SABR

Swinney Park (Fort Wayne)

This article was written by Bill Griggs and Jim Nitz.

The Kekionga Ball Grounds hosted the first nine of Fort Wayne’s 12 major-league games in 1871. The tenth was played on October 24, 1882, at the Fair Grounds of Swinney Park. This ninth and deciding contest of the National League postseason series involved Chicago and Providence. The Northern Indiana Fair Association had negotiated for the National League’s two top teams to play the finale of their postseason series there. Chicago won, 19-7, before a crowd estimated at between 600 and 800 people who provided enough revenue to cover expenses. The only mention of the ballpark was that proficient fielding was difficult due to “uneven grounds.”  

In 1874 Swinney Park became the site of the Northern Indiana Fair Grounds. The ball diamond was built in June 1879 and quickly emerged as the city’s chief baseball venue. The exact location of the diamond is unknown, although it is described as being east of the half-mile racetrack that was the main component of the Fair Grounds.  The field orientation, features, and dimensions are also unknown; no pictures, illustrations, or maps of the ballpark are known to exist.

When Fort Wayne joined the newly formed Northwestern League in 1883, the new team was unable to reach a suitable agreement with the Agricultural Society for use of the Swinney Park facility. As a result, League Park was built in downtown Fort Wayne between Calhoun and Clinton Streets, north of the former Wabash and Erie Canal and south of the St. Marys River. The new park immediately became the city’s primary baseball facility.

The original Swinney Park (since expanded) was west of the terminuses of Washington and Jefferson Streets, immediately south and west of the oxbow in St. Marys River. The property is directly across the river and south and west of the Kekionga Ball Grounds site. This easily-accessible west-side tract was named after Thomas Swinney, a prominent Fort Wayne settler and landowner who died in 1875 and bequeathed his farm and homestead to the city for park purposes, subject to the life estates of three of his daughters and one son, which, in turn, were subject to a 20-year lease from 1874 to 1894 to the Agricultural Society for use as the Northern Indiana Fair Grounds. The homestead was excepted from the lease.  The Fair Grounds occupied Swinney Park until 1890 and hosted fairs, concerts, and harness and bicycle races.

In the 21st century Swinney Park is a city recreational park with the Swinney Homestead, a restored historical home, as its most prominent feature. The city’s tennis center occupies part of the probable location of the Swinney Park ball diamond.

Little do Fort Wayne residents know that Hall of Famers Cap Anson, Mike “King” Kelly, John Montgomery Ward, and Harry Wright once played and managed in a National League postseason game at their pastoral west side park.

October 15, 2011


Sources

Allen County Public Library. Fort Wayne Parks File.

Ankenbruck, John. Twentieth Century History of Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne: Twentieth Century Historical Fort Wayne, Inc., 1975.

Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, October 24 and 25, 1882, and April 6, 1883.

Fort Wayne Daily News, October 23 and 25, 1882.

Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel, September 4 and October 25, 1882.

Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, June 19, 1899.

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 17, 1923, and September 2, 1950.

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, June 19, 1926, December 28, 1954, and October 22, 1983.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, June 4, 1879, and September 26 and November 18, 1890.

Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel, April 1 and August 24, 1874, and February 3, November 24, and December 1, 1875.

Griswold, B. J. Guide to Fort Wayne. (U.S.): n. p., 1914. 

_____. The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne Indiana. Chicago: Robert O. Law Co., 1917; rpt. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, Inc., 1971.

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