The following is taken from "Ilion 1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide this information to our visitors.

Recreation and Sports

No history of the Village would be complete without some mention of sports. Baseball, as a major activity, is almost as old as the beginning of Ilion itself, with the greatest number of participants and fans. "The Clippers", organized in 1869, the first uniformed team in Ilion, known as the best aggregation of players ever assembled, played against many major league teams, including Boston, St. Louis, Chicago. One of their most memorable games, played in Ilion, was against the Chicago team, whose star pitcher, Al Spaulding, later became the founder and millionaire head of the sporting goods firm. In 1892 the "Clippers" made a trip through the northern states and Canada, playing seven games in ten days and winning them all! The next big team, "The Independents", played from 1898, at Chismore Park. The Typewriter field, from 1900, was also the setting for exciting action as the cry arose, "Play ball!"

From 1901 to 1904 Ilion was in the State League. There were difficulties the first year including the problem of bringing good players to Ilion. Thirteen games were played with thirteen managers. Difficulties were overcome to such an extent that in the following three years the State team was a contender for the championship, finishing second in 1902, 1903, and 1904. In 1904, a "wet weather" field was leased on the Whitney farm. It was this or row boats part of the time. A dry diamond found them at Chismore Park - Ilion joined the Empire League in 1905. This was a smaller circuit and Ilion was only part of it for a few years. But big name stars were really developed here!

New York State's most successful twilight baseball circuit, the Ilion Sunset League, was founded in 1921. Games were contested at both the Library Bureau field and Typewriter Park in the first years. Eight teams made up the first league. In 1922, the Hose No. 2 outfit, winners of the first year's pennant, was considered one of the best since the days of earlier glory on the diamond. Hose No. 1, or Otsego Streeters, and Hose No. 2 or Union Streeters, always drew large crowds when they clashed. The hottest fires the firemen ever fought were as nothing compared to the heat of these battles. Ilion's "little world series" broke all attendance records in 1925 for a playoff was necessary because of a tie between the Elks and Knights of Columbus. In the early 30's the Sunset League used the diamond at Russell Park. Sunday baseball was first played in Ilion in 1933.

Samuel Russell donated the field on S. Fifth Avenue, known as Gorton's, as well as the one at Russell Park. George "Deke" White developed this and also Hunt's field on Elm Street. The Arms and Remington Rand which through the years have had teams representing every department, together with the Elks and Moose, played in a league until 1948 at Gorton's. At the present time it is used for baseball by only the high school and younger boys from all the local schools. So from 1869 until 1948, Ilionites have been thrilled by America's favorite sport. The Village Hall of Fame in baseball would include: "Deke" White, former Big League National player who pitched for the "Independents" and in the State League, Pete Hotaling, John Clapsaddle, Hardie Richardson, Lew Wiltsie, Mike McNally, John Siegal, Harry and Bill Hinehman, and Grant Thacker. Baseball here, as in many villages today, has been supplanted to a great extent by softball. A twelve team softball league engages two high school fields, Plant I and II fields, and the municipal field at Gorton's.

Roller skating made its appearance in 1884 at a rink in the Kinne building. Several businessmen incorporated a company and purchased property on the corner of Main and Union Streets. Some of the old wooden buildings were removed and the crooked street straightened somewhat. The large roller skating rink was on the second floor level, with a spectators gallery above that. Exhibitions of skilled skaters were wildly applauded. Two well-known performers, Si Lever and Harry Stillman, demonstrated their skills in many larger cities. They were beautifully outfitted in uniforms of shorts, square jackets with fur cuffs, and fur caps. Skaters later made a dash for L. L. Merry's drugstore which provided the first soda fountain in town. The rink was also used for "polo", or what is now known as hockey. Roller skates and a large rubber ball were employed instead of ice skates and puck. There were teams, competing in tournament, in this rough-and-ready sport. Other attractions included the 3 Brand brothers, local acrobatic artists. This rink was used for many a social event, as well as for sports activities, until it burned down in 1890 in one of the most disastrous fires in the history of the village. There was also roller skating at the Opera House and at "Tabernacle" rink, so called because of a series of revival meetings previously held in the building. Located near the Typewriter, it was torn down when railroad tracks were laid between the building and Arms.

Ed Walrath was a daredevil balloon-ascension artist. Although a one-man specialist in this field of sport, he had scores of enthralled witnesses. He exercised on a platform connected to the second floor of a house on West Hill as crowds assembled to watch. Walrath made his first ascension in the late 1880's, from Ilion, landing in Little Falls. A harness was placed around him and a parachute hung to the side of the gas balloon, which opened with his weight when he jumped. His final flight cost him his life in Otsego Lake, ending an individualistic sport.

