Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Old Parks: Messer Street Grounds, Providence, RI

Last time I did one of these, I was promising a Providence ballpark would be next. Many suns later, here we go:

Below, you will see, roughly, maybe, essentially, where the "Messer Street Grounds" was located, from 1878 to 1887. It was home to the NL's Providence Grays, two-time league champions before they disbanded in 1885.

View Messer Street Grounds in a larger map

There are two detailed sites about the park, here (ProvidenceGrays.Org) and here (Project Ballpark), plus the Wiki page. You can learn more about the park and the team there, but my little project is all about pinpointing the park's footprint. Those sites helped me a lot. This was a tough one, though, as there was some conflicting info.

The first site said the land owned by Josiah Chapman, whose farm the park was built on, was bordered by Messer Street on the east, Willow on the north, and unknown on the west and south. I went to 1875 maps of Providence Ward 8 and 9 on this awesome site and actually saw Chapin's land notated. It even showed the location of Stephen Tourtellot's house (the yellow house on my map above), one of the only houses built on the land (which is why they were able to put a baseball field on it). That house still stands--check out the street view of it. The house shown at the Project Ballpark site above is right below the corner of Messer and Willow, and also shows a plaque which says the park in "near" there. So even though the 1875 map showed me that Chapin's land extended many more blocks south, I guess we have to assume that the northeast corner of it (by Messer and Willow) is where the ballyard sat.

As for how it was situated: I read where there was an east and west bleachers, which would imply the park faced north or south. But I also read that the area beyond center and right field was used for circuses, and that implies the park would face southeast, leaving the area to the south of the field as circusville. (Because Chapin's land ran from Willow down several blocks south.) I liked that idea, but I went with south-facing for my map. Either way you can match it to another fact, which is that the Tourtellot house was just beyond the left field fence, and would have people sitting on its roof watching games.

The Project Ballpark site also gave dimensions--I don't know how they could have known this--and I made my footprint accordingly to fit in onto the land, leaving room for the grandstand just below Willow. It's almost as if they had right field go all the way out to a far away point, and had the fence cut straight across until it got to left, where it had to go around that one house. Which would make sense if they were respecting the boundary of houseless Wood Street. (See the pink section of this old map to see the Chapin land--Messer Street runs along the bottom; north is to the right. That shows the top border--the bottom border extends way down past where this map ends, as you can see if you search the other ward 8/9 maps. I also read that his land was renamed the "West Training Ground Plat"--on some old maps you see the area to the east of Chapin's land referred to as "Training Ground Plat.")

I'm also wondering what the building is in the background of the shot on the Project Ballpark page of the team on the field is. I don't think it's around anymore, but it does prove there were buildings just behind the grandstand, which fits my theory--that would be the north side of Messer Street.

Hope you got all that. One more thing--Babe Ruth played for the Providence Grays, but that was obviously much later, and it was a different Grays, playing in a different park. The minor league Grays lasted a good long time, yet I can't figure out where Ruth played ball when he was here. Can't find the location or the name. That's for you to research, I guess.


There was also something about acreage, with 6 for the park and 9 for the circus zone, and I did the converting to square feet, and it was all off. I think. Who knows.
Cool! From the way that neighborhood is, you would never have any idea. Stuff about these defunct Rhode Island teams is always interesting to me, especially since they were usually in some league that was going in parallel with the league that eventually became "the" main one. There was, for instance, a hockey team called the Rhode Island Reds that played on North Main street from the 20s to the 70s, that was huge here. They were turned into a minor league team for the Rangers and then moved to Binghamton, and then Hartford after the Whalers left.
Thanks so much for this.
Not a problem!
The building in the background of the photo is the Willow Street School and is still standing as far as I know. You can see the school in the street view on Google Earth, it is located where Willow street intersects Messer Street. The towers are gone but the roof line, facade and windows are the same as in the photo. It supports your placement of the diamond.
Wow--I'll have to look at this again tomorrow. Thanks!
No problem, I love what you're doing. Also, the Prov. Gray's park where Ruth played is near the RIPTA headquarters and is still a vacant block where National Grid/Verizon store their spare telephone poles. My father knows the exact location so I'll get back to you with streets/address etc. He remembers a plaque on the site that recognizes this but I have searched and it is either very well hidden or has been removed. An interesting note; Providence had laws forbidding baseball on Sundays during Ruth's tenure with the Grays. All Sunday games were played near Rocky Point in Warwick, RI. All homeruns plunged into Narragansett Bay. A baseball (later softball) diamond stood on this historic spot until the late 1980's. I'll get the GPS coordinates sometime and post them here (it is still a grassy field).
Cool. I'd love to find that plaque. And I had read that players came to RI to play back in the Sunday Law days--interesting that it was a city-by-city thing.

Thanks for all this! I'm working on a new site that will have stuff like this in its own section, etc....
I've been researching the Grays a little just out of curiosity and found your site. I used to work in Olneyville, so I was really curious where they played. That is definitely the building in the background of the old photo from the Messer St. Grounds. I would love to find the old Grays minor league field and plaque. Thanks for all your work on this - it's great!
Cool, thanks! ... I really should do an updated post on this park.
My grandfather (1876-1961) was a schoolboy at the Willow Street school and they were allowed to go up in the tower and look over at the baseball games. He never forgot that the Grays were the frst World Series champions. There is a great new book out by Edward Achorn of the Providence Journal, "Fifty-nine in '84" that gives a wonderful picture of baseball in the early days. Old Hoss Radbourn was a fantastic character.
This is all great info, thanks!
Some nice images of the Messer Street School seen in the background can be found on this postcard and in "A History of New England" (1880).
I find the dimensions of this ballpark completely ridiculous. lol. One wall is in, one is out....can't believe those are the real dimen.
Just walked the area today. Looking at the buildings and layout of the street it makes sense that the park was there. The houses are all newer compared to the historically marked houses just a few blocks over. None of the trees loo older then 100 years or so, wich is much diffrent a few blocks down on hudson
Thanks for the comment. I should go over there myself. The other day I noticed the Like No Udder truck was right near Messer St. and I thought about how close I am to history. Was just reading the Hoss Radbourn plaque at the HoF recently too, also made me think of it.
Walking the area again today, I could not find a plaque as noted in that photo. I asked the owner of the deli on hudson street and he had never heard of the grays or the messer grounds. He sugested I contact the west broadway assosiation, for they do a lot of historical work in the area.
Ruth played at Melrose Park, or the Melrose Street Park, on Melrose Street near the current-day site of National Grid's facility.
Thanks--someone did mention this in comments above and I have since driven around that block--really no indication of the field, no plaque I could see. I love that Ruth played right near my house.
I grew up on althea street so I recognize the area. I'm not sure if the location is correct. In the picture on Wikipedia, the Messer street school is in the background beyond the outfield. I think the park is closers to conlan park bordered by sorrento st., union Ave and Waverly st.

Post a Comment

If you're "anonymous," please leave a name, even if it's a fake one, for differentiation purposes.

If you're having trouble commenting, try signing in to whatever account you're using first, then come back here once you're signed in.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

My Photo
Location: Rhode Island, United States