Thursday, March 28, 2013

Newark's First Base Ball Grounds

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to work at the Brooklyn Historical Society on their  Ex-Lab project.  Ex-Lab is a program where Brooklyn high school students create an exhibit using artifacts from BHS's collections.  In this case the exhibit was about Ebbets Field and I served as the lead historian.  The exhibit told the story of Brooklyn's beloved ballpark in a series of panels or sections.  Appropriately the section about Walter O'Malley's search for a new Brooklyn home for the Dodgers was called the struggle for space, or words to that effect.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 26, 1855

As apropos as the title was for Brooklyn in the 1950's, the notion of struggling for space also applies to organized base ball's earliest days.  After all it was the lack of space in  Manhattan which prompted the Knickerbockers and other clubs to move to the more pastoral, but still accessible, Elysian Fields in Hoboken.  Adequate facilities were also a challenge for the early New Jersey clubs.  The Jersey City Daily Sentinel partially attributed the premature demise of the city's initial clubs (the Pioneer and Excelsior Clubs) to their difficulties in finding grounds.

While finding sufficient space wasn't a life or death issue for the early Newark clubs, it was an important priority.  Two of the city's first teams, the Newark and Olympic Clubs established their initial grounds in East Newark, "south of the railroad bridge."  This appears to refer to land near the New Jersey Rail Road bridge across the Passaic River between Newark and what is now Harrison.   Examination of an 1853 map of Newark ( indicated the bridge was basically in the same place as the modern railroad bridge in the below picture.  As a result Newark's first official base ball field was to the right of this structure on the right side of the picture.   East Newark, in 1855 was probably more of a geographic description than the name of a municipality as today's East Newark wasn't incorporated until 1895 and lies to the north of this picture.  

Railroad bridge over the Passaic River between Newark and Harrison - one of Newark's 1855 base ball grounds was located somewhere on the right hand side of this picture

Whatever the advantages of these grounds, it wasn't too long before the location became an issue.  Even before the 1857 season began there was a report that "the clubs" were looking for space closer to the city center.  The challenge, of course, was that land in the center of the city was in much greater demand and, therefore, more expensive, if it was even available.  Military Park and South Park (today's Lincoln Park) were already in use for less organized ball playing, to the point the police  prohibited ball playing on Military Park while allowing it on South Park.  The demand was apparently so great that "colored base-ball players" (who presumably had to take what was left) were reduced to playing on the Old Burying Ground, one of Newark's first cemeteries.  

Newark Daily Mercury - November 18, 1859

As the antebellum period progressed, the organized clubs came up with a variety of solutions.  The Newark Club found grounds on some land bounded by High (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), West, Court and Mercer Streets, outlined in red in the below picture.  Located a few blocks south of today's Essex County Courthouse and St. Benedict's Preparatory School (Paul Zinn's alma mater), the field was also close to the Springfield-Newark Turnpike, today's Springfield Avenue.

Area in red was the Newark Club grounds right before the Civil War - the right red line is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the location is just a few blocks south of the Essex County Courthouse

The other clubs occupied four to five different sites, including the foot of Chestnut Street, the foot of Orchard Street, the corner of Thomas Street and Railroad Avenue and the corner of South Street and South Broad Street.  Using the 1853 map of Newark mentioned above and more modern information, the approximate locations are marked in red on the below picture.

The red marks indicate the location of four antebellum Newark base ball grounds.  The major road crossing the picture from the top to bottom is Route 21 or McCarter Highway and the location is south of Newark's Pennsylvania Station 

What's fascinating about the locations, even if they aren't exact, is how close all are to the railroad, as is the East Newark location.  Even the Newark Club grounds, the only one not near the railroad, is close to what must have been a relatively heavily traveled highway.  While the proximity to the railroad probably had little impact on the game's development in Newark, it could very well have influenced its spread south and west of the city.  From 1855 on, railroad passengers could have seen base ball being played without even leaving their seats, possibly sparking interest in learning about this "new" game.  It's worth noting that almost without exception, the New Jersey locations where base ball developed before the Civil War, places like Rahway, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Somerville and Morristown all had a direct railroad connection to Newark.

