“Sulphur Springs Bottom” was the name given to Nashville’s recreational area after the city became Tennessee’s capitol. Although base-ball had been played in the city as early as the 1850s, during the Civil War the area was where Union soldiers first taught Nashville citizens how to play the style of their “northern game”. In 1870 the area was referred to as Athletic Park, and in 1885 it became the home of Nashville’s first professional baseball team, the Americans in the newly-formed Southern League.
Located north of downtown and bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Jackson St., and a railroad spur, the park was so named because a natural sulphur spring was nearby. Residents would fill empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for medicinal purposes, or just take a drink right from the spring.
Grantland Rice re-named the ballpark “Sulphur Dell” in 1908 while working as a newspaper reporter in Nashville. He also held a contest to determine a team name for the Nashville Baseball Club; the name “Volunteers” won, and was often shortened to “Vols”.
The original configuration of the ballpark faced the south toward the State Capitol. After the 1926 season a new steel and concrete grandstand was built and the field reconfigured so that the sun would no longer be in the batter’s eyes as he faced the pitcher looking northward. The center fielder faced home plate to the south in the new “turned-around Sulphur Dell”.
Beginning in 1927 Sulphur Dell had these unusual outfield dimensions due to the shape of the city block in which the ballpark was located: Left Field, 334′; Center Field, 421′; and Right Field, 262′.
The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base was 26 feet. But that was not all: the playing surface was below street level and there was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field. The embankment in left field began at 301 feet from home plate, but the right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle towards the fence, ending at 262 feet.
The right fielder, if standing at the base of the fence, was 22 1/2 feet above the infield!
The outfield fence was made of wood and was 16 feet high. The fence ran from the right field foul pole to a point 186 feet toward center field; there the fence was capped by a screen that added an additional 30 feet of height but decreased to 22 1/2 feet high midway to center field. In later years the screen height remained the same, but a second tier of signage was added in right field.
In its 100-year existence, Nashville’s professional baseball teams called Sulphur Dell “home”: the Americans, Seraphs, Tigers, Vols, and Negro League Elite Giants all played at the famous ballpark. The Nashville Vols played their final game at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League after 61 years in the Southern Association from 1901 through 1961.
Sulphur Dell was completely demolished in 1969.
© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.