Sunday, September 8, 2013

Base Ball in Belvidere - Then (1865) and Now

Photo by Mark Granieri

After a well earned weekend off, the Neshanock returned to action yesterday with their annual visit to Belvidere as part of the Warren County community's Victorian Days.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to be there, but in addition to catching and picture taking, Mark "Gaslight" Granieri ably gave me an account of the match.  From "Gaslight," I understand that while still on the injured list, Dave "Illinois" Harris filled in as scorekeeper.  Thanks to both of them for helping out, but in neither case does it mean I will return the favor by subbing for them on the field!

Photo by Mark Granieri 

The opposition was more than ably provided by the Brooklyn Eckford Club, a relatively new team founded by Eric Miklich, the Neshanock's old friend and sometimes teammate.  Flemington came out of the gates hitting and took an early 4-2 lead, but unfortunately, the Neshanock didn't score again while the Eckford got their offense going for an 11-4 win.  Notable on the offensive end was a prodigious clout by Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw, who, back from the injured list, also pitched for Flemington.  Both teams reportedly played good defense with an exceptional stop and throw from third base by Ken "Tumbles" Mandel, the defensive highlight for Flemington.  No doubt it was accompanied by an appropriate tumble.

Photo by Mark Granieri 

Now at 20-18, Flemington is off again next week before playing two more September dates in New Jersey. Originally the Neshanock were supposed to play in what had been an annual vintage base ball festival at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but that event was cancelled so Flemington will visit Denville, New Jersey as part of the Denville Centennial Family Picnic on Sunday, September 22nd.  The following Saturday will see Flemington's annual visit to the Dey Farm in Monroe, New Jersey.  As always more details are available at

Photo by Mark Granieri

Co-incidental to the Neshanock's visit to Belvidere, I've been looking at how base ball spread throughout Warren County before, during and after the Civil War.  As with neighboring Sussex County, there is no evidence found to date of organized base ball activity in Warren County through 1864.  Unlike Sussex County, however, Warren County had its first base ball club only a few months after the war's end with the formation of the Belvidere Club in September of 1865.  Belvidere is the county seat and according to James Snell's History of Sussex and Warren Counties is located on "either side of Pequest Creek, at its confluence with the Delaware River."

Once formed the Belvidere Club didn't take long to begin match play, taking on the Logan Club of Lambertville in a home and home series.  While the initial account claimed the Belvideres had little practice, they won the first match handily, 33-10 and then embarrassed the host team, scoring 56 runs to win by 20 in their visit to Lambertville.  The only other 1865 match found to date, took place over a month later on November 16th in Phillipsburg.  Although the venue was still in New Jersey, the opposition was the Lafayette Club of Easton, Pa, which apparently played its "home" games in Phillipsburg.  This time the Warren County club wasn't so fortunate, losing a close 34-30 contest.

Belvidere is located near the upside down "N" in Pennsylvania on the left hand side of the picture about 2/3's of the way down

Thus far I've been able to identify nine of the thirteen young men who took the field for the Belvidere Club in 1865 (thank God for first initials in box scores).  Five were 20 or older with the other four in their late to mid teens so this doesn't appear to be a junior or young boy's team.  None of the nine had occupations listed on the 1860 census, but by 1870, one was a physician, two were clerks plus a number of artisans.  All were in jobs that could allow sometime flexibility for playing ball.  In spite of the rural nature of the area, none were farmers.

Warren County Courthouse - Belvidere, New Jersey

Two of the the Belvidere Club's three 1865 matches were on the road, in Lambertville and Phillipsburg respectively, which led me to look at the contemporary railroad connections.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad ran directly between the three communities on the way to/from Trenton and Philadelphia.  As such the railroad facilitated the ability of these early postbellum clubs to play match games, but probably didn't play as significant a role in getting base ball started in these communities as it did in more urban Essex and Hudson counties.

Warren Journal - September 29, 1865

As noted in numerous prior posts, the only ways young men in New Jersey could learn about base ball were to watch it in person, hear about it from someone else and/or read about it.  In pre-Civil War New Jersey, especially in urban Hudson and Essex Counties, it appears a railroad connection was a key factor in giving New Jerseyans a chance to experience the "new" game as newspaper coverage was limited.  By 1865, however, newspaper coverage of base ball was more extensive especially in the national publications allowing more opportunities to read about the New York game in rural communities like Belvidere.  Also noteworthy is that the first Warren County club was formed in the county seat which is similar to what I found in Sussex County.  Although still distant from urban centers, these county seats were more likely to host outside visitors on various kinds of business.  Interestingly four players on the Belvidere Club (three were brothers) came from families who operated hotels in Belvidere.

Warren Journal - September 29, 1865

Thus far it appears that when base ball spread in antebellum New Jersey within Hudson and Essex Counties, it moved from one neighboring community to another.  It's far too early to draw conclusions about what happened after the war, but it seems that such a direct connection to a neighboring community where the game was played wasn't as important by 1865.  A lot more to do, including a more detailed look at Sussex County later this fall.

Photo by Mark Granieri

1 comment:

  1. The patterns you describe here are consistent with what I typically see in farming counties. They first organize baseball clubs very soon after the war, the earliest clubs are in the county seat, and the members from the professional and business class, rather than farmers.

    The last two points reflect that organized baseball clubs were an urban phenomenon which spread to the countryside. In a rural county, the county seat was the most nearly urban place, with the largest number of suitable potential members.

    If you go forward several years you will likely find baseball spreading into smaller villages. They will likely bear the trappings of formally organized clubs, but upon examination will really be village teams: nines collected from the best players in the village for the purpose of playing neighboring villages, and without the other functions of the true clubs.