As Richard Hershberger rightly pointed out in a comment on an earlier post, the availability of adequate, multiple playing fields in Newark is an important part of the New York game's fast start in Newark.  Other than availability and affordability, it's not clear if there is a reason why the Newark teams chose sites so close to the railroad.  Most likely unintentional, the decisions set up opportunities for people from other parts of the state to catch a glimpse of something new that might have aroused their curiosity and inspired them to learn more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Newark Junior Club - Part 2 - the Adriatic Years

Reorganized as the Adriatic Club, the pioneering teenagers and their new members joined the Newark and Empire Clubs as Newark's leading 1857 base ball clubs.  Of the Adriatic's five matches, four were against their inter-city rivals.  First up were three matches with the Newark Club.  After losing the first by an unlikely 40-35 score, the Adriatics won the next two, presumably winning a best of three series.  It marked the last Adriatic-Newark Club match for four years.  While the hiatus by itself proves nothing, it led me to another possible explanation for why a group of Newark teenagers decided to form their own base ball club.  Perhaps instead of setting out to copy the Newark Club, the original juniors wanted to join that club, but were effectively told to go home and grow up.  If so, winning two of three in 1857 would have been sweet revenge.

Horse Drawn Omnibuses

If the Adriatics 1857 season was about Newark bragging rights, they were less successful against the Empire Club, dropping their only match to the other Newark club.  Unfortunately for the Adriatics, there would be no opportunity for revenge before the Empire Club went out of existence after the 1858 season.  During 1858 and 1859, while the Newark and Empire Clubs favored inter-club, married-single matches, the Adriatic ventured outside both Newark and New Jersey, playing other New Jersey clubs as well as Brooklyn and New York teams.  The New York opposition was provided by the Union Club of Morrisania and while the New Yorkers were not yet the prominent club they became in the post war era, they were still strong enough to win all three matches with the Adriatic.  On one occasion, the Newarkers made the 20 plus mile trip to the Union Club's home grounds in what is now the South Bronx.  While that may not seem like a long trip today, it took four hours in a horse drawn omnibus.  After enjoying a "fine collation," the club returned to Newark about midnight, some 13 1/2 hours later.

New York Times - August 2, 1859

While they took on a fairly diverse group of opponents, the Adriatics were clearly not trying to compete at the highest levels.  As noted the Union Club was almost a decade away from its best years and another opponent, the Pastime Club of Brooklyn, was probably noted as much for its social side as its on the field performance.  Playing only five to six matches a year from 1857 to 1861 (about one-half of the number played by the leading antebellum clubs), fully 25% were played against two Jersey City clubs, the Lone Star and Hamilton Clubs.  The Long Star Club was technically a junior club while the Hamiltons greatest claim to fame is that their minute book survives in the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown.

Playing relatively frequently against the two Jersey City teams meant some of the Adriatics matches were reported in the Jersey City Daily Courier and Advertiser which appears to be the first New Jersey paper to assign a reporter to cover base ball matches.  In his description of the Adriatics 42-19, September 10, 1858 triumph over the Lone Star Club, the unnamed reported lamented the layout of the Adriatics grounds where surrounding fences resulted in multiple ground rule singles.

Daily Courier and Advertiser - September 11, 1858

In addition to not playing the toughest competition, the Adriatics didn't enjoy that much success with an overall record of 9-7 through 1859.  Things got decidedly worse in 1860 as the Adriatics managed only two victories over the Hamilton Club while finishing with a dismal 2-5-1 record.  The 1860 season also marked a resumption of competition with Newark clubs, this time with the newly formed Eureka Club.  Like most clubs in 1861, the Adriatics played a limited schedule consisting of two matches with the Newark Club and a re-match with the Eureka.  As described in earlier posts, both of the other two clubs had strong teams in 1861 and its not surprising the Adriatic lost all three of their matches.

The Sunday Mercury - September 29, 1861 - the Adriatic's last match

The final 1861 match was a decisive 32-6 thumping at the hands of the Eureka. It also turned out to be the Adriatics last match as on May 29, 1862, the Newark Daily Advertiser reported that "the Adriatic Club has broken up its organization, and its members have joined the other clubs."  The 1861 box scores include only three carry overs from the 1855 founding members.  With an average age of 16 in 1855, the founders would have only been in their early 20's in 1861, certainly not too old to play competitive base ball.  Most likely they had additional responsibilities which made active club membership too difficult.

