Baseball in Sharon & Amenia
Semi-pro baseball in Sharon, Connecticut? Believe it or not, from the 1930s to the late sixties/early seventies, Sharon fielded a team in the semi-pro Interstate Baseball League. Playing out of Adams Field (off Route 41 just north of town behind the old chicken barn) the Sharon Baseball Team (known occasionally as the Cardinals) played against teams from Amenia, Millerton, Millbrook, Pine Plains, Lakeville, Salisbury, Canaan and Winsted. After World War II, the team’s home base moved to the newly created and dedicated Veteran’s Field in Sharon Valley.
The Interstate League
Usually an A team league, the Interstate League’s semi-pro status was due to the presence of a paid pitcher and catcher. In Sharon in the late 1940s and 1950s, the pitcher and catcher were imported from Brooklyn, New York. Both players hopped the train to Sharon Station, and were picked up at the station (and brought back) by a rotating group of team members, parents and fans.
Baseball was the activity of choice in Sharon and around the area on a Sunday afternoon. Huge crowds came to the field to watch the local guys-including Rusty Hansell, Pete St. Martin, Ed Kirby, Bill Wilbur, Don Humeston, Jack Riley, Jerry and Bub Pitcher, and Pete Lamb-face “real” baseball players retired from the pros like Don Hempe (who pitched for the Amenia Monarchs) and Austin Knickerbocker (who played for the Pine Plains team after a stint with the Philadelphia A’s.) Of course, most of the players were just regular local men, out to enjoy the fun, camaraderie and competition of the Interstate League games.
Rowdy fans, often sitting on car hoods drinking out of bottles hidden in paper bags, were enthusiastic supporters (when the team was playing well at least!) honking horns to applaud a good play. Betting on the games was a sport in itself and team rivalries were fierce, with the Lakeville team usually Sharon’s greatest enemy. Playoff games were held late in the season, with the top four teams facing each other in three-game series. In one memorable year, the last game of the playoffs between Canaan and Amenia took place on November 10th and was reported in the following day’s New York Times as the “last baseball game of the year in the Unites States.”
The Interstate League gradually faced problems as more out of town players were brought in as “ringers”, and the semi-pro teams became too professional. By the early 1970s, the Interstate League had been replaced by the amateur Tri-State League, still in existence today.
The Field by the School
On Sunday afternoons almost everyone in Amenia came to the field that was next to the elementary school for the baseball game. It was the center of the community when a game was scheduled. Kids walked or rode their bikes down from Depot Hill. Folks came from all around town to claim a good seat on the hillside or on the first-base side bleachers. Some sat in their cars in the parking lot, some sat on their cars to cheer the Amenia team. Most enthusiastic was the “hillside gang”, friends who sat together on the hill by the school, sharing a picnic and other refreshments. Walt McDonald always passed the hat, collecting money which was given to the teams to buy equipment.
“Doc” Bartlett, Amenia’s baseball legend, commented about that field saying, “They never had a name for that field by the school, it was always just the ‘field by the school’. There was many a good ballgame played there despite the damn short field.”
When Beekman Field opened in 1984 the old field by the school was less used and eventually the backstop removed and the infield planted to grass. In the spring of 1983 Beekman Park officially had opened for business as the first Little League games were played on Herring Field. The following year “Doc” Bartlett baseball field was opened (lights were added in 1990s). In 1985 the first games were played on the Bob Coons softball field.
The Indian Rock Schoolhouse
In 1858, when the little schoolhouse on Mygatt Road in Amenia first opened, it was one of a dozen or so district schools scattered throughout the sprawling village. The one-room schools of that time generally had pupils from first to eighth grade taught by one teacher. There were no school buses, there was no electricity; not even indoor plumbing. Some parents worked in the new Borden Condensed factory in Wassaic, some worked in the iron mines and many were farmers.
When the Webutuck Country Schoolhouse Association took over the little school building in 2000 it had been closed for over 60 years. It had been used as a farm shed and the floor was falling in. The roof needed replacement and the windows had been boarded up. Trees and brush grew all around in the schoolyard. The Association named the school after a large boulder on a nearby ridge that is said to have been used as a look-out point for the Native Americans in the area.
The Amenia Lions Club and a special group of community volunteers set to work right away. Friends at Maplebrook School and a group of volunteer craftsmen who became faithful friends provided a great share of the labor, supplementing the special skills of local contractors.
Programs at the schoolhouse have grown from a simple picnic in 2002 to a very popular Amenia community day in 2006. Featured in 2005 was a Civil War Encampment marking the historic period when the schoolhouse was built. Our Abraham Lincoln living history character has been part of the festivities since the events began.
Ice Cream Socials, class visits and “Summer Sunday” family craft workshops have expanded the list of activities. The highlight of the spring is always a visit from “Pine Cone Pete” who has brought Arbor Day back to the community by planting trees at the schoolhouse, and encouraging the children to plant trees, flowers and vegetables at home. He is joined by Rudy, the “Pine Cone Princess”, the school ma’arm, Miss Murphy, the music teacher Margie, Gilbert the clock winder, and enthusiastic volunteers.
The newest project, “Trunk Exhibits” outreach program, features small footlockers that hold vintage photos, memorabilia and books explaining various aspects of local history. The trunks can be borrowed at no cost for classrooms, scouts or local organizations, and are appropriate for all ages including adults and seniors. Packed in the first trunk, “A Day at Indian Rock School”, are a dunce cap, slates and chalk, patterns to make dust caps or marble bags, books about schools and old time games, activity sheets for group leaders, a lunch pail, a school bell, and an old inkwell. The second trunk is nearly ready-“Freedom Quilts”-produced in partnership with the Northeast Community Center in Millerton.
Amenia Has Always Been a Baseball Town
About the time the Indian Rock Schoolhouse opened, the game of baseball was first introduced in Poughkeepsie. Although New York State is credited with having the first club to play organized baseball in 1845, it took a few years before it became the best-loved game in Amenia. It was what everyone played or watched every Sunday all summer.
Attendees at the Amenia Field Day played baseball- both children and adults. Most of the local games in the first part of the 20th century were amateur, however paid pitchers and catchers were beginning to be hired, as the games increasingly became major town events. While there was no charge, the hat was passed to garner some funds.