|RECREATION AND SPORTS|
VILLAGE OF ILION
HERKIMER COUNTY, NY
The following is taken from "Ilion 1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide this information to our visitors.
Recreation and Sports
No history of the Village would be complete without some mention of sports.
Baseball, as a major activity, is almost as old as the beginning of Ilion
itself, with the greatest number of participants and fans. "The Clippers",
organized in 1869, the first uniformed team in Ilion, known as the best
aggregation of players ever assembled, played against many major league
teams, including Boston, St. Louis, Chicago. One of their most memorable
games, played in Ilion, was against the Chicago team, whose star pitcher,
Al Spaulding, later became the founder and millionaire head of the sporting
goods firm. In 1892 the "Clippers" made a trip through the northern states
and Canada, playing seven games in ten days and winning them all! The next
big team, "The Independents", played from 1898, at Chismore Park. The
Typewriter field, from 1900, was also the setting for exciting action as
the cry arose, "Play ball!"
From 1901 to 1904 Ilion was in the State League. There were difficulties
the first year including the problem of bringing good players to Ilion.
Thirteen games were played with thirteen managers. Difficulties were
overcome to such an extent that in the following three years the State team
was a contender for the championship, finishing second in 1902, 1903, and
1904. In 1904, a "wet weather" field was leased on the Whitney farm. It was
this or row boats part of the time. A dry diamond found them at Chismore
Park - Ilion joined the Empire League in 1905. This was a smaller circuit
and Ilion was only part of it for a few years. But big name stars were
really developed here!
New York State's most successful twilight baseball circuit, the Ilion
Sunset League, was founded in 1921. Games were contested at both the
Library Bureau field and Typewriter Park in the first years. Eight teams
made up the first league. In 1922, the Hose No. 2 outfit, winners of the
first year's pennant, was considered one of the best since the days of
earlier glory on the diamond. Hose No. 1, or Otsego Streeters, and Hose No.
2 or Union Streeters, always drew large crowds when they clashed. The
hottest fires the firemen ever fought were as nothing compared to the heat
of these battles. Ilion's "little world series" broke all attendance
records in 1925 for a playoff was necessary because of a tie between the
Elks and Knights of Columbus. In the early 30's the Sunset League used the
diamond at Russell Park. Sunday baseball was first played in Ilion in 1933.
Samuel Russell donated the field on S. Fifth Avenue, known as Gorton's, as
well as the one at Russell Park. George "Deke" White developed this and
also Hunt's field on Elm Street. The Arms and Remington Rand which through
the years have had teams representing every department, together with the
Elks and Moose, played in a league until 1948 at Gorton's. At the present
time it is used for baseball by only the high school and younger boys from
all the local schools. So from 1869 until 1948, Ilionites have been
thrilled by America's favorite sport. The Village Hall of Fame in baseball
would include: "Deke" White, former Big League National player who pitched
for the "Independents" and in the State League, Pete Hotaling, John
Clapsaddle, Hardie Richardson, Lew Wiltsie, Mike McNally, John Siegal,
Harry and Bill Hinehman, and Grant Thacker. Baseball here, as in many
villages today, has been supplanted to a great extent by softball. A twelve
team softball league engages two high school fields, Plant I and II fields,
and the municipal field at Gorton's.
Roller skating made its appearance in 1884 at a rink in the Kinne building.
Several businessmen incorporated a company and purchased property on the
corner of Main and Union Streets. Some of the old wooden buildings were
removed and the crooked street straightened somewhat. The large roller
skating rink was on the second floor level, with a spectators gallery above
that. Exhibitions of skilled skaters were wildly applauded. Two well-known
performers, Si Lever and Harry Stillman, demonstrated their skills in many
larger cities. They were beautifully outfitted in uniforms of shorts,
square jackets with fur cuffs, and fur caps. Skaters later made a dash for
L. L. Merry's drugstore which provided the first soda fountain in town. The
rink was also used for "polo", or what is now known as hockey. Roller
skates and a large rubber ball were employed instead of ice skates and
puck. There were teams, competing in tournament, in this rough-and-ready
sport. Other attractions included the 3 Brand brothers, local acrobatic
artists. This rink was used for many a social event, as well as for sports
activities, until it burned down in 1890 in one of the most disastrous
fires in the history of the village. There was also roller skating at the
Opera House and at "Tabernacle" rink, so called because of a series of
revival meetings previously held in the building. Located near the
Typewriter, it was torn down when railroad tracks were laid between the
building and Arms.
Ed Walrath was a daredevil balloon-ascension artist. Although a one-man
specialist in this field of sport, he had scores of enthralled witnesses.
