Creating a Sports Guild at Allaire Village (Part I)
By Russ McIver
On a sunny weekend day, strolling through the park, you may notice five rather large stakes arranged in a square in the corral between the barn and the Carriage House. “What is that?”, you may ask. Is it our fine Park Rangers doing some surveying? Was some archeological treasure found, and being marked out? Are ghost hunters performing some bizarre test to contact J.P. and Hal Allaire?
But come by later, and you may see visitors of all ages playing what vaguely resembles baseball! In the middle of this activity, you may see me, Russ McIver, Sports Guild Master, instructing the visitors in the rules of 1831 Philadelphia Style Townball!
Russ leading a crowd during our St. Patrick’s Day event.
I came to Allaire as a volunteer last Spring. You see, I have always had a passion for history. I received a degree in Economics in the 1980′s from Rutgers College, and have pursued my own business as a Computer Network Consultant almost entirely since that time. As I get older, I have thought about what I want to do in my later years, and after consulting with friends involved in the history professions, I re-discovered Allaire Village as a place to hone my passion for the subject.
As a newbie of the Village, I tried my hand at the Militia, the Blacksmith Shop, and even lining up queues of visitors for tours of the BIg House. I needed, and wanted, to find a niche! Then it came to me! One of the idle activities that other, albeit younger volunteers participated in were games! Stilts to graces, all kinds of things occupied the Villagers and visitors’ time between trips to the Blacksmith, Carpenter, Bakery, and Gift Shop. Why not a game all could play that was period appropriate? Being an avid baseball fan, it came to me…townball!
Engraving of early American townball. MLB.com.
I checked with Hannah Tichansky, the Volunteer Coordinator, and got the OK to pursue it. It just so happened that in the middle of the Summer, I had planned to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York! I called the Hall of Fame Library, and made an appointment for a visit during Induction Weekend.
When I visited, Tim Wiles, the Director of Research at the Hall of Fame was glad to meet with me after I explained that I was an interpreter at Allaire, and wanted to start a Townball program. He gave me stacks of folders and books on the subject. While perusing them, I stumbled upon the Olympic Club of Philadelphia. They had set down rules for, and played their own version of Townball in the 1830′s! Perfect! I had a period activity that the villagers may have played in the 1830′s! (The Howell Works did a lot of business with the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area, so it is plausible that villagers were aware of the game played seventy miles west!)
Further research helped me tease out the rules, layout, and equipment for the game. With the blessing and help of my fellow Allaire colleagues, I was ready to go!
Stay tuned for the second part of Russ’ story, where he discovers curious links between Allaire Village and the team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Russ McIver is the Sports Guild Master at Allaire Village. He received one of two 2013 New Volunteer of the Year Awards at the Annual Banquet this past February. Russ’s research and devotion is at the heart of our May 17th Baseball Reenactment, where you will find him as the Bog Iron Boys’ Team Captain! Be sure to come out to our event to learn more, and stay tuned for his next installment in this blog.