Williamsport, Pa.: Home of True Small Ball
More than 90 mansions
are on Fourth Street.
By DAVE CALDWELL
The New York Times
Published: July 20, 2007
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., is a quaint industrial river city
with 30,000 residents and a trove of diamonds. There are plenty
of other treasures, too. But first, those diamonds.
The diamonds are baseball fields, and as befits the place where
Little League Baseball was born, they seem to be everywhere. They
beckon anyone to wander onto the green, green grass for a simple,
yet essential, American ritual: a game of catch.
My two sons and I dug through the trunk of my car
on a recent visit and rustled up a baseball and three gloves. We
parked next to the Original Little League complex on West Fourth
Street, walked onto a field, then threw to our heart’s content.
The two fields there are wedged between the street
and a grassy, pitched levee, built to hold back the wide, muddy
West Branch of the Susquehanna River. Thousands of fans sat on that
levee to watch the first Little League World Series games in 1947.
The Maynard Little League, a team with its headquarters
just a few blocks away, won the championship that first year. These
days, thousands of fans sit on tumbling slopes outside the outfield
fences at Howard J. Lamade Stadium in South Williamsport to watch
the series every August. (This year’s Little League World
Series is scheduled to start on Aug. 17.)
But Williamsport is more than baseball. Before there
was baseball, there was lumber, lots of it.
More than a century ago, Williamsport, nestled in
the Allegheny Mountains, was a lumber hub. Lumber barons built mansions
in the late 1800s on Fourth Street, a tree-lined boulevard that
parallels the river.
West Fourth Street became known as Millionaires Row,
and it was said that there were more millionaires per capita in
Williamsport than anywhere in the world. (The local high school’s
sports teams are still called the Millionaires.)
“Each time they’d build, they’d
try to outbuild all the rest of them,” said Dr. Randall F.
Hipple, a retired obstetrician who helped establish a seven-block
stretch of the street as a National Historic District.
There are more than 90 mansions on Millionaires Row,
and they run the architectural gamut: Romanesque, Italianate, Queen
Anne, Gothic, Second Empire, Colonial Revival.
The row is ideal for a leisurely stroll — all
the better to catch the intricacies of houses that were built with
meticulous craftsmanship. Trolley tours leave three times a day
Tuesday through Friday and twice on Saturdays from the Peter Herdic
Transportation Museum, which is behind Trinity Episcopal Church.
“You can sort of put yourself back in the day,”
said Edward Lyon, a developer who is chairman of Preservation Williamsport.
Seven blocks farther west on Fourth Street, history
of another kind was made in 1939. One day, while playing baseball
with his two nephews, Carl E. Stotz, who worked as a clerk in a
Williamsport lumberyard, stumbled over a lilac bush and scraped
The mishap, the story goes, got him to thinking: What
if children could play baseball under the same conditions as adults
did, with groomed fields, full uniforms and a standard set of rules?
He scaled down a baseball field, putting the bases
60 feet apart instead of 90, and the pitcher’s mound 46 feet
from home plate instead of 60 feet 6 inches. He laid out the diamond
in a park near his home and secured three corporate sponsors —
at $30 each.
A plaque is at the site of the first Little League
game, which was played on June 6, 1939, and won by Lundy Lumber
over Lycoming Dairy, 23-8. Soon Mr. Stotz found a field across West
Fourth Street for a permanent home for his organization.
This, as the sandstone clubhouse between the two diamonds
proclaims, is “The Birth Place of Little League.” The
fields are still used, by what is called the Original Little League,
which is not affiliated with Little League Baseball Inc.
Believing that Little League had become too popular
and widespread, Mr. Stotz had a falling-out with the board of directors
in 1955 and dissociated himself from the organization. But the Original
Little League opens its clubhouse to visitors during the Little
League World Series.
“We have people from all over the world come
and visit us,” said Bill Bair, a volunteer for the Original
Little League who is 80 and who played first base for Lycoming Dairy
in that first game. “They like to see where it all began.”
If you want to see grownups play baseball, Bowman
Field sits across West Fourth Street from the Original Little League
complex. Bowman, which seats 4,200, was built in 1926 and is home
to the Williamsport Crosscutters, a Philadelphia Phillies farm team
and a member of the Class A New York-Penn League.
For a meal, you can go to Billuccho’s, on Lycoming
Creek Road, for a spicy or sweet sausage sandwich with onions and
peppers or a chicken cheesesteak. But save room. Sunset Ice Cream
is right down the street. A double-dip of its ice cream sets you
back all of $3, and there are dozens of flavors to choose from.
After your meal, you will still have one more baseball
pilgrimage to make, to the Little League complex in South Williamsport.
Besides peering into Lamade Stadium and Volunteer Field, the well-groomed
ballparks where the World Series is played, you can tour the Peter
J. McGovern Little League Museum. More than 25,000 people visit
the museum annually, in part because the price is right: $5 for
adults, $3 for 62 and older and $1.50 for children 13 and younger.
There are nearly 200,000 Little League teams in all
50 states and more than 80 countries. An estimated 300,000 fans
show up — admission is free — for the 10-day World Series.
But the organization’s growth never appealed
to Mr. Stotz. In 1989, three years before he died, he told The Philadelphia
Inquirer, “Little League Baseball was, or should be, the neighborhood
organization it was then.”
But, in a way, it is still a neighborhood organization
here in Williamsport. One of the two old fields has been named after
Mr. Stotz, and just outside the field are three healthy lilac bushes
— one for each of the three Original Little League teams.