June 4, 2020
Harold James Lewis was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 4, 1927, son of Lula Randolph Deloach and James Lewis. He grew up in the city’s North End and attended Weaver High School. After school, Lewis joined the Army for eighteen months. He returned to Hartford in 1949 and gained employment as a sheet metal worker at Hamilton Standard in 1949. As an avid sportsman, Lewis became a local baseball star for the Hamilton Standard company team and other local clubs.
Hal Lewis led an all-black team called the Nutmeg Dukes as an infielder and outfielder. The Dukes were initially formed in 1942 as an independent club who barnstormed teams throughout Connecticut. Of the Dukes, Lewis said, “We wanted to play competitive baseball. We wanted to be in a league.” They were admitted to Hartford Twilight League in 1950. As the first African-American club in league history, the Dukes dominated the competition and won regular season and playoff championships.
In January of 1951, Hal Lewis became the second African-American from Hartford to sign a professional baseball contract. Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, a childhood friend who grew up on the same street with Lewis, was the first a year earlier. Lewis appeared in 29 minor league games for the Quebec Braves, an affiliate of the Boston Braves. As the only black player on an all-white team based in Canada, Lewis said he was subjected to racial slurs and taunts. Two months into his first season, he packed his bags and returned home to Connecticut. Lewis went back to his job at Hamilton Standard and continued to play baseball for the Windsor Locks based company.
Lewis excelled at the amateur level and became one of the best ballplayers in the Greater Hartford area. For about fifteen years, Lewis suited up for the Hamilton Standard Propellers. In his time with the company team, Lewis won 7 championships and set stolen base records in the Hartford Twilight League. In 1953, the “Props” were one of the best club’s in the state. With Lewis at shortstop, the team flew to Dallas, Texas, to play in a national tournament. In 1956, Lewis temporarily switched teams and won another Twi-loop playoff title with the Bloomfield Townies.
Hal Lewis retired from competitive baseball after 18 amateur seasons in Hartford. The final game of his baseball days came in 1968. A veritable “who’s who” of Hartford Twilight League alumni played in the Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium. 36 former Hartford Twilight leaguers took part in the game. Lewis took the field alongside local greats like Johnny Taylor, Monk Dubiel, Duffy Lewis and Bob Repass. Famed broadcaster, Bob Steele served as the PA announcer.
In 1969, Hal Lewis decided to go into the restaurant business. After 20 years at Hamilton Standard, Lewis changed careers and established “Hal’s Aquarius,” a popular diner on Main Street in Hartford. Visiting celebrities, local politicians, police officers, clergy and area residents congregated at Hal’s. Lewis worked a 16-hour, 7 days a week running the restaurant and a catering business while raising three children with his wife Mary. Hal’s Aquarius operated until Lewis retired in 1989 due to failing health.
Hal Lewis was also a talented musician. He sang at many local clubs and performed with the Sam Kimble Band, Jasper Jenkins Trio, Paul Brown and others. After a comeback from heart problems, Lewis performed at a jazz concert in Bushnell Park in 2000. His performance with singer Kitti Kathryn and his solos “Fools Rush In” and “It’s Wonderful,” dazzled a Hartford crowd once more.
“I’m a happy guy, just a real happy guy. I’m having fun and I’m appreciative of everyone around me.”
– Hal Lewis, 2002
Former Hartford Fire Chief John B. Stewart Jr. described Hal Lewis as being ahead of his time for having been one the city’s first successful black businessman, a singing talent and a polished second baseman. “He could do it all. He was one of the most talented men I know,” Stewart said. “He’s the last of old Hartford. A member of Union Baptist Church, Hal was a fun loving spirit with quick wits and a compassionate soul. Hal Lewis departed this life on June 15, 2004 at his home in Bloomfield, Connecticut.