The Charter Oak Base Ball Club of Hartford

The New York style game of “base ball” rose to prominence in Hartford during the summer of 1860. The first club to organize was the Independent Base Ball Club. Local merchants, W. O. Sherman and Charles A. Griswold served as President and Vice President. A few years later on June 13, 1862 a new team was formed in Bushnell Park named the Charter Oak Base Ball Club. The club was named after an unusually large White Oak tree and a symbol of American freedom from the Revolutionary War called the Charter Oak. Membership was limited to the club was 40 men. Game days in the park were Monday, Wednesday and Friday. According to the Hartford Courant, the club’s mission was to “establish on a scientific basis the health-giving and scientific game of base ball, and to promote good fellowship among its players.”

Painting of Charter Oak by Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857.

The Charter Oaks were founded by its President, Gershom B. Hubbell, a native of Bridgeport, a telegrapher at the American Telegraph on Main Street, Hartford and later, superintendent of Western Union’s Hartford office. Other elected officers of the club included: James B. Burbank, Vice President; Charles A. Jewell, Secretary and Treasurer; Thomas Hollister, G. F. Hills and E. H. Lane, Directors. James Burbank was a clerk; Charles Jewell, was a clerk at his father’s hide and leather business, Pliny Jewell & Sons; Enos A. Lane, 20, was also a clerk at George S. Lincoln Company, iron founders of Hartford; George F. Hills, aged 25, a teller at the State Bank; and Thomas A. Hollister, aged 30, who returned from New York as an apprentice bookbinder. All of the founders, except Burbank, made Hartford their permanent home.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club is organized, July 2, 1862.
Hartford Courant excerpt, July 19, 1862.
Hartford Courant, August 8, 1862.

The Charter Oaks fielded a “first nine,” a “second nine” and a “muffin team,” as was customary for “base ball” clubs in the early era. Practices and friendly inter-squad games were held in Bushnell Park. The uniform of the club was blue pants, with a white hat and a white shirt. On July 17, 1862 the “first nine” were picked. They were the Bunce twins—Frederick and Henry Lee, who both became Hartford bank presidents, Henry Yergason, Dickinson, Burbank, Branch, Hills, Hollister and Gershom Hubbell. In 1863, the team disbanded due to the start of the American Civil War and the ensuing military draft.

Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864
Charter Oaks vs. Collinsville,1864

The Charter Oaks reorganized in the summer of 1864 and achieved greatness on the diamond. The ball club defeated local teams like Trinity College, the Hartford Mechanics and nines from Middletown, Norwich, Collinsville, and Waterbury. The Oaks later recruited a Trinity student, Cy Blackwell to take over pitching duties. In the fall of 1864, Blackwell and the Oaks out-dueled New Haven’s Yale College by a score of 44 to 32. A rematch was later cancelled due to snowy weather.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 15, 1864.
Yale challenges the Charter Oaks, 1864.
Aerial view of Hartford by J. Weidermann, 1864.

By 1865, “base ball” soared in popularity as soldiers returned home from the Civil War. Thousands of spectators witnessed the Oaks win a great majority of games along the banks of Park River in Hartford’s Bushnell Park. In addition to local teams, the Oaks “first nine” competed against the game’s first professional clubs in an era when there was no difference between professional and amateur. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Atlantics of Brooklyn, the Unions of Morrisania, the Eons of Portland, Maine, the Lowells of Lowell, Massachusetts, the Eurekas of Newark, New Jersey were among the best of Charter Oak challengers to visit Hartford.

Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1865.

The Charter Oak Base Ball Club also scheduled away games, otherwise known as “base ball excursions.” In Worcester, Massachussets, on July 31, 1865, the Charter Oaks were thoroughly defeated by Harvard by a score of 35 to 13. Nevertheless, the Oaks obtained a winning record against in-state rivals that season. As a result, they were honored as champions of Connecticut and given a miniature wooden bat with inscribed silver emblems by a supporter of the club, J. G. Belden. The bat was said to be made from the original Charter Oak tree destroyed in a storm nine years earlier.

1865 Charter Oak Base Ball Club.

In 1866, the Charter Oaks retained their state championship title in a three game series against the Norwich Chesters. The final game took place at Hamilton Park (later known as Howard Avenue Grounds) in New Haven, Connecticut. Hubbell, Jewell, the Bunce twins and the rest of the Oaks dominated the Norwich club, winning 39 to 22. A second consecutive state championship padded the Oaks’ well-regarded club. When the season was through, Hubbell represented the Charter Oaks at the annual “National Base Ball Convention” where the game, its rules and its clubs made efforts to standardize and coordinate base ball operations.

Charter Oaks vs. Norwich Chesters, 1866.

By 1867, Hubbell and the Bunce twins made appearances in every game the Oaks ever played. In late summer, the Pequots of New London managed to defeat the Charter Oaks and take hold of the state championship title. After the season, the first base ball convention of Connecticut was hosted in Hartford at Central Hall on Central Row. In attendance were representatives from each of the state’s major base ball clubs. The meeting formed the Connecticut Base Ball Players Association in which organization Gershom B. Hubbell played a lead role. He hosted two more base ball conventions in Hartford. By the 1870 convention, the Charter Oaks were history but they had put Hartford on the baseball map.

Charter Oak Base Ball Club travels to New London, 1867.
Charter Oak Billiard Hall , 1867.
Charter Oaks vs. Yale, 1867
Charter Oaks vs. Pequots 1867.

The Charter Oaks and Gershom B. Hubbell led the early development of baseball in Hartford. Four years after the Oaks disbanded, Hartford’s first professional team was established. The Hartford Base Ball Club colloquially known as the Hartford Dark Blues were inaugural members of the National League. Former Charter Oaks captain, Hubbell was selected as the club’s President.

Charter Oaks vs. Yale, June 20, 1870.

In addition to pioneering baseball in Hartford, Hubbell was also a three-term City Council member of Hartford’s 7th Ward, an expert electrician and a championship pool player. He is credited with introducing the first telephones to Bell Telephone Company and with starting the first telephone exchange in Hartford. Hubbell owned a local billiards hall on Pearl Street during the late 1860’s called Charter Oak Billiard Hall.

Base Ball Convention, Hartford, 1870.
The Hubbell House, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1880 (c.)

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