Feb 29, 2016

Brooklyn's First Ball Park: The Union Grounds (1862-1883)

A long time ago, prior to the Civil War, in the very early days of baseball, ballparks like the Elysian Fields in Hoboken were wide open picturesque landscapes. There were no fences & no need to keep people away. They didn't even think about charging people to watch the events, especially since players did not get paid. So the more people that came the more welcome they were. That slowly started to change by the late 1850's.

By the 1860's ice skating was all the craze & elaborate balls for dancing on the ice while skating were held. On the corners of Marcy  & Rutledge Streets in  Williamsburgh, Brooklyn the Union Skating Ground was such a place.

Owner William Cammeyer saw the opportunity to get in on the growing popularity of baseball matches. (He owned a team that was already playing in Hoboken). A baseball facility was built for $60,000 (around $1.5 million in todays money) . Cammeyer contributed $20,000 & raised the other $40,000 in bonds. The majority of the revenue was thought to come from skating & at first no admission fees were thought to come from baseball matches.

On May 15th 1862, the Union Grounds located in Brooklyn across the East River from lower Manhattan was first opened for baseball. The ball park was baseballs first enclosed field ever to be constructed.

It had huge dimensions of over 500 feet from home plate to the outfield fences, with a brick three story pagoda building located in center field which was in play. The building was to offer a birds eye view of the on field action. The ball park was said to hold a crowd of up to 15,000 people.

Soon a 10 cents admission fee was added, for revenues of course but also to keep out rowdy drunks as well as gamblers who were a big problem in baseball's earliest days. Tall eight foot fences surrounded the facility so no one could get a free glimpse in.

Quotes: The Brooklyn Eagle- "The chief object of the Union Grounds reported is to provide a suitable place for ball playing, where ladies can witness the game without being annoyed by the indecorous behavior of the rowdies who attend some of the first-class matches.”

The field was home to the Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association (1872) The New York Mutuals of the National Association (1871-1875) & the National League (1876); the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association (1872-1875) and the Hartford Dark Blues of the National League (1877).

The ballpark was also used briefly by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association as well as other neutral  local teams. There were also games played there by other ball clubs outside of the area billed as special events.

At the time Brooklyn was a booming Metropolis & baseball was becoming a very popular local pastime.

The site was still used for skating in the winter time, the pagoda in center field was filled with lanterns to give a glittering effect on the ice. At times Cricket matches were also played there. By 1877 baseball was no longer played there.

The Union Grounds were demolished in July 1883, half of the site became the 47th Regiment Armory, which still stands today.

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