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The Cricket Clubs of Philadelphia
by Frank V. Phelps

        

When, in 1880, American lawn tennis players recognized need for uniform rules, a "Committee on Revision" worked over various editions of the English Marylebone (cricket club) code and produced Rules of Lawn Tennis as adopted by the cricket and lawn tennis clubs of Philadelphia, published by J.B. Lippincott. The clubs were Philadelphia Lawn Tennis Club, Athletic Association-University of Pennsylvania, and six cricket clubs: Belmont, Chestnut Hill, Germantown, Merion, Philadelphia, and Young America. (Hereinafter CC means Cricket Club). Quickly six became five as Philadelphia CC absorbed Chestnut Hill CC. This article attempts neither to rehash prominent tennis events covered elsewhere in this volume, except brief mention, nor to relate the five's glorious cricket history from the 1850s to cricket's virtual extinction in America during the 1920s, except for the short overview below. Cricket survives locally only at Haverford College and Merion Cricket Club.

The English brought cricket to the American colonies and later infusions of British artisans, businessmen, and workmen kept it alive. They played it everywhere they settled. Textile workers from Nottingham flocked to Germantown's Manheim and exhibited wild, rough matches followed by hard drinking, male-only parties. In New York English business sedately observed the Laws of Cricket and traditional amenities-mostly. By mid-19th century industrial growth, transportation and communication advances, urbanization, and increased toleration towards athletics fostered the rise of organized American sports, including cricket: " As expanding cities encroached upon traditional recreation areas, residents had to organize to acquire and maintain playing grounds...sportsmen joined together to rent or purchase space for cricket, baseball...and other athletic clubs." (George Kirsch, The Creation of American Team Sports, 1959, p. 9)

" As the first cricket in Philadelphia was closely bound up with 'stakes and ale', cricket clubs were formed by anxious parents in the 1850s to protect their sons from contaminating associations. The cricket clubs gave the game an air of respectability." (.E. Digby Baltzell, Philadelphia Gentlemen, 1958, 1979 ed., p.359). A subscriber to Spirit of the Times, in 1857, wrote "everybody plays cricket in Philadelphia from the child to the old man." The five elitist clubs dominated local cricket and served as social hubs. In 1870 comment in Spirit of the Times stressed social aspects, "In Philadelphia cricket is the favorite pastime with the fashionable world, the ladies of the Quaker City especially take great interest in it...the attendance is always of the most distinguished characters, the carriages of the wealthier classes surrounding the field, and the leading belles of the city crowding the reception-rooms of the club-houses." As tennis surfaced, these clubs promptly adopted it at recreational and tournament levels. Eventually tennis supplanted cricket as the club's prime sport.

Belmont CC was organized September 3, 1874 and disbanded in late 1912. First located at 40th & Aspen Streets in West Philadelphia, it moved several times before settling on two square blocks bordering on 49th & Baltimore, one block each for cricket and tennis. Belmont men, in 1897, challenged the other clubs to a tournament but I do not know if it materialized. An important addition, in 1880, was the ladies Outdoor Club of West Philadelphia, formed the year before to provide archery, croquet, and lawn tennis. An early leader in women's tennis, it produced the first U.S. Women's champions, Nellie Hansell and Birdie Townsend and near-champions Margarette Ballard and Laura Knight. Its best men competitors were Allison Scott, Milton Work of later contract bridge fame, Gus Remak, Marmaduke Smith, Dr. Philip B. Hawk, Harry F. Allen, and Al Hoskins. Belmont hosted the Pennsylvania Intercollegiates

 

1886-87; the first Philadelphia & District mens championship, 1888; and several "open" (as distinguished from "closed" club) events.

The Germantown village clubs, Germantown and Young America, founded 1854 and 1855, became strong rivals. Both proved powers in American cricket, the latter once called national champion, although no such honor then existed. Germantown CC's grounds were at Nicetown, Young America bordering Manheim Street. Clarence and Joseph Clark and Fred Taylor represented Young America in tennis matches versus Boston and New York clubs, 1880-83. Young America staged the first important annual invitation tournament, 1882-87, the winners being Dr. James Dwight, Allison Scott and the two Clarks, who also played cricket for Young America. Circumstances forced an amicable merger of the two clubs in 1889 under the Germantown CC name at new grounds on Manheim Street with a magnificent new clubhouse, "Manheim," designed by the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Meade, and (Stanford) White.

As related in other articles, Germantown CC subsequently hosted Davis Cup matches, national mens singles and doubles championships, many state and local championships, and in scholastic tournaments, including the Stille Cup, donated by member Ewing Stille. Bill Tilden and his older brother Herbert learned tennis there and represented the club in Inter-Club League competition. Three of Bill's greatest triumphs were his 1922-23 national mens championships won at Germantown. In recent decades the club has staged national senior mens age bracket grass court championships. Germantown CC also has sponsored bowling, field hockey, and soccer teams.

Philadelphia CC, founded February 10, 1854, eldest of the five, played first at Camden, NJ, then at numerous leased and rented grounds before, in 1884, occupying seven acres bordering Willow Grove Avenue at Wissahickon (now St. Martin's) in western Chestnut Hill, donated as cricket and tennis grounds by Henry Howard Houston. Besides proud records in tennis and cricket, until "in 1925 stumps were drawn for the last time," Philadelphia competed in contract bridge, field hockey, golf, soccer, squash, and swimming. The main tennis tournaments conducted on club turf were national womens and girls and Middle States mens and womens championships, and, in recent years, national grass court junior events. Tennis professionals employed included George Kerr and James Reid. Outstanding member-players included Dick Williams, Dr. Carl Fischer who won 9 club singles titles, and Joe Carpenter, who won five; and among the early women, Annabelle Wister and Amy Williams; and later, Hope Knowles Rawls.

Merion CC, founded 1865, used grounds near Wynnewood Station, 1865-73; fives acres in Ardmore, 1873-92; and acreage near the Haverford railroad station, 1892 to present. Fire twice destroyed clubhouses in 1896. A ladies unit in 1879, started tennis at the club and later field hockey, squash, contract bridge, croquet and soccer commenced. Merion historian Charles E. Reilly, Jr. wrote "There is no vista more beautiful to my eye than Merion's Great Lawn...(that magnificent green acreage) as viewed from the main building porch." Almost countless cricket and lawn tennis matches have transpired there and lawn tennis still is contested there. Major tournaments held at Merion include the mens Intercollegiate, Mens Pennsylvania Lawn Tennis, Womens Pennsylvania and Eastern States Championships. Outstanding member players at the national level: William J. Clothier, R. Norris Williams, E. Victor Seixas, L. Straight Clark, Dorothy Green Briggs, Madge Harshaw Yosters, Anne Page Homer, and Anne B. Townsend.

 

 

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