Memphis Russwood Park

        ...Peanuts, Popcorn, and Cracker Jacks

 

Russwood Park, located at 914 Madison Avenue, was a famous Memphis landmark from 1901 to 1960, primarily used for Baseball games. The park was built of wood in 1896 and had a capacity of about 2,800. After several additions the park could accommodate 10,000+ crowds.  Originally named Red Elm Park, Russwood Park was home to the Memphis Chicks, a charter member of the Southern Association.  The old park also hosted nearly 70% of all players and managers enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Babe Ruth. In addition to baseball, Russwood hosted other events, including one of Elvis Presley' concerts.  

 


Through it all, there was a loyal un-interrupted partnership between Russwood Park and the Southern Association - until fire destroyed the park on April 17, 1960. 

This page is all about the historic Memphis Russwood Park Baseball Stadium.   No attempt will be made to cover the history of Memphis baseball at this time, although it's impossible to write about old Russwood without discussing some baseball highlights.

   
 

Click on small photos for an enlargement


  
 
 
RED ELM PARK

Prior to 1900, Memphis had several parks where baseball was played.  These parks were named Olympic, Citizen, Cycle, Chickasaw, and Red Elm Bottom.  Memphis also had an array of amateur teams to play ball in these parks - the Red Stockings, the Blues, the Giants, the Riverdales, the Eckfords, and the first Chickasaws.  Out on Madison Avenue, at the edge of Memphis, was a piece of bottmland called Red Elm Bottom.  It was a favorite place for Memphians to have picnics.  Red Elm had a natural slope of land down to the flat bottom, where there was a stream, with Red Elms growing in the water.  It was a perfect spot to play ball and the slope of the hill provided fans good views of the game.

 

The natural slope of Red Elm Bottom 1912

 

By 1896 a wooden ballpark had been built here and was called Frank's Park after Charley Frank, the man who built the park.  Charley Frank is considered the founder of early Memphis baseball.  His park was built for amateur baseball, so when Memphis joined the Southern Association in 1901, Frank's Park  had a name change to Red Elm Park and the 3000 seat facility became the first home of pro baseball in Memphis and Frank was the first manager.

Charley Frank  
 

Red Elm Park

Red Elm Park

Red Elm Park

Red Elm Park

 

Red Elm Park Red Elm Park Red Elm Park 1909 Red Elm Park
 
 
 
The Egyptians and the Turtles
 

When Memphis entered professional baseball in 1901, their team was known as the Egyptians.  In 1907 their name was changed to the Turtles.  Their name came from the park's infield being a "turtleback" and dipped from 2 to 2 1/2 feet for drainage.  This was far more than most baseball fields of the period.   The team manager was Charley Frank and "Natch" the original bear at the Overton Park Zoo was the Turtle's mascot.  The team's owner was F. P. Coleman.

The Memphis entry in the Southern Association won pennants in 1903 and 1904.  It would be 20 years before they would win another pennant.

 

1903 Egyptians

 

1904 Egyptians

1905 Egyptians

Charley Frank and the Egyptians

1906 Turtles

1907Turtles

 

1908Turtles

1910 Turtles

1911 Turtles

1912 Turtles

F. P. Coleman

 
   

1909 Turtles    

1910 M. Whitey

 
 
 
 

Russwood Park

 

In 1915 the name of the park changed to Russwood Park.  There was a new owner, Russell E. Gardner, and he had incorporated his name into the ball park.    After 8 years of really bad previous seasons, he also changed the name of the team to Chickasaws to honor an earlier amateur team of that name, but the fans and press shortened the name to "Chicks".  Gardner also increased the seating to six thousand (later, to eleven thousand).  He had ushered in the modern era of Memphis Baseball.  Russwood teams won pennants in 1921, 1924, 1930, 1953, and 1955 before the Southern Association disbanded in 1961.

     Entrance to Russwood Park  
 
Russell E. Gardner Russwood Grandstand Russwood Vintage Russwood Opening Booklet
 

Russwood ballpark was best known for being among the more uniquely shaped ball fields in the country.  It was built on a six-sided, asymmetrical block, with the deepest parts of left and right fields being farther from home plate than straight center.

 

Vintage Russwood Panarama Babe Ruth 1915 1948 Postcard
 

Russwood smelled.  The minute you walked into the stand's opening, you could smell the hot dogs and the popcorn.  And there was that sound:  The old park was made of wood and when folks got excited, they started stamping their feet on the wood and it was incredibly loud - and distinctive.  And this city being a music capitol, the crowd sometimes stomped their feet in rhythm. 

