Indian Motocycle Factory, Springfield Mass

The factory on Wilbraham Road in Springfield, which would later house the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company.  Seen here around 1892 and published in Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The building in 2015:


This building is best known as having been part of the Indian Motocycle Company factory, but it has had a variety of uses over the years.  The original section of the building, as seen in the 1892 photo, was built in 1883 for the Bullard Repeating Arms Company, a rifle company that was not as successful as another firearms company founded in Springfield during the 19th century.  Bullard didn’t last too long, and the building was then used by the Springfield Industrial Institute, a private trade school.  In 1895, the school moved to the building across the courtyard, and the Elektron Company occupied this building.  It was at this point that the wing was built to the east, beyond the tower.

Early in the 20th century, George Hendee moved his motorcycle company to this site, which was originally named Hendee Manufacturing Company, but was later renamed Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company (the “r” was intentionally omitted from “motorcycle” for trademark purposes).  The two story addition was put on the building in 1911, which by then had nearly quadrupled in size from the 1892 photo.  This triangle between State Street and Wilbraham Road was the home of the company until they closed in 1953, at which point the buildings were used for various other businesses.  Since then, several of the buildings have been demolished, although the original 1883 Bullard building survives, and it has been renovated and turned into apartments.

Birthplace of Basketball, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of the gymnasium at the School For Christian Workers in Springfield, Mass, around 1887. Photo courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.

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The approximate area in 2014:


These two photos don’t line up perfectly – I don’t know exactly what direction the 1887 photo was oriented, but the 2014 photo shows approximately what the scene now looks like.  Regardless, the 1887 photo is of significance, as it shows the gymnasium where, around four years later, the first basketball game was played. Originally developed as a way for athletes to stay in shape during the winter, it quickly became a popular sport around the world. And today, on the spot where 19th century athletes stayed in shape throughout the winter, modern Springfielders now go there to get Big Macs, year round.

Birthplace of Basketball, Springfield, Mass (1)

The School for Christian Workers Building, located at the corner of State Street and Sherman Street in Springfield, Mass, in 1886. Photo courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.

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The scene in 2023:

This building was completed in 1886 as the School for Christian Workers, with the goal of training Sunday school superintendent and YMCA administrators. The YMCA program ended up being particularly successful, and in 1890 it became a separate organization here in this building, the YMCA Training School. The school would only be located in the building for several years, before moving to the modern-day Springfield College campus, but it was here that the school became famous as the birthplace of basketball.

Among the instructors here was Canadian graduate student James Naismith. During the fall of 1891 he was teaching a physical education class, but was having difficulty keeping the students engaged in an indoor sport during the colder months. At the time, the two most popular sports were baseball and football, but neither could realistically be played in a sixty- by thirty-foot gymnasium. Naismith initially tried to modify these sports for indoor play, but he found little success. So, he instead developed a completely new sport, which involved throwing a soccer ball into peach baskets that were mounted to the gallery that was located 10 feet above the gymnasium.

The first game of basketball was played here in this building on December 21, 1891, with a final score of 1-0. It proved to be popular, and not only among the YMCA students here, but also among the women who taught across the street at the Buckingham School. This new sport soon began to draw spectators, including one game in March 1892 that drew over 200 spectators to watch the faculty play against the students. This is generally considered to be the first public basketball game, and it is one of only two basketball games that James Naismith every personally played in. He and the other teachers ultimately lost 5-1 against the students, with former Yale football star Amos Alonzo Stagg scoring the only basket for the faculty.

Basketball would continue to grow in popularity around the country over the next few years, and in the meantime the YMCA Training School was outgrowing its original facility here on State Street. By 1896 the school had relocated to a new campus along the edge of the Watershops Pond, and it was eventually renamed Springfield College in 1954. The older building here on State Street eventually became a rooming house by 1910, but it closed in 1961 and was heavily damaged by a fire later in the year. It was subsequently demolished to make way for a parking lot for a shopping plaza, and a McDonald’s was later constructed on the site in 1995, as shown in the present-day photo.