Waverly Fairgrounds (Elizabeth, NJ)

This article was written by David Krell

Elizabeth, New Jersey, belongs in the roster of major-league cities (depending on how one classifies the National Association of 1871-75). A section known as Waverly Fairgrounds housed the 1873 Elizabeth Resolutes of that league.1

But one must acknowledge that the fairgrounds property is in the municipality of Clinton, which eventually got parceled to Newark and Irvington between 1869 and 1902.2 Waverly Station stood near the fairgrounds, allowing easy access to the baseball field. Jay Mapes, for whom Newark’s Mapes Avenue is named, was the agricultural wizard who spearheaded the development of the land into a viable plot for baseball, agricultural fairs, horse trotting races, and other recreational activities.

“As an expert he stood alone,” declares the 1884 compendium History of Essex and Hudson Counties. “In many important patent cases he was often subjected to the most merciless cross-questioning from the ablest lawyers of the day, but his self-possession never failed him. A sturdy mastery of his position rendered him virtually unassailable.”3

“He was one of the first men in the country to advocate a Department of Agriculture in the general government, the head of which should be a cabinet officer, holding equal rank with the other secretaries of other departments,” claimed journalist William Shaw in 1884. “He was one of the founders of the National Agricultural Society, and made a telling speech at their first meeting, held in Washington in December 1855. He was one of the early promoters of County and State Agricultural Societies, and delivered very able addresses before many of them.”4

Mapes had farming in his DNA, an attribute traced back to the first Mapes ancestor, an Englishman who helped create the settlement template for Long Island in the mid-17th century.5 Gifted with an intellect for science, Mapes was a pioneer before his efforts in Waverly. Sugar, for example, became a point of interest—he “invented an apparatus for manufacturing sugar from the cane” and “a plan for the manufacture of sugar from West India molasses.”6

Waverly Fairs were held from 1867 to 1899, featuring livestock, machines, tools, wagons, and several other categories. It was a major attraction—between 1874 and 1878, the fair drew 200,000 people: “100,000 paid admissions, 60,000 exhibitors, 40,000 sutlers and other persons connected with the livestock exhibits. During the same period there were 25,000 paid admissions for wagons, and 20,000 complimentary and exhibitors’ wagons.”7

As the world got ready to welcome the 20th century, the Essex County Park Commission targeted the storied fairgrounds for purchase from the New Jersey Agricultural Society for $76,500. The transaction took place on March 13, 1899. But there was a condition. The actual price would be $75,000 because the society wanted to stay on the site until December. The date of the deed is May 12. Weequahic Park absorbed the Waverly Fairgrounds site.

Lake Weequahic bordered Waverly; one large tract of land that also bordered it belonged to Henry Meeker, whose father, Obadiah Meeker Jr., was a farmer and civic leader born in 1782. The Meeker clan has a rich history dating back a century prior: “The remote ancestors of Henry Meeker in this country are traced back to William Meeker, who was registered at New Haven, Conn., in 1644, and with his sons Benjamin and Joseph are recorded among the associates who bought the site of the town of Elizabeth, NJ, of the Indians in 1644.”8

Baseball was played at Waverly Fairgrounds as early as 1867. An article in the November 7 edition of the Evening Journal (Jersey City) recounts an “exceedingly close” game between teams selected “from prominent New York and New Jersey clubs” with each team putting up $250. New York won 24-23. Mutual and Active clubs were the feeder teams for the New York squad. Irvington, Eureka, and Americus supplied the New Jersey nine.9 Readers of the Evening Journal on June 23, 1868, learned of a game between the Eurekas and the Champion Baseball Club at the fairgrounds the following day.10

As baseball’s appeal expanded, it seemed likely that New Jersey would formalize the sport with a professional baseball association. It never got past the idea stage. In 1870, a convention at Elizabeth’s Library Hall drew representatives from just ten of 31 ball clubs. But fans in Elizabeth and its vicinity could still celebrate the latest achievement—the amateur Resolutes won the New Jersey championship that year.11

