Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium
Former names: Clarkin Stadium (1921-1927) and Wethersfield Avenue Grounds (1901-1927)
Location: Hanmer Street & George Street, off Franklin Avenue Hartford, Connecticut
Tenants: Hartford Baseball Club (1902-1932, 1934, 1938-1945), Hartford Blues Football Club (1925-1927), Savitt Gems (1932-1945) and Hartford Chiefs (1946-1952).
Morgan G. Bulkeley Stadium was a sports venue in Hartford, Connecticut and the site of Babe Ruth’s final ballgame. Bulkeley Stadium was home to the Hartford Baseball Club a minor league team nicknamed the Senators, then the Bees and later the Chiefs. Major league stars and the “who’s who” of baseball often made exhibition game appearances at the stadium.
Semi-professional teams like the Savitt Gems and the Hartford Indians frequently used the facility. During baseball’s off-season, the Hartford Blues of the National Football League, nationally sanctioned boxing matches, motor sports and artistic performances were popular stadium attractions. Initially constructed in 1921, the stadium was renamed in 1928 to honor former Connecticut Governor, U.S. Senator and First President of the National League, Morgan Gardner Bulkeley.
A block to the east of Bulkeley Stadium was the ballpark’s original site; Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, also referred to as Hartford Baseball Park, the Hartford Base Ball Grounds, or simply the Hartford Grounds. Each of these names were used interchangeably. In March of 1896, Manager William Barnie of the Hartford Baseball Club constructed a grandstand on the south side of the city measuring 150 feet wide and 20 feet tall. In December of 1905, James H. Clarkin purchased the Hartford Senators and leased the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. At the time, the diamond was “regarded as the finest in this section of the country.”¹
Hundreds of ball games were played on the site by amateur, semi-professional and professional teams each summer. The baseball facility underwent improvements and renovations on several occasions; the first of which was completed in spring of 1910. Manager Bob Connery of the Hartford Senators in the Connecticut State League was reported to be pleased with ballpark’s improvements in the April 9, 1910 edition of the Hartford Courant. A ticket office was built, a food stand doubled in size and carpeting was installed in the clubhouse.
Wethersfield Avenue Grounds became a destination for the game’s biggest names. In the summer of 1916, the infamous Ty Cobb delighted a small crowd of 800 Hartford fans. Cobb guest starred for the visiting New Haven Colonials as first baseman and relief pitcher versus the Hartford Poli’s, the city’s semi-professional club. Alongside Cobb on the Colonials was Torrington High School alumnus and Philadelphia Athletics player Joe Dugan who played shortstop. The Colonials beat the Poli’s 7 to 0. Cobb would visit Hartford again in 1918, though this bit of history would be overshadowed by another famed slugger.
In 1918 and 1919 the one and only Babe Ruth played at the Wethersfield Avenue Grounds as part of his perennial barnstorming tours. Days after winning the World Series with Boston Red Sox, Ruth made his first appearance in Hartford on September 16, 1918, to play for the Hartford Poli’s. Ruth pitched the Poli’s to a 1-0 victory versus the Fisk Red Tops. He hurled a complete game shutout, allowing only 4 hits. Ruth hit third of the batting order, recording a single and double. Ruth drew a crowd of about 5,000 spectators and earned a reported $350 for his appearance.
In 1921, owner of the Hartford Senators, James H. Clarkin built a new baseball venue a block to the west of the old Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The site was located at the intersection of Hanmer Street and George Street off of Franklin Avenue in South Hartford. A large grandstand made of steel and concrete wrapped around the field from foul pole to foul pole. Locker rooms below the stands were equipped with showers, baths, and telephones. The facility was dubbed Clarkin Stadium and garnered a reputation as one of New England’s best ballparks.
Clarkin Stadium hosted Hall of Fame slugger Lou Gehrig who began his career with the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League in 1921, 1923 and 1924. Famous Native American olympian athlete, Jim Thorpe appeared in Hartford’s lineup near the end of his career. Leo Durocher, Jo-Jo Morrissey, Kiddo Davis, and Pete Appleton were also Senators at this time. In 1927, an accidental fire severely damaged the grandstand at Clarkin Stadium. Though it was rebuilt two months later, the Hartford Senators played their games on the road until mid-July.
