Exploring Hartford’s forgotten baseball era

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
East Granby - posted Wed., Jan. 29, 2014
Norm Hausmann speaks with local baseball fans after making his presentation on Hartford’s baseball history. Bulkeley Stadium once sat 6,500 fans to watch great players like Babe Ruth and Hank Greenberg. Photo by Jennifer Coe.
Norm Hausmann speaks with local baseball fans after making his presentation on Hartford’s baseball history. Bulkeley Stadium once sat 6,500 fans to watch great players like Babe Ruth and Hank Greenberg. Photo by Jennifer Coe.

Planning for retirement, East Granby resident Norm Hausmann was encouraged by family members to “find something to do.” A lifelong interest in history led him to Trinity College, where he decided to audit some interesting courses. It wasn’t long before Hausmann was pursuing a master’s degree and taking a class about the city of Hartford’s history.

When his professor gave an assignment for all the students to write a paper about a historical occurrence in Hartford, Hausmann didn’t have to reach too deeply into his own memories to land on the topic of baseball history – a subject about which he is most passionate. While others were writing about major military conflicts and famous authors, Hausmann was at the Connecticut Historical Society digging up information on baseball.

Unknown to many, Hartford does have a bright, albeit brief, baseball history.

Clark Stadium, located on George Street, was sold to the Clarkin and Farrell families in 1928 and renamed the Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium in honor of the businessman and politician who had served as the first president of the National League.

Moving through a PowerPoint presentation at East Granby Public Library on Jan. 27, Hausmann showed off some of the photos he unearthed during his research. A group of East Granby Historical Society members reacted to the old-time uniforms and some very familiar names.

“This brings back great memories from my childhood,” said Hausmann. “If you came up on the stadium on a night game, there would be this glow,” he said, explaining that he was only 7 or 8 years old at the time. Lights were erected in the field in 1941. “It was magical,” he said.

Hartford became the farm team to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1931 and later won the Eastern League pennant. Only a year later, the Eastern League fell apart, leaving the Bulkeley Stadium. During a period of four years, local jeweler Bill Savitt formed his own team, the Savitt Gems, with which the retired Babe Ruth spent a couple of years playing before his death.

In the mid to late ’30s, baseball was again booming in Hartford. Eventually the Eastern League reformed and Hartford becomes a farm team for the Boston Braves.

“The stadium, when it was built, could hold 6,500 people,” said Hausmann. “Opening day was a very special occasion,” he said, and showed pictures of an opening day parade from 1931, complete with marching band and flag ceremony – all in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Hartford. “Parking was 50 cents,” he said.

In the audience to hear Hausmann’s presentation were many who were very passionate about baseball and local history. Several of them recalled names and faces from the photos Hausmann showed, even saying that they had been childhood friends with different players throughout the years.

“Baseball has a lot to do with what is going on in America as a whole,” he said. “As baseball is going on, all of the other things are going on too.” He pulled up a photo of the 1944 Hartford Chiefs and recalled that the Hartford circus fire and D-Day had both occurred that year as well.

Much of Hausmann’s research culminated in an effort to place a marker on the site where Bulkeley Stadium once stood. In the early ’50s, attendance began to dwindle markedly, and the stadium was sold in 1955.  It was demolished in 1960, and a convalescent home, which is still there, was built in its place.

Hausmann recalled going down to see the stadium, then a pile of rubble, in 1960. “I started to cry,” he said. After striking up a friendly relationship with local radio-man Bob Steele, Steele confessed to Hausmann that he too had shed a tear over Bulkeley Stadium’s demise.

Thanks to Hausmann’s and others’ efforts, the site now displays a brownstone monument to Bulkeley Stadium marking the spot where Center Field once stood.


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