Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shall We Gather by the River?

Yesterday, the Flemington Neshanock made their annual visit to Newtown, Pennsylvania as part of that community's Memorial Day observations.  The opposition was provided by the hometown Newton Strakes, a club which comes together just once a year for this match.  What they lack in 19th century experience, the Strakes more than make up for in youth and athleticism.  Every game in the series has been close and today was no exception with the Strakes tallying three times in the top of the first for a quick 3-0 lead.  Flemington got one back in their half, but Newtown matched that in the top of the fifth to lead 4-1 going to the bottom of the inning.  However, the Neshanock's offense got untracked in their turn at bat, tallying twice to make it a one run contest.  After blanking Newtown in the top of the sixth, Flemington added two more tallies in bottom of the inning to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Over the last three innings, the pitching of Dan "Sledge" Hammer and solid all around Neshanock defense not only shut out the home club, but allowed only one Strakes' base runner.  Flemington put the game out of reach in the bottom of the eighth, tallying four times for the final margin of 9-4.  Offensively Flemington was led by Tom "Thumbs" Hoepfner who had three hits ably supported by "Sledge," "Jersey" Jim Nunn, Glenn "Masher" Modica, Rene and Ken "Tumbles" Mandel all with two apiece.  Muffin Glenn "Masher" Modica continued his impressive hitting with a key double when the Neshanock took the lead in the sixth and Rene, another muffin, had an important hit in the game clinching rally in the eighth.  Hitting last in the order, Ken "Tumbles" Mandel earned a clear score which will surely make him very popular when his family moves to Newtown later this year.  With the win, the Neshanock's overall record improves to 5-8 going into an off weekend.  Flemington will return to action on Sunday, June 8th in Clinton, New Jersey against the Elkton Eclipse. 

Those members of the Neshanock who traveled to Newtown from New Jersey did so by one of the many Delaware River bridges.  There are so many options, it's sometimes hard to remember that New Jersey is something of an island, surrounded by water on almost three sides.  Back in the 19th century the feeling of isolation created by the water barriers must have seemed even greater especially in the southern part of the state which had no railroad service, lacked good roads and was more sparsely populated.  These limitations effected almost every aspect of life and the area's first base ball clubs were no exception.  Lower population levels meant fewer teams and transportation challenges made it more difficult to schedule and travel to matches.

Riverboat John Warner on the Delaware about 1898

A case in point is the experience of the Mosacsa Club of Salem, the county seat of New Jersey's extreme southwestern county.  The town or village of Salem is located on Salem Creek about three miles from where it flows into the Delaware River.  Due to its proximity to the river, Salem was an early commercial center before it and other Delaware River towns were eclipsed by Philadelphia about 1750.  From then on until the railroad reached Salem in the 1860's, travel options were limited to long stage coach rides over bad roads or boats on the Delaware.  Not surprisingly boats became the preferred option and steam boat service to and from Philadelphia began on a semi weekly basis about 1816.  This also made Salem the starting point for the arduous overland journey to Cape May as vacationers arrived there by boat from Philadelphia to catch stages headed to the resort.

Salem Sunbeam - July 27, 1866

So far the earliest documented record found about the Mosacsa Club describes the club's 1865 win over the National Club of Delaware City, but the club's primary early opponent was the nearby Bridgeton Club.  Bridgeton, the county seat of Cumberland County, had a club no later than 1864, most likely a year earlier, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Mosacasas themselves go back into the Civil War years, unnoticed or at least unreported by the local newspapers.  Bridgeton is about 16 miles from Salem, and had the closest New Jersey club so the two teams apparently alternated carriage rides to play each other.  One account of a Mosacsa visit to Bridgeton says the club left "early" by carriage and arrived in Bridgeton about 9:00 a.m, making one wonder what time the writer considered "early."  In addition to their county seat peers, there were at least seven other clubs in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester Counties, all within 30 miles of Salem, but there is no record of the Mosacsa playing any of them.

1870 Newspaper ad for the steamers that brought Philadelphia clubs to Salem

Instead of taking on other New Jersey clubs, the Salem team found its opponents across the river in both Delaware and Pennsylvania.  Even these journeys weren't without hazards as Mosacsa's performance in an 1868 match at Milford, Delaware was reportedly sub-par due to "being tossed about upon the 'briny deep."  That didn't stop them, however as two years later, the Mosacsa played ten matches all of which, with the exception of Bridgeton, could be said to have been part of an informal Delaware River league with the river serving as an interstate highway.  Although easier than rough roads in a spring-less carriage, the river had other challenges beyond sea sickness.   For an 1870 match with the Mosacsa at Salem, the Mutual Club of Philadelphia sailed on a wind driven "pleasure yacht" and because the wind was against them, didn't arrive until late afternoon.  Another Philadelphia team, the Village Club avoided the fickleness of the wind by taking the steamer Perry to Salem, but the return trip wasn't as smooth as the game had to be stopped after eight innings so the Villagers could catch the 6:00 p.m. freight train back home.

1870 West Jersey Railroad schedule showing the 6:00 freight taken by the Village Club on the return trip from Salem to Philadelphia

All told the Mosacsa Club hosted six different Philadelphia clubs at Salem in 1870, all of which appear to have come at least one way by water.  While there is no record of Mosacsa visits to the City of Brotherly Love, the Salem team did take to the waves on the Major Reynolds to visit New Castle, Delaware where they won two matches in one day.  The Mosacsa only lost once in ten 1870 matches, in a game against the Union Club of Camden or so they called themselves.  In describing the match to the National Standard, "S" claimed to have seen members of at least five other clubs playing as Unions including members of the Athletic and Keystone Clubs of Philadelphia.  Some of the visitors were allegedly professionals, but even with this disadvantage and reportedly playing without three of their own regular lineup, the Mosacsa team lost by only three runs.  While the claims about the "loaded" lineup are almost impossible to verify, there was an Albertson on the Keystone Club and a Hayhurst on the Athletics.  Regardless "S" was clearly upset which was understandable as this was supposedly team's first loss in two years.

National Standard - August 17, 1870

Much more recently, in 2010, an effort took place to organize a vintage version of the Mosaca Club which, unfortunately, wasn't successful.  At the time other vintage clubs in Delaware and Maryland vouched for how a club in south Jersey would help their scheduling.  While the mode of transport would have been different, such scheduling would have been one more instance of historical accuracy in recreating 19th century base ball.  


  1. The Mosacsa Base Ball Club of Salem, NJ was formed in the spring of 1865 according to an article in the "National Standard", Salem, NJ, May 31, 1865. J. Harlan Buzby, Salem County Historical Society

  2. The club from Delaware City was the Atlas BBC, not the National as indicated in your blog post. The Atlas and Mosacsa were constant opponents in the mid through late 1860s. Another regular DE opponent was the Lenape BBC of New Castle and the Wawaset BBC of Wilmington. Those four clubs and Diamond State BBC of Wilmington also frequently umpired each other games. The Mosacsa, Lenape and Wawset derived their club names from native regional tribes.