He exercised on a platform connected to the second floor of a house on West
Hill as crowds assembled to watch. Walrath made his first ascension in the
late 1880's, from Ilion, landing in Little Falls. A harness was placed
around him and a parachute hung to the side of the gas balloon, which
opened with his weight when he jumped. His final flight cost him his life
in Otsego Lake, ending an individualistic sport.
Bicycle riding was a favorite sport in the 80's, 90's and early 1900's. The
Side path Commissioners on the village board played an important role in
the development of riding clubs in Ilion. The Ilion Cycling Club and the
Remington Cycle Club were two of the outstanding organizations. The Cycling
Club, the earlier of the two, used the big wheel, or the "ordinary" for
some time before the safety bicycle was introduced. Wheel plates were
required by law to ride the paths. There were 1,000 sold in Ilion in '98
and '99, a banner record for sales; the fee of 25 cents the same as today.
The one-half mile track at Chismore Park was the scene of many a thrilling
race. Famous riders from all over the country staged exhibitions. "The
Spinsters" were a group of Ilion wheel-women. It was the aim of every
cyclist to "do a century" -- one hundred miles in a day.
Harness racing was also popular here as Ilion belonged to the Harness
Racing Association of America. The high sulky and big wheels were a
familiar sight. Horse racing was as speedy as the automobile in 1909, at
which time the speed limit was increased from eight to ten miles per hour.
Cutters were pitted against each other on the road of John Street until the
"John Street Speedway" was paved in 1913. Then sulkeys, pulled by
fast-stepping race horses, replaced them. When the ice was frozen solid,
there was also horse racing in the canal.
The Cricket Club has had an intense sports program between 1906 and 1909,
although cricket had been played on a small scale for some time. It
originated here with a Scotsman, John Montgomery, an official of the
Typewriter. Soon many men of the Village became cricket-conscious,
clamoring to enter the game.
Many Ilion residents will remember the occasion of John L. Sullivan's
display of his particular talents during his visit to Ilion in the 90's.
The exhibition was during the waning point in his career but drew such
swarming crowds that one was practically lifted by sheer numbers up the
Opera House stairs. When he appeared at the same place in a play "The Man From Boston,"
the newspaper review termed his performance "strictly third rate."
Walking marathons were a craze at this time. Waldo Brown won a three day
endurance race of this kind at Maben's walking 150 miles in 33 hours on the
sawdust circle. Original tickets told for 10 cents but on the third day,
the crowd was so great, that would-be customers offering $10.00 had to be
turned away. Folks from Ilion met Ed Weston, who was walking from coast to
coast, near Little Falls in 1910, accompanying him along his route for as
long as their own endurance lasted. Long distance walking was a craze for
many years. Deke White and George Oliver trekked to New York City in two
weeks, the former hardy soul making another trip later to Syracuse and back
in 48 hours. This of course before the automobile took the starch out of
It was during the 80's that Ilionites first became enthusiasts of the
bobsled run promoted by the Coasting Club. The cost to the club was about
$16.00 an evening, from which we may judge how highly the sport was rated.
Two evenings a week, Second Street hill was flooded, ruts made, and 2,000
spectators watched the runs of "Red Cloud," owned by Philo Remington,
"White Cloud," by Fred Ingersoll and others bearing such romantic names as
"Comet", "Flyaway", "Nightmare", "Tally ho", "Red Jacket", "West Shore",
and "Nancy Hawks." The bobs were models of speed and beauty with their
leather upholstery, nickle plating, and elaborate steering apparatus and
banner bearing its name. What excitement if one load was fortunate enough
to swing around Second Street corner, speed onward down Otsego, around Main
as far as Hoefler Avenue! Less venturesome ones sometimes kept going
straight ahead rather than attempting to round the corner, and so wound up
in a cabbage patch across Otsego. A reporter for the Utica Globe,
describing such an evening of exhilaration in 1883, complimented those
gathered by proclaiming that during his four-hour stay he heard "not one
word which would be out of place in the most select society and that the
village can plume herself for having a larger proportion of prettier girls
than any other village in the valley." In 1884 "The West Shore" skipped the
track, crashing into the bridge on Second Street with the result that one
passenger was killed and another seriously injured. After this, interest in
the sport waned. In 1919 coasting again made its appearance on this hill
until the mid-twenties. However, Ilion was becoming auto-conscious so the
heydey of this red-blooded sport passed. The fairyland created by colored
lights, torches flaming to mark the course, the swing of the signal man's
lantern and enchanted crowds still remain in nostalgic memory.
