rest of the community. Horse-racing was added in several years later, and quite literally took off. Over the next hundred years, the Great Barrington Fairgrounds became well known around the region as one of the biggest and best tracks around. They were even hosts to the longest running harvest fair in all of New England. She began to hit major prominence in the 1940’s when the interest in horse racing spiked to an all-time high. But as we all know, no good thing can last forever. Over the next few years, that very same frivolous interest that made the Great Barrington Fairgrounds so popular began to steadily decline. The grounds were finally shut down in 1983. There was an attempt to revive the facility in 1997, but it was short-lived. The grounds closed for good shortly after.

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We visited Great Barrington once again in the fall of 2015. The deserted fairgrounds were there to greet us as soon as we arrived in town. The old racetrack has become completely overgrown. The stands have been defaced with graffiti and vandalism. A rusty chain-link fence still surrounds the complex, though it doesn’t appear to do much good. Though the fairgrounds are in rough shape, there is currently a strong movement amongst the local community to restore the Great Barrington Fairgrounds to their former glory. While exploring the grounds, we encountered a few of their volunteers setting up for a wine tasting being held the next day. Since the property was purchased by the Elsbach family in 2012, they have been making an effort to redevelop the land for the good of the community. They are called GBFB, and their mission is to “preserve and restore the environmental health of the fairground site.” Though these grounds may be abandoned, there just might be hope to bring them back to life.

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If you are interested in donating, volunteering, or learning more about GBFB, please visit their website here – http://gbfg.org/

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