Below is a present day view of Championship Field, the soccer field for Seattle University. We’re looking northwest from near the corner of 14th and Jefferson.
In September 1895, a new athletic field opened here in the two big blocks bound by Cherry, Jefferson, 12th and 14th. At the time Capitol Hill didn’t exist; James Moore platted Capitol Hill in 1901. But there were plenty of people living near the Broadway streetcar operated by Union Trunk Line (UTL). Starting in 1890 they could transfer at Madison Street to the cable car and head out to a new baseball ground on Lake Washington.
This new field in 1895 meant no transfer, though. The Broadway streetcar started at UTL’s James Street Powerhouse on Broadway, making the trip to sports entertainment for Broadway residents just as close as people living downtown. The powerhouse pulled a cablecar from downtown and fed electricity to streetcars to Madrona, Mount Baker, and Beacon Hill. The ballpark was known as YMCA Park and later Athletic Park, and its entrance was at 13th and Jefferson.
The park’s first major event was on September 2, 1895: Labor Day. After speeches, music, and events at Pioneer Square, everyone got on cable cars up James Street every one and a half minutes. Once there they participated in or observed many athletic competitions.
On the track: sprint for boys under 15; sprint for men; broad jump; high jump; hop, step, jump; sprint for men over 200 pounds; sprint for girls under 15; and one-mile run for union members.
On the field: hammer throw; three-legged race; shotput for union members; and broad jump for union members.
And on bicycles: five classes of one-mile including the Puget Sound championship; one quarter-mile; one two-mile; and one five-mile race. For the winners there were prizes awarded by all of the big name stores in the city.
Over the years
The athletic field hosted YMCA, Seattle Athletic Club, and University of Washington athletic meets of many types: football, track and field, baseball, and bicycle races. From 1896 it hosted professional baseball games and went by the new name “Athletic Park”, but the name Y.M.C.A Park or Y.M.C.A. Grounds still frequently appeared.
The first professional baseball team was part of the New Pacific League in 1896. The Seattle PI coined the name Rainmakers for them after their visit to Portland was rained out two days in a row, causing financial hardship for the owners.
The grounds saw a spectacle in 1897, called “Carnival of Madrid”, with ballet, singing, dancing, and a full fireworks display. A large field adjacent to the athletic park hosted at least once a Ringling Brothers circus in June 1899.
The field was in the saddle between First Hill and the next ridge, which Swedish Cherry Hill stands on today. In a 1961 Seattle Times article former UW Husky football player Ed Duffy remembered the field, asked about a game in 1901: “We used to call it The Swamp. It was always wet. And part of the playing field lapped over the cinder track. At the end of the game, our faces would be scratched from the cinders and our uniforms would be caked with tons of mud. And we drew about 2,000 fans.”
The park closed in 1903. Although the private land was available for lease, the 13th Avenue street right of way was simply an unbuilt road. Hoping to improve access to their land, neighboring property owners successfully petitioned the city to complete the road in 1903.
Next in Part 2, the Father of Seattle Baseball…
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