Elizabeth’s ball club had amateur status until the 1873 incarnation in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players—the team’s only entry in the annals of the first pro baseball league. But there is room for debate on whether the Resolutes could truly be considered amateurs. On July 1, 1872, the Evening Journal reported on several “Base Ball” events in the northern New Jersey area and highlighted the issue: “But we very much question the right of the Resolutes to play for the amateur championship as there is but very little doubt that the majority, if not all the players, are compensated for their services. The boys, however, will not quibble about that, but go into the next game determined to do their level best to win, and even if they fail it does not in our opinion follow that they are not the best strictly amateur nine in the State.”12

The Elizabeth Daily Journal gave the Resolutes a clean slate. The new season brimmed with possibility at a higher level. “You will not regret the money paid for the ticket when you have seen one or two good games, and the ticket entitles the holder to see all the games played here this season.”13

The actual location of the Fairgrounds site is an unresolved question, given the shifts in boundary lines between Elizabeth and Newark. The configuration of the site for baseball (including seating capacity and whether there was a grandstand) also remains a matter of conjecture.

Fans followed the Elizabeth Daily Journal reports on 26 regular-season games played by the 1873 Resolutes, eight at Waverly. But an away game scheduled against Boston for May 2 was reported with a disclaimer. “Everybody expected some sort of news from the Resolutes on their Boston trip, as yesterday was the time appointed for the first championship game, but no one received any except a few favored ones in the lower wards. There a telegraph dispatch announced that the game had been played and that the Resolutes were victorious by a score of 13-7. This morning the knowing ones [sic] looked excited, but the veneering was too thin. Any one could read the word ‘sold’ underneath the whole thing. It is more than probably that the boys will be in this city to night [sic].”14

Indeed, the conquest was a rumor. The Boston Globe reported that a storm “immediately postponed” the game.”15

Supporters could have seen eight pro games at Waverly; there were no victories for the Resolutes in these contests. According to Baseball-reference.com and Retrosheet, the Resolutes compiled a 2-21 record in the 1873 NA.

Waverly also hosted four games against college or amateur teams; the Resolutes won these games against Yale,16 Amateurs,17 Rutgers,18 and Amateur [sic].19

Baseball historian John Zinn points out that the Resolutes’ poor performance affected the gate. Harry Wright, the manager of the Boston Red Stockings, recorded the gate receipts for a game at Waverly as $38—the lowest figure in Boston’s ten-game road trip. The second game against the Resolutes took place on a neutral site—Brooklyn’s Union Grounds. It resulted in $86, a relatively low figure for Wright.20

By mid-July, Elizabethans no longer had a team to call its own and Waverly’s service as a site for organized baseball in either professional or amateur ranks subsided. There was an elevated status in seeing accounts of Elizabeth and Waverly reported alongside a larger metropolis, even if the team’s record was embarrassing. The Elizabeth Daily Journal reflected a disheartening feeling, compounded the city’s pride in having a team and a ballpark to call its own and compete with the likes of Philadelphia, Boston, and Brooklyn (a city until New York City annexed it in 1898 and it became a borough). “There is hardly any announcement in reference to the Resolute Base Ball Club that will give more cruel satisfaction to the lovers of our national game in this city than that the Resolute nine have been disbanded. They started out with such brilliant promises at the commencement of the season that men who had never been known to partake of base ball enthusiasm came forward and as sisted [sic] in organizing the club on a new basis, while the old stand by of the Resolutes were greatly encouraged to secure players who would honor Elizabeth on the hotly contested field.”21

It was nonchalance that, according to the Daily Journal, triggered the downfall: “They lacked practice at first, and when they got plenty of practice they lacked enthusiasm. They did not seem to care at all who won the game. It was enough that they should be seven playing, their past glory attoned [sic] for all short comings. But though this may have suited the players, it did not suit the public. The demand was that they should win at least some of the games, but defeat after defeat disgusted the public till at last they refused to go and see them play.”22 The report continued: “The fact is they always played as if they were lay figures, no enthusiasm, no ambition, no care. For some reasons, we are sorry the nine has been disbanded, for others we are glad.”23

