Tennessee State Capitol from Morgan Park, attributed to James E. Wagner, ca. 1857-1860
The painting depicts the area around the site that Sulphur Dell Stadium would eventually occupy.
Pioneers called it the French Lick Springs. The rich salt deposit and springs just north of the State Capitol between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue, North, Jackson, and Summer Streets once drew wild game such as deer and buffalo. Because of its natural qualities, the area attracted hunters and traders alike. As Nashville's population grew, what was once a watering spot and place of trade soon became a picnic and recreation destination. A nearby sulphur spring attracted people who came to drink from or collect the odorous waters for medicinal purposes. The vicinity soon became known as Sulphur Springs Bottom. People gathered there for various sports activities including baseball, which became a favorite entertainment. By 1870, the need for a space on which to play the game had grown, so a section of the grounds was designated Athletic Park. In 1885, the park became the home of Nashville's first professional baseball team, the Americans, part of the newly formed Southern League. Grantland Rice, native Tennessean and local sportswriter for the Nashville American, renamed the ballpark "Sulphur Dell" (Rice would later become a legend for coining the phrase "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" to describe the 1924 Notre Dame football team's backfield).
The name stuck with the locals, just as baseball had four decades earlier. The irony that didn't go unnoticed was that this "dell" — the term for a tree-lined valley — was largely a coal-smoke-filled, flooding lowland. Part of it was even used as a city dump, its fires often sending out acrid fumes.
— George Zepp, The Tennessean
Amateur and club teams were springing up throughout Tennessee during these early years. As the sport grew, both small towns and large cities alike fielded minor league teams all across the state. Other early teams hailing from Nashville were the Maroons, the North Nashville Juniors, Linck's Hotel, the East Nashville Deppins, the Nashville Athletic Club, the Cheer Up Team, and the Carter Shoe Baseball Team. Early African American teams playing in Nashville at the time were the Nashville Standard Giants, Methodist Publishing House, the North Nashville Tigers, and the Baptist Printers. Memphis formed the Red Stockings in 1877 and the Chickasaws better known as the Chicks, in the 1890's. Chattanooga organized the Chattanooga Roanes in 1880 and later, in 1909, a team called the Lookouts. Knoxville had "base ball" clubs perhaps as early as 1878. The best known team was the Reds. The city's first professional team was organized in 1894 and was known at different times as the Knoxville Reds and the Indians. Later teams that formed were the Appalachians, the Pioneers, and the Knoxville Smokies.
Let's Get the Umpire's Goat sheet music, New York, New York, 1909
Kenneth D. Rose Sheet Music Collection
The Southern League folded in 1899. However, in 1901 a new league called the Southern Association was formed. Sulphur Dell became home to Nashville's new minor league team, the Nashville Volunteers. Better known as the Vols, they played their first game there in 1901. After sixty years, various factors led to waning interest and a decline in attendance until the Southern Association finally disbanded and the Nashville Vols played their last game at Sulphur Dell in September of 1963. With the demise of the Vols, Nashville was a city without a professional baseball team, and the Sulphur Dell grandstand was demolished in 1969. In 1978, a new team, the Nashville Sounds of the AA Southern League, was founded and a new stadium, named for local businessman Herschel Greer, was built.
Sulphur Dell Stadium, itself, was known as a hitters' park. The infamous right field fence stood only 262 feet from home plate. Right fielders, known as "mountain goats," had to stand on an embankment that rose at a 45° angle! This meant that the right fielder standing at the back fence was 22½ feet above the infield. A hitters' park spelled doom for most pitchers, who called Sulphur Dell "Suffer Hell."
In 2013, a proposal was made to construct a new Sounds stadium on the site of the original Sulphur Dell ballpark. The stadium is slated to be completed in time for the 2015 season and will mark the return, for players and fans alike, to the place where baseball in Nashville began. Baseball's legacy in Nashville continues.
Sulphur Dell Stadium under construction, Nashville, Tennessee, February 16, 1927
Marr and Holman Records
Aerial photograph (looking northeast) of Capitol Hill with Sulphur Dell Stadium in the background, Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1942
Library Photograph Collection
Nashville Vols season pass for Governor Prentice Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee, 1941
Private Collection of David R. Sowell