Bicycle riding was a favorite sport in the 80's, 90's and early 1900's. The Side path Commissioners on the village board played an important role in the development of riding clubs in Ilion. The Ilion Cycling Club and the Remington Cycle Club were two of the outstanding organizations. The Cycling Club, the earlier of the two, used the big wheel, or the "ordinary" for some time before the safety bicycle was introduced. Wheel plates were required by law to ride the paths. There were 1,000 sold in Ilion in '98 and '99, a banner record for sales; the fee of 25 cents the same as today.

The one-half mile track at Chismore Park was the scene of many a thrilling race. Famous riders from all over the country staged exhibitions. "The Spinsters" were a group of Ilion wheel-women. It was the aim of every cyclist to "do a century" -- one hundred miles in a day.

Harness racing was also popular here as Ilion belonged to the Harness Racing Association of America. The high sulky and big wheels were a familiar sight. Horse racing was as speedy as the automobile in 1909, at which time the speed limit was increased from eight to ten miles per hour. Cutters were pitted against each other on the road of John Street until the "John Street Speedway" was paved in 1913. Then sulkeys, pulled by fast-stepping race horses, replaced them. When the ice was frozen solid, there was also horse racing in the canal.

The Cricket Club has had an intense sports program between 1906 and 1909, although cricket had been played on a small scale for some time. It originated here with a Scotsman, John Montgomery, an official of the Typewriter. Soon many men of the Village became cricket-conscious, clamoring to enter the game.

Many Ilion residents will remember the occasion of John L. Sullivan's display of his particular talents during his visit to Ilion in the 90's. The exhibition was during the waning point in his career but drew such swarming crowds that one was practically lifted by sheer numbers up the Opera House stairs. When he appeared at the same place in a play "The Man From Boston," the newspaper review termed his performance "strictly third rate."

Walking marathons were a craze at this time. Waldo Brown won a three day endurance race of this kind at Maben's walking 150 miles in 33 hours on the sawdust circle. Original tickets told for 10 cents but on the third day, the crowd was so great, that would-be customers offering $10.00 had to be turned away. Folks from Ilion met Ed Weston, who was walking from coast to coast, near Little Falls in 1910, accompanying him along his route for as long as their own endurance lasted. Long distance walking was a craze for many years. Deke White and George Oliver trekked to New York City in two weeks, the former hardy soul making another trip later to Syracuse and back in 48 hours. This of course before the automobile took the starch out of legs.

It was during the 80's that Ilionites first became enthusiasts of the bobsled run promoted by the Coasting Club. The cost to the club was about $16.00 an evening, from which we may judge how highly the sport was rated. Two evenings a week, Second Street hill was flooded, ruts made, and 2,000 spectators watched the runs of "Red Cloud," owned by Philo Remington, "White Cloud," by Fred Ingersoll and others bearing such romantic names as "Comet", "Flyaway", "Nightmare", "Tally ho", "Red Jacket", "West Shore", and "Nancy Hawks." The bobs were models of speed and beauty with their leather upholstery, nickle plating, and elaborate steering apparatus and banner bearing its name. What excitement if one load was fortunate enough to swing around Second Street corner, speed onward down Otsego, around Main as far as Hoefler Avenue! Less venturesome ones sometimes kept going straight ahead rather than attempting to round the corner, and so wound up in a cabbage patch across Otsego. A reporter for the Utica Globe, describing such an evening of exhilaration in 1883, complimented those gathered by proclaiming that during his four-hour stay he heard "not one word which would be out of place in the most select society and that the village can plume herself for having a larger proportion of prettier girls than any other village in the valley." In 1884 "The West Shore" skipped the track, crashing into the bridge on Second Street with the result that one passenger was killed and another seriously injured. After this, interest in the sport waned. In 1919 coasting again made its appearance on this hill until the mid-twenties. However, Ilion was becoming auto-conscious so the heydey of this red-blooded sport passed. The fairyland created by colored lights, torches flaming to mark the course, the swing of the signal man's lantern and enchanted crowds still remain in nostalgic memory.

"The Housewives League" set in motion, in the early 1900's, the beginnings of a swimming program. Sanctioned by village authorities, a pool was made in Steele's Creek near Whitney's farm. Tents of burlap provided dressing facilities, the boys being on the east side and the girls west of the creek. While not all to be desired, this venture was an improvement over swimming in the canal or Weber's Pond. Promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, a pool was constructed in 1921 on Water Works property at the entrance to the Gorge. Still in use in 1951, it had become inadequate and antiquated in many ways for several years. It was open to all, without charge. Water was purified, changed daily and closed for cleaning once a week under supervision of the Water Department. It was a concrete structure 100' x 42' and for a long while considered a distinct public improvement. It was the popular summer mecca for as many as 600 a day who walked, bicycled, or drove to the picturesque, although not centrally located spot.