"The Housewives League" set in motion, in the early 1900's, the beginnings
of a swimming program. Sanctioned by village authorities, a pool was made
in Steele's Creek near Whitney's farm. Tents of burlap provided dressing
facilities, the boys being on the east side and the girls west of the
creek. While not all to be desired, this venture was an improvement over
swimming in the canal or Weber's Pond. Promoted by the Chamber of Commerce,
a pool was constructed in 1921 on Water Works property at the entrance to
the Gorge. Still in use in 1951, it had become inadequate and antiquated in
many ways for several years. It was open to all, without charge. Water was
purified, changed daily and closed for cleaning once a week under
supervision of the Water Department. It was a concrete structure 100' x 42'
and for a long while considered a distinct public improvement. It was the
popular summer mecca for as many as 600 a day who walked, bicycled, or
drove to the picturesque, although not centrally located spot.
There was ice skating as well as swimming on the old Erie Canal. Races and
exhibitions were common occurrences when the canal was frozen over. Weber's
Pond was frequented by young and old alike as "Proprietor Weber aims to
keep the ice in prime condition during the season." There was a new skating
rink at Recreation Park in 1910 with a house erected for skaters and
electric lights surrounded the enclosure. The Remington Typewriter Band
played for the grand opening. In 1939 rinks were provided at Typewriter
Park and at the High school, the latter made possible by the purchase of
the Weber Track by the Board of Education. The skating areas were developed
through the combined efforts of the village board, Kiwanis Club, Board of
Education, the Water and Street Departments. The field behind the high
school, when flooded, has been a popular gathering ground for young people
of all ages. Records were broadcast through an amplifier system for the
pleasure of skaters and audience.
According to the Citizen of the 80's, Ilion "gained considerable notoriety
as a cock-fighting community and enjoyed the fame (?) of being the toughest
village in the valley." The so-called sport was not only frowned upon but
was downright illegal. Fights were held, with many a wager laid, in the
woods off McGowan Road and in a barn on Prospect Street. The roosters were
tied in the trees until time of the fights, in case of raid, which
eventually sometimes spoiled the "fun."
Bowling as a sport has attracted great numbers of people since early days.
Alleys at the Hotel Osgood were popular at the turn of the century and for
many years thereafter. Alleys were installed in the Masonic Temple when it
was built in 1909, and re-equipped in 1950. Installation of alleys in the
Elks new building was completed in 1925, with new ones laid in 1950. The
Capitol bowling alleys were public, continuing in use from the time the
Capitol Theatre block was erected in 1927 until 1948. The State Bowling
Center, located on E. State Street, was constructed in 1941 and contained
ten alleys. Women's leagues, as well as men's, both boys' and girls' teams
from the high school, and many others, find the Center an agreeable place
to pursue a favorite pastime.
Tennis is another sport which had many devotees, although it never
attracted the numbers some others did. The Ilion Tennis Club's annual
tournaments were always a sporting event in the community, with local
merchants donating silver trophies to the champions. Interest reached a
peak between 1925 and 1930 when the Cash Register was located in Ilion. The
Tennis Club waned when many of the young members entered service.
Some older courts were located behind the Morgan Street school in the
nineties when lawn tennis was pursued with diligence, and a private one on
Hoefler Avenue, before the Arms Buildings were erected there. The first,
and only, public courts were opened at the high school in 1939.
In 1932 Elverton Doty hired an architect to draw plans for a golf course on
the Barringer Road. Since that time the nine-hole green has attracted
throngs of "bugs" from almost the first spring thaw until the first
snowfall. For a few years instruction was given to high school students.
Previous to this time a golf course was in the initial stages of
development at Russell Park but failed to materialize.
Sporting clubs include the Ilion Fish and Game Protective Association, the
General Herkimer Riding Club, and Lou Amber's Racing Pigeon Club. For five
years the Loyal Order of Moose have sponsored the Ilion Homespun Coaster
A successful recreation program for the youth of Ilion has been developed
through the years. Today's organized chartering of events is a far cry from
1864 for instance, when lacking the services of a coach, the boys of the
village banded together and hired one for themselves.
There was a commission on the village board for playgrounds in 1909 but
little was accomplished until 1914 when a summertime supervision of the
procurement of equipment was instigated by the P. T. A.'s of Morgan and
North Street schools. Young children enjoyed the use of swings, see-saws
and sand pits while the older ones continued to use Recreation Park for
track, field events, baseball, etc. Daisy parties were one means of raising
money for supervision.
A sports program was provided for children at Crim-Shaffer Memorial Park
the summer of 1927. Directors supervised this playground as well as one at
the West Hill School. Until 1949 the Recreation Commission was represented
by both the Village Board (two trustees) and the school board (two
members), before that by the Village Board alone. But since 1949 the
Village Board has been solely responsible for summer recreation. At that
time four permanent playgrounds were established: West Montgomery Street,
East River Street, North Street, and south of the high school on the former
Weber Pond site.
This well-rounded plan for recreation, provided by our Village, makes an
ordinance of 1877 appear uncompromising and harsh today: "No person shall
play ball, beat, knock, or drive any ball or hoop, or slide downhill on any
street in the Village - Fine $.50 to $1.00."
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