Sunday, August 10, 2008

A General Thought On 19th Century Baseball Grounds In St. Louis

Because I can't leave well enough alone:

Al Spink, in The National Game, wrote that “(up) to that time (1860) indeed games were played on the prairie in North, South and West St. Louis by the boys of the town, who gave no heed to club organization or anything of that sort.” Spink’s observation is extremely relevant to any discussion of the growth of the game in St. Louis and the number of places where the game was played in the city. The growth of the game and where the game was played is intertwined in such a way that the latter propelled the former.

In But Didn’t We Have Fun?, Peter Morris speaks to the connection between the growth of the game and the availability of land upon which the game could be played. For the game to thrive, there had to be, obviously, land which could be used as a baseball field but also land that was accessible to both players and spectators. At the same time, the field could not be located in a downtown urban environment where flying baseballs and running athletes might do damage to windows, passer-bys, and the like.

St. Louis, unlike almost any Eastern city, had an abundance of open land easily accessible to its citizens. In 1860, as the game began to take off, St. Louis had been settled for less then one hundred years. It was a small town that, for the most part, still hugged the river and didn’t stretch more than a handful of blocks west. As Spink noted, to the north, west, and south of the city was an abundant amount of open land that, upon the founding of the city, was designated as common farm land. While the commons were eventually swallowed up by the growth of St. Louis, in the 1860’s and 1870’s this area was just outside of the city proper, cleared for agricultural purposes, and easily accessible to those living in the city itself.

An example of the nature of the area can be seen in the Camp Jackson affair. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the pro-Confederate Missouri State Militia was sent by Gov. Jackson to St. Louis. Without delving into the details of the affair, the militia camped just outside of the city of St. Louis in a location that was quickly named Camp Jackson. In pictures of Camp Jackson taken at the time (see photo at top of post), the area appears to be a wide-open prairie bordered by groupings of trees. The significance of this to the history of baseball in St. Louis is that the area where the Militia camped would after the Civil War become the Veto Grounds and eventually the Compton Avenue Park.

The St. Louis commons were perfect for playing baseball. Open and accessible, they gave the baseball fraternity in the city a variety of places to play. On can see that the location of most of the known 19th century baseball grounds in St. Louis were located in areas that had formally been part of the commons. The Grand Avenue Grounds in the north, the Veto Grounds in the west, the Lone Star Grounds in the south-all were built in areas that had only recently been farmland and was only just beginning, in the post-Civil War era, to be developed.

The availability of open land just outside the city of
St. Louis and easily accessible to the people of the city is one of the most important factors in the growth of the game in St. Louis. The numerous places where the game was played in 19th century St. Louis clearly illustrates this.

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