There was ice skating as well as swimming on the old Erie Canal. Races and exhibitions were common occurrences when the canal was frozen over. Weber's Pond was frequented by young and old alike as "Proprietor Weber aims to keep the ice in prime condition during the season." There was a new skating rink at Recreation Park in 1910 with a house erected for skaters and electric lights surrounded the enclosure. The Remington Typewriter Band played for the grand opening. In 1939 rinks were provided at Typewriter Park and at the High school, the latter made possible by the purchase of the Weber Track by the Board of Education. The skating areas were developed through the combined efforts of the village board, Kiwanis Club, Board of Education, the Water and Street Departments. The field behind the high school, when flooded, has been a popular gathering ground for young people of all ages. Records were broadcast through an amplifier system for the pleasure of skaters and audience.

According to the Citizen of the 80's, Ilion "gained considerable notoriety as a cock-fighting community and enjoyed the fame (?) of being the toughest village in the valley." The so-called sport was not only frowned upon but was downright illegal. Fights were held, with many a wager laid, in the woods off McGowan Road and in a barn on Prospect Street. The roosters were tied in the trees until time of the fights, in case of raid, which eventually sometimes spoiled the "fun."

Bowling as a sport has attracted great numbers of people since early days. Alleys at the Hotel Osgood were popular at the turn of the century and for many years thereafter. Alleys were installed in the Masonic Temple when it was built in 1909, and re-equipped in 1950. Installation of alleys in the Elks new building was completed in 1925, with new ones laid in 1950. The Capitol bowling alleys were public, continuing in use from the time the Capitol Theatre block was erected in 1927 until 1948. The State Bowling Center, located on E. State Street, was constructed in 1941 and contained ten alleys. Women's leagues, as well as men's, both boys' and girls' teams from the high school, and many others, find the Center an agreeable place to pursue a favorite pastime.

Tennis is another sport which had many devotees, although it never attracted the numbers some others did. The Ilion Tennis Club's annual tournaments were always a sporting event in the community, with local merchants donating silver trophies to the champions. Interest reached a peak between 1925 and 1930 when the Cash Register was located in Ilion. The Tennis Club waned when many of the young members entered service.

Some older courts were located behind the Morgan Street school in the nineties when lawn tennis was pursued with diligence, and a private one on Hoefler Avenue, before the Arms Buildings were erected there. The first, and only, public courts were opened at the high school in 1939.

In 1932 Elverton Doty hired an architect to draw plans for a golf course on the Barringer Road. Since that time the nine-hole green has attracted throngs of "bugs" from almost the first spring thaw until the first snowfall. For a few years instruction was given to high school students. Previous to this time a golf course was in the initial stages of development at Russell Park but failed to materialize.

Sporting clubs include the Ilion Fish and Game Protective Association, the General Herkimer Riding Club, and Lou Amber's Racing Pigeon Club. For five years the Loyal Order of Moose have sponsored the Ilion Homespun Coaster Derby.

A successful recreation program for the youth of Ilion has been developed through the years. Today's organized chartering of events is a far cry from 1864 for instance, when lacking the services of a coach, the boys of the village banded together and hired one for themselves.

There was a commission on the village board for playgrounds in 1909 but little was accomplished until 1914 when a summertime supervision of the procurement of equipment was instigated by the P. T. A.'s of Morgan and North Street schools. Young children enjoyed the use of swings, see-saws and sand pits while the older ones continued to use Recreation Park for track, field events, baseball, etc. Daisy parties were one means of raising money for supervision.

A sports program was provided for children at Crim-Shaffer Memorial Park the summer of 1927. Directors supervised this playground as well as one at the West Hill School. Until 1949 the Recreation Commission was represented by both the Village Board (two trustees) and the school board (two members), before that by the Village Board alone. But since 1949 the Village Board has been solely responsible for summer recreation. At that time four permanent playgrounds were established: West Montgomery Street, East River Street, North Street, and south of the high school on the former Weber Pond site.

This well-rounded plan for recreation, provided by our Village, makes an ordinance of 1877 appear uncompromising and harsh today: "No person shall play ball, beat, knock, or drive any ball or hoop, or slide downhill on any street in the Village - Fine $.50 to $1.00."

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Established: 11/5/99
Last Updated: 11/5/99
Copyright © 1999 Paul McLaughlin/ Judy Breedlove/ Martha S. Magill