25 Nov 2013

Lost Capitol Hill: The Lincoln Park Grounds

tnToday’s topic is sadly a bit on the spare side. The most basic information about it are unknown, and its eventual demise can only be inferred. Nonetheless, for many years, a field east of Lincoln Park was the site of many happy afternoons for both players and spectators, as they played and watched the new game of Base Ball.

East Washington (as that part of D.C. east of the Capitol was generally known at the time) was not exactly a hotbed of activity in the years following the Civil War. Even the addition of a statue celebrating Abraham Lincoln and his emancipation of the slaves in the middle of what became Lincoln Park made little change: People were perfectly happy to live west of the Capitol, or within a few blocks of it. The area was thus rife for other uses, and as the new game of Baseball (or Base Ball, as it was often referred to at first) increased in popularity, players and fans sought more open places to take part in this sport.

One such open area existed just east of Lincoln Park, in Squares 1035 and 1036. Sited at almost the highest point on Capitol Hill, and featuring an unobstructed, flat surface, the are was developed in the early 1880s and given the name “Lincoln Park Grounds.”

No evidence of the old field remains on the ground today, and precious little is to be found in the newspapers of the day. The earliest reference comes from the Washington Critic of August 19, 1882. The entire article is: “An unknown young man was struck between the eyes with a baseball and knocked insensible during the progress of a game yesterday evening on the grounds east of Lincoln Park. He soon recovered consciousness and walked off.”

At least this article, which is part of a series of short baseball notes, includes the approximate location of the grounds. All other references simply say “Lincoln Park grounds” with no further information as to how to find them. That day had featured two games, between the Peabodys and the East Ends, and the Independents vs. the Young America Club.

During the 1883 season, multiple games were played there. Among the teams are the Bashful, Star, Boiler Makers, Sailors, Nonpareils, and Independents. Most are teams made up from various businesses and government agencies (The Nonpareils, for example, came from the Government Printing Office)

Lincoln Park and the area east of it in the first decade of the 20th Century. Almost nothing has yet been build on Squares 1035 and 1036 (LOC)

Lincoln Park and the area east of it in the first decade of the 20th Century. Almost nothing has yet been build on Squares 1035 and 1036 (LOC)

After 1883, references to the park disappear almost – but not quite – completely. The Washington Post notes a game on May 31, 1888 between the East Ends and the Metropolitans, and in November, 1900, it is the site of a Football game between the Olympia Athletic Club and the Kinckerbockers of Georgetown. No reason is given for this sudden decline in interest.

While real estate sales from the two squares 1035 & 1036 began in the 1890s, actual building did not begin until the middle of the first decade of the new century. By the outbreak of the First World War, the two squares were almost entirely filled in, and baseball had been relegated to other parts of the city.


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