Meetings at the Tontine Hotel

FEBRUARY 12, 1875

The Tontine Hotel, the site of the Elm Citys meetings

The Tontine Hotel, the site of the Elm Citys meetings

Beginning in early 1875, the braintrust of the New Haven Elm Citys would meet more or less weekly at the Tontine Hotel, located on the southeast side of the Green on Church Street, the current location of the Federal Courthouse. The records of the meetings found in the New Haven Daily Palladium were, to say the least, dry proceedings, more along the lines of a Rotary Club meeting or a conclave of small businessmen.

They appointed a board of directors, led by Billy Arnold, and populated with an array of ex-Aldermen and local civic leaders. A discussion ensued about rental of the Howard Avenue Grounds, currently the home of St. Raphael’s Hospital.

A later image of Hamilton Park, another name for the Howard Avenue Grounds, the Elm Citys home field

A later image of Hamilton Park, another name for the Howard Avenue Grounds, the Elm Citys home field

Arnold planned to go on a scouting mission to Philadelphia and Brooklyn to find players. “He stated he was in negotiation with players, all of which would be first class men,” the Palladium reported.

Where Arnold chose to find high quality players speaks to a crucial fact about the early days of the sport. While baseball enoblers talk about the game’s pastoral qualities, evoking hearth and home, the truth was that baseball was a city game. The sport had its origins in other ball and bat games, like cricket, rounders, and town ball (no, Civil War general Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball and its entirely possible he never even saw a game.) It spread throughout the country during the Civil War, and became a way for urban clerks to get exercise and outdoor times.

The sport evolved initially as a leisure activity (the first organized game was played in 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken), but it became apparent very quickly to men like Arnold that people would both pay to see a high level of play and bet on the outcomes of the games. Hence, professionalism was born.

With the professionalism came a certain amount of civic pride – a fine team could bring attention and accolades to a community, with cash to follow. It only would stand to reason that the Palladium supported the idea that professional baseball would come to New Haven.

“It is now apparent that we are to have a professional base ball club located here, and we trust the citizens to will give it their hearty support and tend to make the undertaking a success and a credit to the city,” the Palladium wrote.

However, it would become quickly apparent that it would not be easy for Arnold to secure the kind of talent needed to make the Elm Citys a success on the field.

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