Newark Daily Advertiser - May 29, 1862
The promise of a new season, but not for the Adriatic Club

The Newark Junior/Adriatic Club is significant because it marked the first time teenagers organized themselves to play the New York game.  Beyond that they may not seem that important, certainly their on the field record is nothing memorable.  I  think, however, that their significance goes beyond the one 1855 act.  Since they were the first junior club, they also had the opportunity to be the first junior club to transition into senior status which they did.  By doing so they provided an example for the Eureka, as well as the Irvington and Champion (Jersey City) Clubs all of which enjoyed success in the post Civil War years.  Many of the New Jersey clubs formed in the last antebellum years were junior clubs, but few of them ever followed the path taken by the Adriatic.  In addition by branching out to play teams outside of New Jersey, even on a limited scale, the Adriatics were an early part of the process whereby New Jersey clubs explored where they fit in the early competitive world of the New York game.  Regardless of the won/loss record, this group of young men were important base ball pioneers

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Newark Junior Club - Part I

Regardless of how it happened, by the spring of 1855 young men in Newark knew enough about the New York game to emulate their peers in New York City by forming their own base ball clubs.  While the exact date is unknown, all the evidence indicates the Newark Club, formed in May of 1855, was the city's first base ball club.  Not far behind were three others so that by June 22, 1855, New Jersey's largest city had four clubs.  The order of their formation is also unknown, but the Oriental Club (soon to become the Olympic Club) took on the Newark Club in June in the first all New Jersey match.  Also mentioned as one of the charter clubs was the Friendship Club although there is no record of their ever playing a match, or at least under that name.  A team called the Empire Club did take the field in 1855 which could represent another name change like the Oriental/Olympic switch.

Newark Daily Advertiser - July 27, 1857 - suggesting a connection between the Friendship Club and the Empire Base Ball Club 

The fourth club was called the Newark Jr. Club and appears to represent another base ball first for Newark (the St. John's African-American Club being the other).  I had thought it interesting that Newark had three types of base ball clubs (senior, junior and African-American) as early as 1855, but I didn't realize the junior version might be unique until I saw it was the only club on Richard Hershberger's list of 1855 teams playing the New York game identified as a junior club.  Thinking about it, it seems that unlike the three other Newark white clubs, the Newark Junior Club didn't have an example or model to follow.  The Newark, Friendship and Olympic Clubs could, at least theoretically, have learned about organizing a team from the New York clubs.  I don't want to make too much of this as many of the details of forming a "senior" club also applied to junior clubs, but for anything unique to a younger population, the Newark Junior Club apparently had to be pathfinders.

Like their brethren across the river, the initial Newark clubs focused on practice (inter-squad games) rather than match play.  After the two Newark and Olympic Club matches in June and July, the next match didn't take place until September 5th when the Juniors made their first match appearance, losing to the Newark Club, 27-19.  From that box score and that of the club's other 1855 match (a 24-21 loss to the Empire Club), 12 members of the Newark Juniors have been identified.  Their ages range from two youngsters of 14 to an elder statesman of 21 with an average age of 16.

Newark Daily Advertiser - September 6, 1855 (It was not the first match of the season)
While half of the group lived in Newark's East Ward in 1850, the west (three), south (one) and north (one) wards were also represented.  So unless their families moved closer together during the intervening years, the Juniors were not from one part of Newark although some of the East Ward residents were neighbors.  Because the 1855 season was midway between two censuses, it can't be determined whether work responsibilities impacted their ability to find time to play ball.  None of the twelve have an 1850 occupation listed, but for the most part, they were probably too young.  Some were working in 1860, but the five year gap makes it impossible to get a sense of how likely it was they were working five years earlier.

I would have liked to have compared this group with the rest of the Newark base ball class of 1855, but unfortunately the Empire and Olympic box scores are full of common names, making it possible to identify only one or two on each club.  More of the 1855 Newark Club line up can be identified with ages ranging from 20 to 27 with an average age of 24.  I half expected to find some overlap between the two clubs, indicating younger brothers copying their older siblings, but if there were family relationships, they aren't obvious.  My best guess is a group of teenagers witnessed the Newark Club organizing to play base ball and decided to copy them, the same way they were copying the New York teams. Most likely they added "Junior" to distinguish themselves from the "other" Newark Club.

