Harrisburg Baseball, A Century Ago

I love old photographs, especially if they have a baseball connection. Consider my efforts to colorize Swampoodle Grounds, or the collection of women playing baseball in Washington in 1919.

This photograph of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, taken from the west shore of the Susquehanna, circa 1906 fits the bill.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building and City Island. Detail from a 1906 panoramic photograph.
Detail from a panoramic view of Harrisburg, 1906

It’s from a panoramic shot of the city available on the Library of Congress website, and it has much more than just the Capitol complex. But for my purposes — baseball purposes — the central section of the panorama is the part I want to focus on, even from this photograph’s vantage point. The photographer, I must conclude, was an expert.

There, in the bottom third of the image, is City Island, a place I have visited many times as the Harrisburg Senators play there. The grandstand of old wooden baseball field is at the left, and the words on the facade, “Harrisburg Athletic Club” — at least, the last half of that — are clearly readable. Also visible are the third base side bleachers, and it seems the infield dirt is as well.

The trees are bare, so it’s probably winter. Late in the year? Early in the year? Impossible to say. There are still trees there now, on the west side of City Island, between FNB Field and the Susquehanna. Some of today’s trees may even be seen in this photograph.

Vintage postcard showing the old Harrisburg ballpark grandstand
Vintage postcard showing the old Harrisburg ballpark grandstand

FNB Field, where the Harrisburg Senators play today, was built on the site of the old ballpark, in the same orientation. To within a couple of feet, the pitcher’s mound and home plate are located today where they were located then. For a history of Harrisburg baseball, Andrew Linker‘s One Patch of Grass is essential.

I never quite appreciated how large the state capitol is, nor how it precisely stands in relation to City Island. I’ve walked around the capitol complex after games, but never grasped its size in the same way this photograph does. I’ve often thought the Pennsylvania capitol building resembled one of the Smithsonian buildings, like the Museum of Natural History, but looking at it here I’m reminded far more of the Library of Congress building. They weren’t designed by the same people, but there’s a similarity of style.

I’m familiar with the view on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna that’s the middle third of the photograph as it stands today, but so much of it is obscured thanks to modern buildings.

Annotated detail of panoramic view of Harrisburg, 1906
Annotated detail from a panoramic view of Harrisburg, 1906

I’ve walked Front Street many times, and I can identify four churches in the photograph that still stand today. Circled at left is the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick, the Roman Catholic cathedral, with its distinctive green, copper dome. To its right is Grace United Methodist, though the Methodists were not united then, so it was probably Grace Methodist Episcopal at the time. Only a few years before this photograph was taken, the state legislature met in Grace Methodist. The spire of Pine Street Presbyterian is in front the south wing of the capitol, and below it and to the right along Front Street is St. Stephen’s Episcopal. Circled at bottom, of course, is the baseball field.

This is the same view, from City Island last September.

Harrisburg skyline, September 2019
Harrisburg skyline, September 2019

The angle is not at all the same, but many of the same landmarks are identifiable. The green dome of St. Patrick’s is at the left. The spire of Grace Methodist is there, too. Only the Capitol’s dome is visible. I can’t see the spire of Pine Street Presbyterian, and I think the facade of St. Stephen’s is visible, vaguely to right of center behind some trees.

I miss summer evenings and afternoons on City Island. Hopefully, next year, the world will have returned to some kind of normalcy and minor league baseball, in some form, will return.

Until then, I have old photographs to keep me occupied.

Published by Allyn Gibson

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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