 

Aerial View   Pennant Banner Russwood 1960
 

Largest crowd:  17,210 in 1932 for the doubleheader between Memphis and Chattanooga.  16,138  in 1950 for an exhibition between the Chicks and the New York Yankees.  

 

1932 Exhibtion Game Russwood Russwood Marker 1920 Foorball at Russwood
 

               The last game at Russwood Park ... the last day ... one of the last photos ...April 16, 1960    >

 

   
 
 
The Memphis Chicks 
 

In 1915, after eight years of really bad seasons,  new owner Russell E. Gardner changed the team changed the name of the team from the Turtles to Chickasaws.  He had resurrected the name from an earlier amateur team.  The press and the public shortened the name to "the Chicks".  Gardner had told the press in 1915 when he bought the Chicks that he would be a hands on owner.  And then he promptly turned over the Club Presidency to J. D. Martin and the day to day operations to his son-in-law Thomas R. Watkins.  The Chicks win pennants in 1921, 1924, 1930, 1953, and 1955 .

 

        The original Chickasaws

 

Chicks logo Chicks Logo Chicks Logo Chicks Magazine New Chicks Logo
 

1914 Chicks 1921 Champs 1924 Champs
 

1930 Champs 1932 1939 Chicks Uniform
 

Russell- etc...

Russell Gardner

Thos R. Watkins

1978 Trivia

Vintage Chicks Team

Vintage Tray     

 

 

   
 
The Russwood FIRE
 

The final event at the old ballpark was a pre-season exhibition game between the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians on Easter Sunday, April 17.1960.  That night after the game, a fire of undetermined origin destroyed the ballpark.  The old structure was a relic and was constructed primarily of wood.  Winds up to 20 mph whipped the flames.  It was one of the city's most spectacular fires.  The blaze threatened the Baptist Hospital across the street, and patients had to be evacuated.   It took two or more hours to put out the fire.  The heat was so intense that it set fire hoses ablaze. 

   
 

It was amazing to see so many bystanders watch the intense fire.  Many of them had tears in their eyes and had come to say "Goodbye".  Of course the fire was investigated but the results were inconclusive.  They felt it might have been caused by "something" from the previous day's game.  Now only memories remain - of a park where Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Dixie Upright, Ox Eckhardt and Coaker Triplett all played ball.    

After the fire, the Chicks played in a temporary facility for the 1960 season and then moved elsewhere.  Memphis was without a ball team until 1968 when the Memphis Blues began to play in 1968 at Blues Stadium, a converted American Legion Stadium.  Of course, everything gets renamed in Memphis and Blues Stadium was eventually renamed the Tim McCarver Stadium in honor of native son and major league ballplayer-broadcaster, Tim McCarver.

 
 
 
 
Elvis Concert
 



One of best known non-baseball events held at Russwood was a concert featuring Elvis Presley on July 4, 1956.  It was a benefit concert for the Cynthia Milk Fund of the Memphis Press-Scimitar and the Variety Club's home for Convalescent Children.  It featured over 100 performers who performed in the 97 degree heat in a show that lasted more than three hours.  There were a reported 14,000 fans .

 

Ticket to Elvis concert        

The following year there was another charity benefit for St. Jude at Russwood.  Elvis was a guest star at this even and didn't perform.  Danny Thomas, Susan Hayward, Lou Costello and Jane Russell were also guest stars.

 


They also had circuses at Russwood Park.  Billy Graham held a revival there.  Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU all played their big football games there.  And
on August 17, 1959, there was a fight between Billy Wicks and Sputnik Monroe. This fight drew the largest crowd attendance for wrestling in Memphis history.  The main event was Billy Wicks and Sputnik Monroe fighting to a no contest for Monroe's Tennessee Championship.  Attendance for the event was reported to be between 17,000 and 18,000 spectators.

 

Sputnik-Wicks match 1959

 

 
 
 
Some historic Memphis players...

The most famous Memphis Chick was Pete Gray, the one-armed wonder who played for the Chicks in 1943 and 1944.  Gray drew large crowds at Russwood as well as on the road.  He went on to play for the St. Louis Browns.

 

Pete Gray Pete Gray Pete Gray Glen Liebhardt Homer Spagins 1943
 

Bill Cranston Clay Touchstone Fred Hoffman Charlie Babb C. Wauner Karl Crandall R. Baerwald Jake Daubert
 
      

 
 

 Please visit the website that sponsors this page

   Historic Memphis Website

   
 

Credits

 

The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 

 

The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).