Porter's Spirit of the Times - July 4, 1857

After the 1855 spurt of base ball activity in Newark, things slowed down the next year.  After only one season, the Olympic Club went out of existence and no further record has been found of the St. John's Club.  Once again the Newark Junior Club didn't begin match play until September of 1856 with a contest against the Empire Club which wasn't finished "due to some dissatisfaction."  The young Newarkers then found some peer competition, playing three matches against the Columbia Junior Club of Brooklyn.  With two seasons under their belt, the Newark Juniors apparently decided it was time to grow up and step up.  On March 30, 1857, they re-organized as the Adriatic Club with 22 members.  A review of the ages of the new members indicates most being 21 so they were clearly no longer a junior club.  The move from junior to senior status suggests a renewed sense of purpose and foreshadows the path followed by some of New Jersey's premier teams of the 1860's.  In the next post we'll take a look at the next phase of the history of this group of New Jersey base ball pioneers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1855 - the New York game comes to Newark

Before discussing Newark and the nation's first junior base ball club, I want to take a look at the New York game's beginnings in Newark.  In 1860, New Jersey's largest city had a population of just under 72,000, far more than any other community in the state, but also much smaller than neighboring New York City (813,669) and Brooklyn (279,122 - Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898).  It's interesting, therefore, that in Newark in 1855 at least four clubs (five, if we count the St. John's Club) had been organized to play the New York game compared to seven in Brooklyn and four in New York City.   In 1855 at least, relatively more young men in Newark were forming base ball clubs than in more populous Brooklyn and New York.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 22, 1855

How can we account for this growth spurt in the early days of the game's first expansion phase?  Perhaps one place to start, is by looking at how young men in Newark might have acquired an interest in the game as well as learning how to play it.  I may be missing something, but I think there were only three ways for potential ball players to learn about the New York game, they could read about it in the newspaper, hear about it from someone else or see it for themselves or some combination of the above.

Newark Daily Advertiser - July 3, 1855

Of the three possibilities, there is one we have some chance of evaluating over 150 years later - the possibility of their reading about it.  Based on the available evidence, the chances seem pretty slim.  Newark and other New Jersey newspapers provided little or no base ball coverage through 1854 and the late Craig Waff's games tabulation lists only nine New York newspaper game accounts from 1851 to 1854.  I haven't looked at the sports weeklies for the period, but even if there was significant coverage, which I doubt, it reached a  limited audience.

Newark Daily Advertiser - August 4, 1853

That leaves seeing and/or hearing .  Learning about the game by word of mouth would reach more people, but was unlikely to capture the excitement of an eyewitness experience.  It's important to remember that while we are considering the spread of something called the New York game, a number of games were played not in New York or Brooklyn, but at Elysian Fields, which although convenient to both New York communities was actually in New Jersey.  It's, of course, possible that Newarkers saw the game in Brooklyn or heard about it from someone who did, but the Hoboken (visual) and/or New York City (oral) possibilities just seem more probable.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 1, 1855

Certainly there was plenty of interaction between New York City and Newark.  In 1855 the railroad made 30 daily round trips between Newark and New York and the Newark Daily Advertiser typically carried a column or two of advertisements for New York companies.  One thing is for sure, New York businessmen wouldn't invest money on such ads unless they were generating business, which probably included some in-person business.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to believe that Newarkers going to and from New York heard others talking about a game that had been played or was going to be played in nearby Hoboken.

A lot has been written about how New Yorkers flocked to Elysian Fields by ferry boat, but I haven't found much about it's popularity with New Jerseyans, especially people in Newark.  A search of the Newark Daily Advertiser found one instance of a Newark church group scheduling an outing there.  Interestingly most of the "hits" in both the Advertiser and New York newspapers for Elysian Fields from 1851 to 1855 are stories of riots, crimes, violence and drinking.  Still it seems likely the attractions which lured New Yorkers to Elysian Fields would also have attracted some visitors from Newark as well.

Newark Daily Advertiser - June 1, 1855

Regardless of how young men from Newark learned about the "new" game, they didn't waste any time following suit.  It appears the Newark Club was formed in May of 1855, but the Oriental (soon to become the Olympic) must have joined them fairly quickly as the two clubs played each other in June of 1855.  That first match may not have been entirely by New York rules, but the teams appear to have gotten with the program the following month.  The two Newark pioneers were joined by another "senior club," called the Friendship Club which I believe changed its name to the Empire Club.

New York Times - July 18, 1855

My guess is that the Newark Juniors and the St. John's Club got a slightly later start only because it's less likely (although not impossible) that teenagers and African-Americans would have the opportunity or occasion to visit New York or Hoboken.  At the same time we know next to nothing about the St. John's Club and it's even possible they were New Jersey's first club.  Whatever the order however, by the end of 1855, Newark had a full complement of clubs - senior, junior and African-American.