But the team rebounded almost a week later, taking the field at Waverly with a “newly organized nine” playing against the Baltimore Canaries and getting “beaten as expected.”24 The Resolutes lost two away games in August against the Brooklyn Atlantics and the New York Mutuals. And that was the end of a brief professional baseball status for Waverly Fairgrounds and the Elizabeth Resolutes. The team continued to play at the amateur level through 1878.25 By 1898, an Elizabeth map showed the Fairgrounds with the racetrack, but all traces of the baseball grounds were gone.26

Acknowledgments

This story was reviewed by Phil Williams and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Warren Corbett.

Notes

1 Major League Baseball does not recognize the National Association of Professional Base ball Players as a major league. Nonetheless, its statistics are included with other major leagues in many encyclopedias, including online references such as Baseball-reference.com and Retrosheet.org. For further exploration of this topic, see John Thorn (Official Historian for Major League Baseball), “Why Is the National Association Not a Major League…and Other Records Issues,” Our Game/MLBlogs.com, May 4, 2015 (https://ourgame.mlblogs.com/why-is-the-national-association-not-a-major-...).

2 John P. Snyder, The Story of New Jersey’s Civil Boundaries 1606-1968 (Trenton: Bureau of Geology and Topography, 1969), 127.

3 History of Essex and Hudson counties, New Jersey, compiled by William H. Shaw (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884), 659.

4 Ibid.

5 “Nearly all his ancestors on his father’s side were farmers on Long Island, back to 1640, when Thomas Mapes came from England and settled at Southold, Suffolk county [sic], Long Island. In Thompson’s “History of Long Island” (1839), Thomas Mapes is referred to as one of the seven leading colonists, who, in company with Rev. John Young, came from England, via New Haven, and founded at Southold the first settlement on Long Island.” Biographical and Genealogical History of the City of Newark and Essex County, New Jersey (New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1898) 149.

6 Ibid. at 150.

7 The History of the New Jersey Agricultural Society 1781-1940, (Trenton: New Jersey Agricultural Society, 1947) 32.

8 History of Essex and Hudson counties, 701.

9 “Base Ball—New Jersey vs. New York,” Evening Journal, November 7, 1867: 1.

10 “City Notes,” Evening Journal, June 23, 1868: 1.

11 James M. DiClerico and Barry J. Pavelec, The Jersey Game: The History of Modern Baseball from Its Birth to the Big Leagues in the Garden State, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 168.

12 “Base Ball,” Evening Journal, July 1, 1872: 3.

13 “Base Ball Notes,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, April 11, 1873: 3.

14 “Base Ball,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, May 3, 1873: 3.

15 “Base Ball,” Boston Globe, May 3, 1873: 8.

16 “Base Ball Notes,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, May 1, 1873: 3.

17 “Base Ball Notes,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, May 17, 1873: 3.

18 “Base Ball Notes,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, June 14, 1873: 3.

19 “Base Ball Notes,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, July 11, 1873: 3.

20 John Zinn, email to author, July 23, 2018; Harry Wright, Account and Notebooks, Spalding Baseball Collection, Manuscript and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations.

21 “The Resolutes Disbanded,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, July 18, 1873: 3.

22 Ibid. The meaning of the phrase “seven playing” is unknown to this author, whose best estimation is that it refers to the number of players on the field excepting pitcher and catcher.

23 Ibid.

24 “Base Ball Notes: The Game At Waverly Yesterday,” Elizabeth Daily Journal, July 24, 1873. 3.

25 According to the website of the present-day Elizabeth Resolutes club, which was founded in 2000 and has played under baseball rules of bygone eras (http://site.elizabethresolutes.com/). See also Chuck O’Donnell, “The Secret Life: Paul Salomone pays homage to the pioneers of our national pastime,” MyCentralJersey.com, July 3, 2016 (https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/how-we-live/2016/07/03/...).

26 Paul Batesel, Players and Teams of the National Association, 1871-75, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company (2012): 202.