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Coordinates: Gill Stadium is a sporting stadium located in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is believed to be the oldest stadium constructed of concrete and steel in New England outside of the Boston area. The venue, which mainly hosts amateur baseball and football contests, currently has a capacity of 3,700.
Origins and early history
Built in 1913 at a cost of more than $30,000, the grandstand for what originally was known as Textile Field is one of the early concrete-and-steel stadiums in the United States outside of major cities. Only Harvard Stadium in Allston, Massachusetts (1903), Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama (1910), and Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts (1912), are known to be older surviving examples of concrete-and-steel stadiums in the United States.
The Amoskeag Textile Club, which was funded by and whose members were employees of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, constructed the grandstand. It was built on the site of Varick Park, a mid-1890s wooden structure which itself occupied the site of a still earlier ballpark, the Beech Street Grounds. Baseball on the site can be traced to at least 1880, when the area east of the Valley Cemetery was known as "the Plains."
The Textile Field/Gill Stadium grandstand was designed by Amoskeag engineers and constructed of brick, in the style and color of the mills in Amoskeag's millyard. For safety, concrete ramps were constructed along the sides and rear of the grandstand and steel trusses and posts to support the roof. Although portions of the roof, floor, and some of the posts supporting the seating platform were of wood, publications from the period of construction--including the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company's employee newspaper, the Amoskeag Bulletin--considered it a "fireproof" concrete-and-steel grandstand like those being constructed in major-league cities between 1909 and 1915. The seating platform was replaced with aluminum in a 2003-04 renovation.
The Textile Club appears to have constructed the grandstand as part of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company's benevolence programs. Amoskeag, which employed about 17,000 people in a city of 65,000, included among its workforce a large number of immigrants. In the minds of Amoskeag managers, the most troublesome of this group were the most recent arrivals from Greece. Recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were being blamed for the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike in nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts, which resulted in much violence and the involvement of the radical Industrial Workers of the World union. Amoskeag, which was not unionized, wanted no such trouble, particularly in light of the fact that IWW operatives were seen in Manchester during the Lawrence strike. The company hoped to find a way to "Americanize" its workforce, thereby giving workers a stronger connection to the company and to the United States, and to find diversionary activities to keep them from unionizing in their free time. Baseball seemed an ideal solution.
Amoskeag, along with the McElwain Shoe Company and other industries in Manchester, organized the city Manufacturers' League in 1912. The league played at three locations in Manchester, of which Varick Park was the most important. In 1913, the company constructed Textile Field to make the league appear to be more authentically "professional." The field made its debut over Memorial Day weekend of that year, but the grandstand was not entirely completed until late July. The dedication game came in early September, when the World Champion Boston Red Sox—playing its major-league lineup for nearly the entire game—defeated the Manufacturers' League All-Stars, 3-1. A year later, the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics defeated the All-Stars, 7-1. The score and the so-called "vaudeville" act put on by the Athletics in the final inning—in which Philadelphia players changed positions and performed "trick" plays—caused Amoskeag to reconsider its professionalization activities. Increased on- and off-field problems with players, who were hired ostensibly to work for the textile company but in reality were employed for their baseball skills, also led the Textile Club to withdraw its support for the Manufacturers League.
After briefly turning the stadium over to the short-lived Manchester Textiles of the New England League, Textile Field became the sole domain of the city's manufacturers and schools until 1926. Ultimately, Amoskeag's experiment failed, and in 1922 Amoskeag employees unionized and conducted a nine-month strike which paralyzed the company. The company brought in the National League's Brooklyn Robins (now known as the Los Angeles Dodgers) to play against the Amoskeag team in 1923, apparently in an effort to soothe worker discontent, but this did not prevent the company's demise. Amoskeag closed for good in 1935.
After the 1922 strike
Textile Field was purchased by the City of Manchester in 1927 and, in a name-the-field contest conducted by the Manchester Union-Leader, renamed Athletic Field. The name was changed to Gill Stadium in 1967, after former Parks and Recreation Director Ignace J. Gill.
Over the years, Gill Stadium has served as the home field for numerous high school and American Legion ball clubs. The stadium served as host for the American Legion World Series on five occasions.
Gill Stadium has also hosted professional baseball. The Manchester Blue Sox played at Athletic Field, as it was then known, from 1926–1930, winning multiple championships. The Manchester Giants of the New England League called the stadium home in 1946 and 1947, and the Manchester Yankees played there in 1948 and part of the 1949 season before the financial collapse of the team. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an Eastern League team, also called the Yankees, played there. Additionally, the Eastern League's Nashua Angels played a game at Gill Stadium in 1983.
Most recently, Gill Stadium was the home of the Eastern League's New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays captured the 2004 EL title while playing its inaugural season at Gill. The stadium was renovated extensively prior to the 2004 baseball season. Workers replaced floor planks and wooden seats with an aluminum floor and molded plastic chairs, built new clubhouses adjacent to the grandstand and dugouts in what was formerly the dirt track, constructed an elevator behind the stadium, replaced the grass surface with artificial turf, and renovated the ticket booth. In 2005, the Fisher Cats moved to the new Fisher Cats Ballpark on the banks of the Merrimack River near downtown Manchester.
Gill Stadium continues to serve as the home of numerous amateur teams in Manchester's thriving baseball community.
It also serves as the field for Manchester's annual Thanksgiving football tournament, the Turkey Bowl. It pits two of the four city schools against each other each year based on the performance of the teams during the just completed season.