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The reigning fad

John Conway
Posted 4/7/23

For many years prior to 1951, the very best basketball players in the world spent their summers in Sullivan County, honing their skills and showcasing their talents representing one hotel or another …

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The reigning fad


For many years prior to 1951, the very best basketball players in the world spent their summers in Sullivan County, honing their skills and showcasing their talents representing one hotel or another in an informal hoops circuit.  

But decades before that, it was the nation’s top baseball players who flocked to fill menial jobs at Sullivan County hotels so they could play ball all summer.   

Baseball was long a prominent part of summer life in Sullivan County. In the 1870s, the Hemlocks of Monticello ruled the world of semi-pro baseball in the area. With such stars as Blake Mapledoram and C.V.R. Ludington, occasionally aided by ringers like catcher Charlie Reipschlager of the American Association champion New York Metropolitans, the Hemlocks took on all comers from Honesdale to Brooklyn to Jersey City, seldom losing a contest.

By the early 1900s, communities were regularly fielding summer teams made up of some of the top college players in the country, many of whom were employed at the local hotels. Liberty usually had the best team during those years, and the village team, the Crescents, was seldom beaten.

In an article headlined, “Sullivan County Baseball” in its July 21, 1907 edition, the New York Times noted that “Baseball is the reigning fad just at present. Many collegians are summering at the different towns, and some crack nines have been formed.”

The following month, the Times reported that “Baseball continues to be the most popular of the outdoor sports. Although most of the towns have strong teams, made up from the many collegians summering here, Liberty is in the lead for the championship, having defeated every team it has met.”

The Liberty team was so strong, in fact, that by the later part of the summer a few of its opponents had difficulty fielding a team, as some of their players, no doubt sensing the hopelessness of the cause, failed to show up. For example, the “baseball game between Liberty and Stevensville lacked the interest that would otherwise have been displayed had the college players who are to represent Stevensville this year put in an appearance,” the Times reported on August 11, 1907. “Owing to their non arrival, however, the strong Liberty nine found no difficulty in defeating their opponents by a score of 16 to 6.

As formidable as the 1907 Liberty team was, the 1908 contingent was possibly even better, as several more top flight college players were added to the already successful squad.

“Baseball at Liberty now occupies the limelight,” the Times reported on August 9, 1908. “The nine has not lost a game this season, and during the week defeated the Hancocks of Delaware County, the Binghamton Stars of Broome County, and the Roscoe Rocklands.

“So strongly has the team been strengthened by the addition of Jackson, catcher, Brown, second base, and W. O’Connell, pitcher, of Williams, Hamilton, and Columbia Colleges, respectively, that the summer colony is prepared to back them against any amateur team in the country.”

In 1910, the Liberty Register reported on September 16 that the Liberty team had fashioned a record of 15 wins and five losses for the year, “a good record and a good team, a credit to the town.” 

“Baseball has been the one big attraction in Liberty this summer,” the Register noted, “and the games have furnished good, clean sport for the visitors and townspeople alike.”

By 1914, Sullivan County’s Silver Age of tourism was coming to an end, but few had noticed. Though no one knew it yet, the peak year for passenger travel on the O&W Railway was 1913, and when the Hotel Wawonda, the county’s largest and arguably most elegant summer hotel, burned in June of 1914, it was an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come. Still, in July of that year, the New York Times was reporting that “despite the inclement weather of the past two weeks, many visitors have arrived [in Liberty]. Nearly all the hotels and boarding houses are filled, and it will be only a matter of a few days before visitors will be unable to secure accommodations.”

Again, baseball was one of the main attractions, as the Times reported that in White Lake, “baseball is also a popular sport, many of the houses having teams of championship caliber. A series to determine the championship of the lake is being arranged, and as soon as the rain lets up the first games can be expected to start.”

By May of 1915, Liberty was again being touted as a baseball stronghold, with summer visitors again providing much of the talent.

“The prospects are that Liberty will be represented by a strong baseball team this summer, made up largely of visitors,” the Times reported on May 30, but by then other sports, such as tennis and bowling, were beginning to eclipse baseball in popularity, and another new fad, motoring, had become a favorite pastime with summer visitors.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.  


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