Blue Grays Field wins nod from commission

Published 8:35 am Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Members of the Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission voted Monday night to add the site of the Elizabethton Blue Grays Field to the city’s historic district. The request will now go before the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission and Elizabethton City Council.

A name from Elizabethton’s past could take the field again after the Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission approved adding one of the city’s more historically significant sites to the historic district.
Commissioners unanimously approved adding the Blue Grays Field to the Elizabethton Historic District.
The Blue Grays Field – now part of Douglas Park – was the home of Elizabethton’s black semiprofessional baseball from 1935 to 1955. The Blue Grays were a barnstorming team, meaning they traveled throughout the South playing road games.
“The city of Elizabethton has a very powerful and unique place in history regarding the era of the Negro leagues and independent barnstorming teams,” said Commissioner Jacey Augustus. “It is of the utmost importance to protect it. We are the only town in the area who can lay claim to being the home of a semi-pro Negro league.”
The Blue Grays had players from Elizabethton, Johnson City, Kingsport, Bristol, Greeneville and other areas in surrounding states.
“It is very important to keep the field safe,” Augustus said. “It is a piece of history.”
The field is behind the Elizabethton City Schools administration building; the historic designation extends only to the area where the ball field used to be.
But Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman said the plan is to go beyond a simple designation; the hope is to one day restore the field to what it would have been like during its time as a semi-pro field.
Augustus pointed out the field had historic significance to the Cedar Grove community beyond being the Blue Grays’ home field.
She said the area was originally covered in cedar trees before it was cleared to be a ball field, which is where the community got its name. Also, the area was the meeting place for the fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias.
Now, she said the field is frequently used by families in the community and by local ball teams. She said even before the Parks and Recreation Department cleared a ball field space, and during the work, children could be seen out on the ballfield playing and practicing.
“The Blue Grays Field continues to serve as an integral part of the community and is highly utilized for family and community recreation,” Augustus said. “It was important in the past and its important for the future.”
Augustus said she hopes the historic designation helps protect the field and some of the historic artifacts that can be uncovered in it. She said amateur treasure hunters often go to the field with metal detectors and dig up what they can find.
After talking to some of the older members of the community, Augustus said she learned the field could also possibly contain an infant’s grave, which she believes should be left undisturbed. She said there were some worries people scavenging on the field could disturb the grave of the child and possibly even remove it from the field if it was accidently found.
“I would like to see protection for the field,” she said. “Whatever is found on that field needs to stay there. It is a part of the community.”
Augustus is also working to secure a state historical marker for the site. She told the commission she was $750 away from the fundraising goal for the marker.
The commission also set a date for an open house to explain the next phase for expansion for the historic district. The open house will be held on May 26 in lieu of the next commission meeting.
The request approved Monday night will now go before the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission and the Elizabethton City Council before final approval is given.

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