In January of 1928, Clarkin sold his stadium as well as Hartford’s minor league franchise. Both were purchased for over $200,000 by a group of private investors led by Robert J. Farrell, a real estate and insurance agent and longtime business manager for the Senators. Hartford continued their play in the Eastern League under Farrell’s direction. Clarkin Stadium was renamed Bulkeley Stadium to honor Morgan G. Bulkeley who had passed away six years prior. Existing wood bleachers were replaced by steel seating throughout the grandstand.
Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Hank Greenberg played for the 1930 Hartford Senators at Bulkeley Stadium with King Bader as manager. President Robert J. Farrell died at age 32 of acute appendicitis. During the depths of the Great Depression, the Senators were purchased by and became the affiliates of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. The Senators went on to win the 1931 Eastern League championship behind the bats of Red Howell, Al Cohen and Bobby Reis. When the Eastern League disbanded at the midpoint of the 1932 season, Bulkeley Stadium and the City of Hartford were without a headlining baseball club.
Shortly thereafter a semi-professional club called the Savitt Gems stepped in as tenants of Bulkeley Stadium in July of 1932. They were backed by local jeweler and baseball promoter Bill Savitt who first created the Gems in 1930 as part of the Hartford Twilight League. With Bulkeley Stadium as home base, the Gems made the leap from amateur to semi-professional. From 1932 to 1945, Savitt and his Gems welcomed countless big leaguers as guest stars in Hartford, including: Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ted Williams, Honus Wagner, Lloyd Waner, Dizzy Dean, Jimmie Foxx, Jim Thorpe, Chief Bender, Josh Gibson, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige, Johnny Taylor, Johnny Mize, Bill McKechnie, Moose Swaney and Monk Dubiel.
In 1938, the Boston Bees of the National League returned minor league baseball to Hartford. Boston purchased the Hartford Senators and leased Bulkeley Stadium. The club was referred to as the Hartford Senators and the Hartford Bees (and Hartford Laurels). During the 1942 season, Del Bissonette served as player-manager while eventual Hall of Fame pitcher, Warren Spahn earned 17 wins and 12 losses. A few years later, Hartford won the 1944 Eastern League pennant due to pitching by Hal Schacker as well as hometown hero and former Savitt Gems ace, Pete Naktenis.
On September 30, 1945, Babe Ruth returned to Hartford to play in a charity game at Bulkeley Stadium as a member of the Savitt Gems. At 50 years old, Ruth drew a crowd of more than 2,500. He took batting practice before the game and clouted a home run over Bulkeley Stadium’s right field fence. During the exhibition, Ruth coached first base. He later entered the game as a pinch-hitter and grounded out to the pitcher. The ballgame was Ruth’s final appearance of his playing career. Ruth passed away less than 3 years later at the age of 53.
In 1946, Hartford’s minor league franchise changed their name to the Hartford Chiefs as a result of their major league affiliate, reverting their official name back to the Boston Braves. Players Gene Conley, George Crowe, Frank Torre and local Wethersfield native, Bob Repass were standouts for the Hartford Chiefs at Bulkeley Stadium. When the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee after the 1952 season, the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League were also relocated.
In 1955, the stadium was sold by the Milwaukee Braves to John E. Hays Realty of Hartford for $50,000. A shopping center is planned for the site but it never materialized. Bulkeley Stadium fell into disarray and was demolished. The property became a nursing home named Ellis Manor. A stone monument and home plate was dedicated in 1998 to remember the decades of memories at Bulkeley Stadium. Another commemorative ceremony was held at the site in 2013.
Bulkeley Stadium Monument Dedication, 1998.
“On the baseball field at Bulkeley Stadium, Leo Durocher played his first season of professional baseball. On the same diamond, Lou Gehrig, learned the rudiments of first base play and went directly from there to Yankee Stadium and baseball immortality. Hank Greenberg was a raw rookie who couldn’t make the grade here and had to be shipped down to Evansville. The greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe, wore the Hartford uniform in one of the most bizzare periods of the city’s baseball history. Paul Richards was a Hartford catcher there and Van Lingle Mungo, a Hartford pitcher. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams played at Bulkeley Stadium when Bill Savitt was keeping the place alive. A man could go down Franklin Avenue to Bulkeley Stadium and see young ball players who were going to be the very best in the majors.Bill Lee, Sports Editor, Hartford Courant, July 9, 1955.
- The Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
- “Bulkeley Stadium: Hartford’s last home to pro baseball”. SABR. Retrieved 2016-01-24.