Matthews Arena, Boston

The Matthews Arena on St. Botolph Street in Boston, sometime during the 1920s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The building in 2015:

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Here’s a question that would stump a lot of people: What is the oldest professional sports venue in Boston? The logical answer, of course, is Fenway Park, which opened in 1912.  However, less than a mile away from Fenway Park on the other side of the Back Bay Fens is the Matthews Arena, which was completed two years earlier as Boston Arena.  Over the years, this seemingly nondescript building has been used for various sporting events, political rallies, concerts, and other major events.  Both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt held rallies here, and boxers such as Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis participated in matches here.

Many professional sports teams have had Boston Arena as their home arena; the Boston Bruins played their first home game here in 1924, and they remained here until the completion of the Boston Garden in 1928.  Later on, several minor league hockey teams played here, and from 1972-1973 the New England Whalers, later the Hartford Whalers and now the Carolina Hurricanes, played here.  The Boston Celtics also played here from their founding in 1946 until 1955, when they began playing all of their home games at Boston Garden.

Over the years, the arena has undergone some substantial changes, both outside and inside.  After several major renovations, the original exterior windows were bricked up, and the ornate entrance to the left has been replaced by a much simpler arch.  As built, it only had one level of seating, but the balcony was added in 1926, and today the it has a capacity of 6,000 for basketball and almost 5,000 for hockey, which is still a respectable capacity for a century-old arena.  Northeastern University has used it for their athletic teams since 1930, and they purchased it in 1979 and later renamed it the Matthews Arena in 1982.  Today, it is used by their Division I hockey and basketball teams, and it is among the oldest indoor hockey arenas in the world.

Tennis and Racquet Club, Boston

The Tennis and Racquet Club at the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets in Boston, on April 5, 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The building in 2015:

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This building has been home to the Tennis and Racquet Club since it opened in 1902, 10 years before the first photo was taken.  As the Back Bay developed as one of the city’s premier neighborhoods in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of private social clubs sprung up for the neighborhood’s wealthy residents.  The Tennis and Racquet was one such social and athletic club, and it is still active today in this historic building, with its original court tennis and racquets courts in the large, mostly windowless area above the second floor.

Wesleyan Academy Baseball Field, Wilbraham Mass

The baseball field at Wesleyan Academy (today Wilbraham & Monson Academy) in Wilbraham, probably around 1900.  Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The field in 2015:

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These photos show the same field as the one in this post, just from a different angle.  The historic image here was probably taken at a later date; the one in the other post dates to the early 1890s at the absolute latest, while this one is probably about 10 years later.  This game certainly seems to have attracted a bigger crowd, although obviously the game itself has not started yet – if nothing else, the table sitting on the first base line should give that away.

Wesleyan Academy is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy, and the field is still there, although today it is used for soccer and lacrosse.  The three houses in the background are also still there, and are part of the academy campus.  From left to right, they are: the 1854 Morrow House, the c.1814 Brewer House, and the 1878 Winchester House.  Like most of the other buildings on campus, they are well-preserved, and they make up part of the Academy Historic District, a National Register of Historic Places site.

Wesleyan Academy Baseball Game, Wilbraham Mass

A view of a baseball game in progress at Wesleyan Academy (today Wilbraham & Monson Academy) in Wilbraham, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The field in 2015:

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The first photo is a rather remarkable scene showing an early baseball game.  Most 19th century baseball photos are staged studio portraits that loosely imitate in-game action (see this photo from the Library of Congress website, where the string holding the ball is clearly visible and it looks more like a magic levitating trick than anything one might encounter at a baseball game), so it is fairly rare to see real, in-game action from the 1800s.  This particular photo was taken no later than 1892, the year it was published, and no earlier than 1878, when the house on the far left was built.  Most likely though, it was probably taken shortly before publication.

By the time that the photo was taken, the game of baseball was well established as the most popular sport in the country, at both the professional and amateur levels.  For the most part, the game 125 years ago wasn’t all that different from baseball today – this scene is instantly recognizable as a baseball game.  However, there was one last major change in the rules that happened a few years after this photo was taken.  A close examination of the photo shows that the pitcher is standing on flat ground, and appears closer to home plate than in modern baseball.  Prior to 1893, the pitcher released the ball 55.5 feet from home plate, and stood on flat ground rather than a raised mound.  In 1893, the distance of 60.5 feet was established; this remains the same today, and was such a major change that many baseball historians consider 1893 to be the beginning of modern baseball.

I don’t know which team is the home team, but this was taken at what was once Wesleyan Academy, and is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy.  My great grandfather attended the academy in the late 1880s, and I don’t know whether he played baseball there, but depending on the exact date of the photo, he could easily be among the players or spectators – some of whom seem to be standing dangerously close to the batter.  Today, the campus has grown significantly since the first photo was taken, but the field is still there and is still used for sports, although baseball is now played on a different field on the other side of the campus.

Hampden Park from Round Hill, Springfield, Mass

The view of Hampden Park from the North End of Springfield, around 1882. Photo from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2014:

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The location of the second photo isn’t exact – the actual location would be somewhere in the southbound lane of Interstate 91, so I did the next best thing; I took the 2014 photo from a bridge over the highway.  Either way, not much remains the same today.  The railroad tracks are still there, as is the Connecticut River, but otherwise it’s a completely different scene.  Hampden Park is visible in the distance; this was home to bicycle races, minor league baseball games, and even the occasional college football game.  A more in-depth history of the park is explained in this post.

In later years, the part of Hampden Park closest to the North End Bridge became Pynchon Park, and was the home of several different minor league teams until the 1960s.  Today, the former site of Hampden Park is now primarily industrial, with warehouses and other facilities on the spot where Harvard and Yale used to play early college football games.  Pynchon Park is now a Pride station, and can barely be seen through the trees just to the left of the billboard on the right-hand side of the photo.

Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston (3)

Half of a panoramic view of Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston, in 1903. The other half can be found here. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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The scene in 2014:

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The photo at the top is the other half of the panorama from this post, and it shows the home plate area of Huntington Avenue Grounds, the original home field of the Boston Red Sox.  However, when the first photo was taken during a game against the Chicago White Sox on September 22, 1903, they weren’t the Red Sox; they were the Boston Americans, and in their third year of existence they had already clinched the pennant and were soon to face (and defeat) the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series.

According to the research conducted by the writer of the Baseball Researcher blog, the batter in this scene is Nixey Callahan, Chicago’s manager and third baseman.  Behind him is Boston catcher Duke Farrell, a journeyman catcher who had been playing in the majors since 1888, and was now playing in his fourth major league.  He only played in 17 games in 1903, and was likely starting in order to allow the regular catcher, Lou Criger, to rest now that the pennant race was no longer in doubt.  Behind Farrell is the umpire, Frank O’Laughlin; he would go on to umpire in the American League until 1918, when he died from the Spanish Flu that spread across the world that fall.

Today, no distinguishing features from the 1903 photo remain today, and Northeastern University is now located on the site of the former field, where the team played until after the 1911 season.  The actual location of home plate is now located underneath Churchill Hall, the building seen in the 2014 photo.

See the Library of Congress site for the complete panorama.