Friday, March 27, 2015

Take me out to the Ball Park the story of Capitoline Grounds!

Today at 1499 Fulton Street you will find a great coffee shop name Capitoline Grounds. This is a name that goes back over 150 plus years in Bedford Stuyvesant.
The Capitoline Grounds, also known as Capitoline Skating Lake and Base Ball Ground, was a baseball park located in Brooklyn, New York from 1864 to 1880. It was built to rival nearby Union Grounds, also in Brooklyn. The park hosted local amateur teams in its early history, but later hosted professional and semi-professional games. The park's only season as the home field for an all-professional team occurred in 1872 when the Brooklyn Atlantics joined the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. The park was flooded during the winter and used as an ice skating park. The grounds were used by local high schools and colleges as well, to play American football games, and ice rink football matches.

Many of organized baseball's earliest historical events took place at the park throughout the 1860s and early 1870s. The most notable event came on June 14, 1870, when the Atlantics defeated the Cincinnati Red Stockings to end their historic 84-game winning streak. Fred Goldsmith successfully demonstrated his curve ball at the Grounds in 1870, a pitch previously thought to have been only an optical illusion. In an 1865 game, Ned Cuthbert is credited with inventing the slide when he tried avoiding a tag when attempting to steal a base against the Athletic of Philadelphia. In addition to baseball, The Grounds hosted various events and exhibitions; most notably in 1873, when Washington Donaldson and two reporters attempted to fly a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic Ocean. The attempt turned tragic when the balloon crashed in Connecticut killing one of the reporters.

Reuben S. Decker inherited a portion of his grandfather's farm land and along with Hamilton A. Weed initially opened the Capitoline Skating pond, named in reverence to Capitoline Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  The location of the grounds were in the Bedford Section of Brooklyn, New York, an area now known as the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The Grounds encompassed a city block bounded by Halsey Street, Marcy Street, Putnam Avenue, and Nostrand Avenue. The pond area was first conceived as an ice skate park, which began in the Winter of 1862-1863. Designed to be a competitor to the nearby Union Grounds, where the first enclosed baseball field opened earlier in 1862. With the success that the Union Grounds experienced by charging admission, Decker and Weed chose to enclose the Capitoline Grounds as well.

The Capitoline Grounds opened for baseball in 1864, now consisting of two sets of bleachers that were backed by Nostrand Avenue and Halsey Street, and had an approximate capacity of 5,000 people] In right field stood a circular brick outhouse, and if any player hit a ball over the structure, they were presented with a bottle of Champagne. Along Putnam Avenue, two rows of stables were established for the patrons' horses. Other amenities included a bandstand, clubhouses, and sitting rooms for the female patrons. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle regarded the new park as "the finest, most extensive, and complete ball grounds in the country." The business ran year around; flooding the area during the Winter season for skating, then draining the park in the spring for baseball matches.  Hamilton A Weed a builder would go on to build many houses that are stating in the Bedford Section today. All of H. A. Weed buildings are not protected.

In September 1873, Washington Donaldson, a professional balloonist who had formerly worked for P.T. Barnum as a circus performer, along with fellow balloonist John Wise, collaborated on an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot-air balloon. Sponsored by the Daily Graphic, the launch was to take place from the Capitoline Grounds, with Wise planning to use a balloon 49 meters (160 feet) tall with a two-compartment enclosed car, but decided to end his involvement with the project. Donaldson persisted, acquiring a smaller balloon with an open boat for the car.

Donaldson's Atlantic attempt, launched from the Capitoline Grounds accompanied by reporters Alfred Ford and George Lunt, ended up being forced down by a rainstorm, to land on a Connecticut farm. Donaldson and Ford successfully abandoned the runaway balloon, but Lunt stayed with the balloon for a distance until he finally jumped into a tree, sustaining serious injuries from which he died six months later. Donaldson later disappeared in 1875 when he tried to fly across Lake Michigan in a balloon, accompanied by a reporter named Newton Grimwood. The balloon never made it to the far shore; Grimwood's body washed up on shore weeks later, but Donaldson was never seen again.