Mill Team Baseball
in Huntsville, Alabama
Guy “Lemon Drop” Kerby
Baseball came to Huntsville in the late 1800’s based on a newspaper article and a few photos of the Milligan Sluggers. A few websites also list August 1875 as the earliest recorded club, “The John Read Club”, and game. Huntsville lost that game to the Hornets of Fayetteville (TN) 34-18. These sites reference the Fayetteville Observer editions of 9 & 12 August, 1875. One would suspect base ball would have come with Union soldiers during the Civil War as it did a few hours north in Nashville; however, these are the earliest mentions I have found to date. As far as a professional level team, 1904 is the earliest mention with the Tennessee-Alabama League. I believe the two pictures I have with “HUNTSVILLE” on the players’ uniforms are from that 1904 team.
Each of the area mills, as well as the mills’ community schools, had a recreational baseball team which would play against one another. Eventually, in 1935, two mills, Dallas and Lincoln, would form a combined semi-pro team of their most talented members. They were called the Redcaps and the Huntsville Vintage Base Ball Club’s first team took its name to honor Huntsville’s baseball history.
I came up with the idea of this booklet around the same time as the idea for the HVBBC, in March of 2014. This is by far not a complete and in-depth history of the early days of baseball in Huntsville, but I hope it will fill a small gap of information of our National Past Time here in Northern Alabama.
The Milligan Sluggers are one of, if not the earliest, mention of a Huntsville baseball team. The pictures and description of the grainy newspaper article and a few photographs gives us a little more insight into baseball in our area.
The article stated that the Milligan Sluggers were “One of many great teams that have represented Huntsville,” leading me to believe that the history of baseball here goes well back before 1895. The information from the back of the first photo states they played together from 1898-1903, which one must assume means the particular players in the photograph due to an 1895 dated photograph of the Sluggers.
From the article we know that they also traveled to play games as it tells us that they beat the Memphis Chickasaws, Tullahoma, Ensley, and Decatur as well as others with their “power, good pitching and fine defense.”
The earlier photo of the Milligan Sluggers is dated 1895 and states they were “one of Huntsville’s top amateur baseball teams.” So, who were the other clubs of Huntsville? One of the players shown is Charles “Gabby” Street, born in Huntsville on September 30, 1882. “Gabby” would go onto play for the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Beaneaters, Washington Senators, New York Highlanders, and St. Louis Cardinals. In the picture he would have only been 13 and already playing amateur ball.
Dallas Mill & Optimist Park
Dallas Mill was the first of the major mills operating in Huntsville. It operated from 1891 to 1949 producing cotton sheeting. Along with the mill, a village was constructed for its workers. The Rison School served the youth of Dallas Mill’s village and eventually supported a baseball team as well as other sports teams.
The mill also built Dallas Park in 1928 to support its semi-professional baseball teams. This park would later be renamed Optimist Park and “Home” to the HVBBC Redcaps. In the peak years of the 1930’s, crowds were known to reach up to 6000 for these games. The Huntsville Dr. Peppers, a women’s semi-pro softball team, also played at the park from 1937 to 1943.
In 1935, Dallas Mill and Lincoln Mill combined their teams to form the Redcaps and as stated in the introduction, this is where the name for Huntsville Vintage Base Ball Club’s first team took its name. Though not an 1860’s team, the Redcaps embody Huntsville’s baseball heritage.
Lincoln Mill & Abington Mill
Lincoln Mill opened in 1900 and became Huntsville’s largest mill. The Abington Mill would be established in 1908 after the Lincoln Mill had closed in 1906. Under Abington, the mill and its village would continue expanding until it went bankrupt in 1918. Later in 1918, the mill would be re-established as Lincoln Mill and continue to expand. Eventually the mill would close in 1955.
Like the other mills of the area, there were baseball teams for both Lincoln and Abington. Lincoln, as stated, joined forces with the Dallas Mill in 1935 to form a successful semi-pro team. The only pictures I have been able to locate of the Lincoln teams is from post 1918.
Merrimack Mill opened in 1900 and operated until 1946. The village included the typical housing, store, and gymnasium as well as a hospital. Merrimack sponsored a baseball team as early as 1903 as well as the Joe Bradley school team and other youth baseball teams. Its field was located across from Merrimack Hall and the team was heavily supported by the mill workers and their families.
The Butler Training school operated from 1908 until 1914. Like other schools it hosted a baseball team which we have pictures of. Below is the 1908 team.
If the Milligan Sluggers traveled to play I am sure they and other teams in this area hosted outside teams. I have not been able identify the team in the picture below. I like to think that a photographer decided to record a visiting team.
Huntsville Vintage Base Ball Club and the Redcaps
The Huntsville Vintage Base Ball Club (HVBBC) came about in March of 2014 based on my love of history, enjoyment of baseball, and Huntsville losing its minor league team, the Huntsville Stars. After a year of research, attending games, and plenty of emails, the Redcaps of the HVBBC joined VBBA.org as Full Member team for the 2016 season. By November of 2015 we could field a team with umpire (if everyone showed) as well as gathering equipment and uniforms.
501c3 paperwork has been submitted through Madison County, Alabama for our non-profit status. We are dedicated to presenting the original game of base ball (yes it was originally two words) and all of its gentlemanly rules to today’s public and helping them learn the history of the early game through personal interaction. The Redcaps of Huntsville play by the 1860 Beadles Rules, http://vbba.org/rules-and-customs/1860-beadles-rules-with-interpretation/. It is also our hope that more people join in and we can form more in the North Alabama area.
History of Huntsville Baseball
Bringing Baseball Back to Huntsville · Established 2015