Tag Archives: Sulphur Springs Bottom

Sulphur Dell: What was in the Water?

nashville-republican-banner-short-version-june-1-1841-j-h-bransford In the late 1700s, pioneers discovered a special place on the banks of the Cumberland River where a natural sulphur spring flowed, and deer and other wildlife licked the mineral salt. Named French Lick Branch, the creek ran through “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, a low-lying section of Nashville which soon became the city park. A ball field was established where games could be played, and picnics, horse racing, and other leisurely events were held.

In 1841, the Republican Banner reported that J. H. Bransford, a partner in the dry goods business of Maulding & Bransford, found opportunity to refit the spring for bathing purposes. The city allowed Bransford to take on the project, but in return he agreed to not charge patrons for its use. Being the entrepreneur that he was, however, J. H. would certainly offer “fruit, cigars, &c.”[1] for sale.

1828-fwIn a newspaper notice of June 1 to announce his venture, Bransford noted a chemical analysis on the water at the spring had been performed by a “Professor Bowen” in 1827. The analyzer was most certainly, George T. Bowen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nashville. Per a November 18, 1928 death notice in the Hartford Courant, young Dr. Bowen had passed away at the age of 28[2]. Hopefully, his demise did not come about from inhaling the pungent sulphur during his assessment.

nashville-republican-banner-long-june-1-1841-j-h-bransfordNonetheless, the examination was repeated by Dr. Gerard Troost, Tennessee State Geologist, who moved to the area in 1928 from Indiana to become professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville. and was probably a colleague of Bowen. Undoubtedly, Troost suffered no ill health from his inspection of the sulphur spring, as he died in 1850 as a result of a cholera outbreak in Nashville.[3]

The Republican Banner article goes on to lists the results of both distinguished chemists. Dr. Troost’s results proved the close resemblance of Nashville’s sulphur spring composition to that of Harrogate Springs in England. Today, the establishment is the oldest bottler of water, dating back to the 16th century.[4] By comparing the mineral content of a world-famous sulphur spring, to one discovered only a few decades before, Bransford was establishing the quality of the resort he was to build.

Bransford, Bowen, nor Troost could have conceived, yet even imagined, the historical significance of what would become Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. The magicial springs gave way to the ballpark’s mysterious smell, flavor, and mystique for years to come.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Republican Banner, June 1, 1841, p. 2.

[2] Hartford Courant, November 18, 1828, p. 3.

[3] Gerard Troost (1776-1850) , Geologist. http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/bstud/troost.html, retrieved February 28, 2017.

[4] Harrogatespring.com. http://www.harrogatespring.com, retrieved February 28, 2017.

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(Rain) Check, Please

Abner Powell, along with Nashville’s Newt Fisher and Memphis’ Charlie Frank, organized the Southern Association that began play in 1901. Powell had played and managed New Orleans beginning in 1888 and played for Nashville’s Southern League team for eighteen games in 1894.

He managed New Orleans in 1901 and 1902 and Atlanta’s entry in the new league in 1903 and 1904, and in 1905 sold his interest in his team and purchased a share of the Nashville club. In those days, loyalty to a particular team, especially when a player, was often trumped by investment power.

Powell is credited for introducing knothole gangs and ladies’ days to boost attendance at baseball games during his early years in New Orleans. And he invented one key item that became known as the “rain check”, the detachable stub on printed tickets.[1]

RaincheckRain outs have been the bane of team owners, players, and fans across the nation. Long before concessions and attendance added to the bottom line, paid attendance paid the bills.

Sulphur Springs Bottom was Nashville’s area for recreation and games were played at Athletic Park, later known as Sulphur Dell. It was a low-lying area just north of the city center, prone to flooding especially during spring rains. There have been many rain outs in Nashville, and the phrase “Rain, rain, go away” has been sounded for years, especially during baseball season.

Teams organized in the 19th Century and were at the mercy of the skies. On July 6, 1875 as W. T. Lincks and Morgans played to a 2-2 tie at Sulphur Springs Bottom before being rained out and the May 4, 1879 game between the Memphis club and a team from Nashville is rained out and postponed indefinitely.

Suspended games, postponements, and cancellations were the result. On June 26, 1895 Nashville played an unusual number of games in one day, three games against Little Rock due to the previous day’s double header being rained out. The first game is scheduled for 10 AM when only two opposing players show up and umpire Cline calls a forfeit in favor of Nashville as manager Dick Gorman explains that his team refuses to play three games in one day. The afternoon games are won by Nashville 17-7 and 8-5, and the Seraphs and manager George Stallings are credited with three Southern League wins.

More than 2,500 fans stood in line for nearly an hour on May 1, 1945 before Nashville’s home opener was called due to rain, and the next year on April 8 the exhibition game between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers was cancelled due to morning rains and a downpour which came 45 minutes before the scheduled start. The outlook for the game had called for 7,500 fans to turn out, as all reserved seats were sold out and 4,000 fans were turned away.

