The August 26, 1860 edition of the Mercury contained the following:
"Herculean vs. Long Branch - A closely played match was played on Tuesday, 15th inst between two clubs named the Herculean and Long Branch, on the ground between the Mansion and United States hotels at Long Branch."
New York Sunday Mercury - August 26, 1860
There was also the above box score which is difficult to read (actually the above is easier to read than the original). Unfortunately this is true of almost all of the New York Sunday Mercury microfilm I have seen for the 1859-1860 period.
This was more than a little of a surprise to me since prior research had not unearthed any evidence of base ball at the Jersey shore before the Civil War. Long Branch is part of Monmouth County and neither the Monmouth Democrat or the Monmouth Herald and Inquirer for 1860 have accounts of base ball games. I could, of course, have missed something so I will check again. I couldn't identify any of the players on the 1860 census (assuming I read their names correctly), but Entertaining a Nation: The Career of Long Branch by the WPA writers project confirms that both the Mansion House and US Hotel were located on Ocean Avenue in that shore community. As is well known Long Branch was a famous 19th century resort where U.S. Presidents and their families escaped the summer heat of Washington, D.C. The Mansion House was reportedly Long Branch's "finest hotel," hosting many famous guests including Mary Todd Lincoln in the summer of 1861.
Mary Todd Lincoln
All of this is all very well, but the immediate question for my research is whether this is an exception or outlier to what I have found so far or is it the tip of the iceberg, evidence of more extensive base ball than was reported in the limited local newspapers. I still have about a 1/2 dozen of south Jersey papers to check, but research so far indicates that base ball's spread outside of Essex and Hudson Counties was limited to less than 10 communities, primarily in central New Jersey.
For young men to develop an interest in forming a base ball club, they had to see the game, hear about it or read about it. Each possibility could happen in multiple ways and possible exposure to the game became more likely as the 1850's drew to a close. Certainly in a place like Long Branch, which drew visitors from New York City and Philadelphia, not to mention other New Jersey locations (probably including Newark), there was a relatively high likelihood that visitors played base ball and/or talked about base ball while in Long Branch, thereby inspiring local youths to start their own clubs.
Long Branch Hotels
So at the moment this seems like an outlier to me - an exception which can be explained by Long Branch's more cosmopolitan nature. However, I'm certainly not dismissing the possibility that there was more base ball activity than ever made it into the space challenged, weekly newspapers of the period. One of the next steps in my research is to look more closely at the communities where base ball was played in search of common denominators which can explain how and why the game spread as it did. Long Branch is now on that list.