When the owners of the Boston Red Sox announced plans in 1999 to build a new facility to replace Fenway Park, Red Sox fans revolted at the idea of demolishing the old park. And so Fenway remains today, and the Sox celebrated the park’s 100th anniversary this year. Another historic baseball park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, turns 100 in 2014. But a number of other stadiums and ballparks in the country will hit that magic milestone in the next few years, while some passed that mark several years ago.
Here’s a look at the 10 oldest stadiums and ballparks in the U.S. We limited this list to stick-and-ball sports, ruling out such venerable horse racing venues as Churchill Downs, which opened in 1875, and Belmont Park (1905), as well as Indianapolis Motor Speedway (1909).
10. Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State University (Opened fall 1914)
This football stadium in Starkville, Mississippi, hosted its first game in 1914 as Scott Field, which is still the name of the field itself where the Bulldogs play their home games. More than $80 million has been earmarked for an expansion of the 62,000-seat stadium.
9. Yale Bowl (Fall 1914)
This historic stadium just west of Yale’s campus put an indelible stamp on the modern lexicon of football. The stadium was the first constructed in a “bowl” shape, influencing the design of future stadiums such as Pasadena, California’s Rose Bowl. That stadium gave rise to use of the term “bowl” to signify major college football games, which later influenced the name “Super Bowl.”
8. Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, Fla. (June 4, 1914)
Originally known as Daytona City Island Ballpark, this ballpark opened in 1914. The legendary Robinson, who famously broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, made news a year earlier when he played a spring training game at the field after being banned from other segregated Florida fields. Today, the park hosts the Daytona Cubs, a Class A affiliate of Chicago, as well as the collegiate Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. Jackie Robinson Ballpark gained entry to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
7. Wrigley Field (April 23, 1914)
The Wrigley Field of today looks nothing like the park that opened in 1914, and we’re not just talking about the lights that were added in 1988 to allow night games. The original Wrigley wasn’t even known as Wrigley, but rather Weeghman Park, after the original owner. And the Cubs weren’t the original tenant; instead, a Federal League team with the unwieldy name of the Chicago Chifeds played two seasons there before the Chicago Cubs moved in for 1916. After being known for a few years as Cubs Park, the facility was christened Wrigley Field before the 1927 season, in honor of owner and chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley. A young Chicago Cubs treasurer named Bill Veeck, who would go on to become a noted baseball executive, planted the iconic Boston Ivy on the outfield wall in 1937. The rest, as they say, is history.
6. Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech University (1913)
This stadium has existed since 1913, but its mystique grows even more if you consider the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have been playing football games at this location since 1905, on what is now christened “Historic Grant Field.” That makes it the oldest on-campus football stadium in the NCAA’s top division. A two-year renovation and expansion completed in 2003 boosted the stadium’s capacity to 55,000 seats.
5. Fenway Park (1912)
There’s not much that can be said about the history of this iconic ballpark that hasn’t already been mentioned by famous writers ranging from sportswriter Peter Gammons to longtime Boston Red Sox fan Stephen King. Except, perhaps, the answer to the ultimate question: When will Fenway Park be replaced? As noted earlier, in 1999 the Red Sox announced plans to build a new baseball stadium adjacent to Fenway, incorporating parts of Fenway, such as the Green Monster, into the new park’s layout. The mere suggestion of beloved Fenway being demolished prompted a huge public outcry. The team could not reach a deal with the city of Boston to build a new stadium, so the Red Sox abandoned plans for the new park in 2005. But the issue will ultimately have to be addressed. Despite spending almost $300 million to renovate and improve the park in time for its 100th birthday, engineers told team owners that Fenway has about 40 to 50 years of life remaining. Still, as team president Larry Lucchino noted in 2011, “There is nothing in the plans” for a new park.
4. Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Ala. (1910)
This facility is generally regarded as the oldest professional baseball park in America with its original structure, although there is a caveat — it only hosts one pro game a year. The minor league Birmingham Barons, the longtime tenant, moved out of the park after 1986, but return to the park once each year for the “Rickwood Classic,” featuring vintage uniforms and other nods to the ballpark’s rich history. And what a history — in addition to dozens of minor league stars who went on to baseball fame, Rickwood once hosted exhibitions that drew legends such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. The facility also hosted the Negro League Birmingham Black Barons, who featured stars such as Willie Mays and Satchel Paige. Today, the ballpark is lovingly maintained by the Friends of Rickwood group, which has spent more than $2 million in the past two decades on renovations. The park also hosts regular semi-pro and amateur games.
3. Centennial Field, Burlington, Vt. (1906)
Although the original wooden bleachers burned in 1913, the current grandstand layout at this historic park has existed since 1922. Today, Centennial Field hosts baseball games for both the University of Vermont as well as the Lake Monsters, a Class A affiliate of the Oakland As. The team’s owner invested more than $1 million in improvements to the facility for 2012, so the park will be active for a few more years at least. If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit — ESPN.com in 2007 named it one of the “Top 10 Ballpark Destinations in the United States.”
2. Harvard Stadium (1903)
An engineering marvel considered the first massive reinforced concrete structure in the world, Harvard Stadium’s horseshoe design is still aesthetically pleasing. It might be best known to sports fans today as the semi-annual site of what has become known simply as “The Game,” the long-running rivalry between Harvard and Yale. By the way, the next time a college student from your alma mater calls and asks for a contribution, and you wonder if your money could really make a difference, consider this — Harvard Stadium was built as a 25th anniversary gift from the Class of 1879.
1. Franklin Field, University of Pennsylvania (1895)
Built in the waning years of the 19th century, Franklin Field cost $100,000, the equivalent of about $2.6 million in today’s dollars. The stadium has racked up a number of firsts in sports history, including the first use of a scoreboard (1895), the first two-tiered stadium in the nation (1922) and the first football radio broadcast (1922) and telecast (1939). It’s probably more famous as a track and field facility than football field, hosting the Penn Relays, the oldest and largest track and field meet in the U.S., since 1895.
One More: Spring Hill College, Mobile Ala. (1889)
Founded in 1830, this historic Roman Catholic Jesuit liberal arts college claims the oldest college baseball field in continuous use in the country, dating to 1889. However, the original bleachers and other structures are long gone, making Stan Galle Field only an honorable mention here.
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Slideshow photo credit: © Daniel Gillaspia