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January 25, 2016

Baseball in Noblesville and Hamilton County: 1868-1880

Andrew BurkeBaseball in Noblesville and Hamilton County: 1868-1880

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

In the coldest weather, it’s nice to think of spring-related activities such as baseball, and people in Noblesville have been doing that for quite some time.  1868 is a good starting point because there are references later to team veterans who had been playing since that year.  Baseball probably existed in Hamilton County before 1868, but we have found no mention of it.  There were leisure activities such as community bands and fraternal organizations.  Like the most of the rest of the U.S., nothing formal occurred in baseball until after the Civil War.

1869 is when we find the first mention of baseball in the newspaper and the first team nickname – The “Quickstep Club”.  Unfortunately, they don’t describe any of the games.  There are some letters about rules and umpires, however.  A newspaper made a sarcastic remark about the town becoming so modern that it had a baseball team, the Grecian bend (a fashion term), and a velocipede (an early form of bicycle).  The Quicksteps reorganized in 1870 and became the White River Base Ball Club.  Another local team in 1870 was the Villagers.

1875 was a very good year for baseball.  Team names included the Light Weights, the Stars, the Rough & Readys who changed their name to the Centennials, the D. B.’s, the Comets, and the Walkovers who (understandably) changed their name.  They became the Ca-nines when they played the Strawtown Leonines (if you get the pun).  There was a county team called the Hamiltons who played the Howards from Kokomo.  In 1877, you had the Clippers and the Juniors, in 1878 the Arcadia Reds, The Westfield Mutuals and the Wilson Base Ball Club, (named for their captain).  These teams were very amorphous.  They would freely substitute for one another if a team were short of players for a game.  This was still a gentleman’s game.  At one game the players were described as “young men, genteel in appearance and well-behaved”.

Since people were getting serious about the game after the Civil War, the tams even went to the trouble of constructing parks to play in.  Of course, once you had a park, you could charge the public to watch the game.  In the 1870’s, the Noblesville park was on the north side of town, just northwest of the fairgrounds.

1876 mapAn early player who achieved fame elsewhere was Andrew Burke.  His story is pretty incredible.  He had arrived in Noblesville aboard the Orphan Train in 1859.  At the age of 12, he ran off to become a drummer boy in the Civil War.  He later returned to Noblesville and then went to college at DePauw, but had to drop out because of illness in 1870.  While he was recovering at home, he became secretary of the White River Base Ball Club.  Afterwards, he moved to North Dakota and became a successful businessman and eventually was elected governor.

The information on women’s baseball is very sparse, but there were some teams here.  Cicero formed a woman’s team in 1875, probably inspired by all of the men’s teams.  We know that a traveling team played in Anderson in 1885.  There seems to have been general disapproval of these traveling teams, usually because of stories about the moral character of the players.  There is mention of a women’s team in Noblesville in 1892, but no record of games.

We’ll look at the peak time for Noblesville baseball – 1880 to the First World War – in a future post.