Rain checks came in handy without rain on April 23, 1956 in a 12-8 loss to New Orleans when only 438 Nashville fans show up in 46-degree weather. Each was rewarded by general manager Bill McCarthy who announced the club would honor their rain checks for any future Vols game during the season. There was no rain, but the detachable ticket gave loyal rooters a way to attend another game free of charge.

Abner Powell was a visionary who gave many things to baseball that continue today: the rain check, ladies’ day, and knothole gangs. But his greatest invention may have been one that today’s players and fans take for granted: He innovated the covering of the playing field with a tarpaulin to keep the surface dry.

Team owners probably do not take that one for granted.

[1] Taggart, Caroline. Right as Rain: The Meaning and Origins of Popular Expressions. Great Britain: Michael O’Mara, 2013

© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Battlefield to Ball Field: The Championship of Tennessee

Turning back the clock to see “what once was” will be on full exhibit today on an historic battlefield. But this battle will not take place with rifle and cannon, nor will life be exhausted from bodies who give their all.

Yes, there may be some who will call themselves “exhausted”, but it will be from playing a game of ball, and how appropriate that Franklin’s Carnton Plantation is the venue. Another battle took place nearby over 150 years ago as Union soldiers encountered Confederates. Then it served as a field hospital, but today it stands as a field of fair play.

The pride and conviction will result in winning a prize, but not from winning a war. The exhibit will be one of participating gentlemen and gentle women, not one of bloody battle.

Logo-With-BannersAnd today a Tennessee Vintage Baseball championship will be won.

Yesterday the first contests took place to determine semi-finalists for today’s matches.  The Highland Rim Distillers will face off with the Nashville Maroons, and the Lightfoot Club of Chattanooga will play the Oak Hill Travellers at noon with the winners to clash in the final game at 2:30 pm.

Lessons learned from the Civil War have resulted in an understanding of how brother fought against brother, family against family. How fitting a tribute to those lessons that contests such as these can take place, for today’s baseball has its foundations in the conflict of States.

With Nashville and all of Tennessee so firmly entrenched in that history, now we can reaffirm its importance through today’s matches and resolve to the gentleness and serenity of another kind of battle field: a ball field.

The prize is the Sulphur Dell Cup, another tribute to an earlier time. When Yankees taught their Northern Game to southern citizens, when ball games took place between those in blue and those in grey, to the birthplace of Nashville baseball at Sulphur Springs Bottom to today’s historic site, we should honor the players and spectators alike.

In so doing, we give you the cheer of our heartiest “Hurrah”!

Post Script: The Oak Hill Travellers won by a score of 23-14 over the Nashville Maroons to take the Sulphur Dell Cup

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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I Give Up: Where Was Sulphur Dell?

The question alwaysSDsignFB comes up: “Where was Sulphur Dell?”. Unless one has visited the construction site of the new First Tennessee Park, it is not easy to pinpoint the location, even by locating the historical marker on Fourth Avenue (don’t worry, it has been out of place since it was installed there).

1860s Sulphur Springs Bottom

Sportswriters Fred Russell and George Leonard often wrote that the ballpark was located between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, Jackson, and a spur railroad track. Before the street names were changed to numbers in 1904, the location was the same; the ballpark area was bordered by Cherry Street, Summer Street, Jackson and Washington.

I have a signed 3 x 5 index card signed by then Nashville Vols manager/general manager from 1960. He signed his autograph and inserted “900 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee” as the address, where the offices were located.

Until 1927, home plate was near the corner of Jackson and Fourth. Games were called at 3:30-4:00 PM, and in late innings the sun was in the eyes of the batter (facing toward the State Capitol).  To alleviate the problem, the ballpark was turned completely around and a new grandstand constructed where it remained until meeting the wrecking ball in 1969.

1927 Field View

No, the new ballpark is not going to look like this. No, there will be no real connection to the old one, other than overlapping the location. Yes, there is a whole lot of baseball DNA in the dirt.

As a fan, the ballpark could be located somewhere else and I would buy tickets. True fans do that.

 © 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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Sulphur Dell: A Brief History

“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. Full View

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.

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Salt and Sulphur

SDSignAt one time deer and buffalo searched out the area known by pioneers as French Lick Springs, and as the population began to grow, Nashville’s citizens made the former watering and trading spot their picnic and recreation grounds. Nearby was also a natural sulphur spring that people sought out, and residents filled their empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for its medicinal qualities or took a drink right from the spring at Sulphur Springs Bottom.

Eventually citizens met there for sports activities and baseball became their favorite diversion.  A portion of the grounds was designated as Athletic Park, as the need arose for a specific area to play the popular game. Interests in baseball grew throughout America and as the first professional baseball leagues flourished, the first local amateur and semi-pro teams in Nashville were formed.

The first Nashville professional team joined the newly-formed Southern League in 1885 and was known as the Nashville Americans.  Thus began Nashville’s history of organized baseball activity.

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