Looking Back: Nashville's Sulphur Springs Ballpark

By Bill Traughber | June 25, 2012 5:30 AM

Though there is no evidence as to the origin of baseball in Nashville, we do know it's a myth that the Yankees introduced the game to the city during their 1862 occupation in the Civil War. A Nashville newspaper editorial from July 1860, describes citizens of the city playing "base ball" across the Cumberland River. Another editorial from the Nashville Daily Press & Times on Oct. 22, 1867 reads:

Base Ball.-There is something a little wonderful in the enthusiasm which our "national game" has excited among all classes of people, in all parts of our country. Beginning in our eastern cities, it rapidly became popular, and organizations sprang up with the facility of mushrooms, until no village or hamlet in the country, east or west, was without its base ball club.

Young men were fascinated with the sport; older men encouraged it as a promotion of hard muscles and a good digestion. Teachers of morals rejoiced that an amusement had been found which broke none of the commandments and permitted the spiritual sapling to pursue a perpendicular growth. Merchants, bankers, and shopkeepers closed their establishments, and gave their clerks a holiday on Saturday afternoon, that they might drive dyspepsia from their lank stomachs, and the drowsy film from their cadaverous eyes.

Amateur teams and leagues were formed across the county from athletic clubs, stores, fire halls, police departments, etc. The prominent location at that time, which attracted the citizens of Nashville for picnicking was sulphur springs bottom. It was located what is now Fourth Ave N, Fifth Ave N. and bordered by Jacskon Street. It became a natural spot for a baseball diamond, which became Sulphur Springs Ball Park. Later it was known as Athletic Park and Sulphur Dell.

When the newly formed Southern League was looking for city locations in1885, the Nashville Americans were organized and became charter members. Joining Nashville in the SL were Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, Memphis, Columbus, Chattanooga and Birmingham.

With professional baseball on its way to Nashville, the city needed to improve and make additions to the small ballpark. The March 21, 1885 issue of The Dailey Union reports on the ambitious project of the renovation. You will notice that the ballpark is referred to as an amphitheatre:

The descriptions hitherto published have done meager justice to the improvements now in progress in the Sulphur Springs bottom. Visitors are surprised at the wonderful changes that have been made in this hitherto neglected portion of the city. The three sections of the amphitheatre are now nearing completion. Yesterday the seats were being laid and in four or five days this work will be finished. The erection of the great fence has begun, and Monday the force will be put to work grading the grounds.

The Cherry St. amphitheatre is 150 feet long. The middle section 74 feet. The main entrance is directly off Jackson St. into the main section of the amphitheatre. To the right of this large door is the ticket seller's office formed by a small projection of the Cherry St. side. The passageway from the entrance opens into the amphitheatre at the middle row of the seats. This section will be reserved for ladies and their escorts. The chairs will be backed, armed and nicely cushioned. The diamond will be directly in front of the reserve seats, which will be protected from wild balls by a high screen, with meshes two and one half inches square. Polite ushers will be in attendance on the ladies.

In the late 1800's, Fourth Ave N. was Cherry St. while Fifth Ave. was Summer St. The "ball park" was being built in consideration of utilizing other sporting events. A track was constructed 150 yards in circumference around the outfield for bicycling and a running track. It was reported that one outfield fence was 362 feet and another 485 feet (centerfield?). Also noted was the fact that the long distances would, "be almost impossible to knock the ball over the fence anywhere even if it weren't so high.

Since the ballpark would attract a large number of people, parking was taken into consideration. An enclosure was built along the Summer St. side for fans to park their "horses and carriages."

Other accommodations were also taken care of as, "this house will contain a circular counter with four fountains to which by hydraulic pressure, the sulphur water will be pumped from the spring below. It is a large roomy building and will be a delightful resort. It will also contain bath-rooms, the water possessing excellent quantities for this purpose."

More additions were reported:

Underneath the main amphitheatre will be rooms for the players, directors, scorers and reporters. Two rooms will face the diamond, the large opening partitioned by a wire screen. In one the reporters and scorers will sit, and all the others will be reserved for the directors.

Taking it all in all, the grounds for extent and conveniences will not be surpassed by any in the country. Already Manager Bryan is receiving such offers from such shows as the "Wild West" to rent to grounds for their exhibitions.

Nashville manager William Bryan's Americans (62-39) finished in third place of the inaugural SL pennant race behind Atlanta (66-32) and Augusta (68-36). On Thanksgiving Day in 1885, the park hosted Nashville's first organized football game when the Nashville Football Club defeated the Nashville Athletic Club, 6-4.

The ballpark would later be named Athletic Park and Sulphur Dell.

If you have any comments or suggestions, click here to contact Bill Traughber via email.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More