Businessman John Roesink had long been interested in sports when he funded the construction of Mack Park (the precusrsor to Hamtramck Stadium) on the eastside of Detroit in 1910. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roesink moved to Detroit around 1900. In addition to owning several stores in the downtown area, he also owned sports teams. A number of shop owners participated in the practice of owning or funding athletic teams as a way to advertise their businesses. Roesink funded the construction of a park, built of timber and tin-sheeting, to house his teams. Located at the corner of Mack and Fairview Avenues, the park seated approximately 6,000-10,000 spectators.1
As the auto-industry expanded in the early 1900s, Detroit became an ideal place to find work, especially for Black Americans seeking opportunities outside the South. Census data helps historians study this movement of African Americans from South to North in the early 1900s, a trend referred to as the Great Migration. According to census data, Detroit was home to approximately 5,741 African Americans in 1910. By 1920, over 41,000 Black Americans lived in the city. Detroit’s Black community grew by 614% in ten years. Baseball became an important part of the Black culture of Detroit, especially after the establishment of the Detroit Stars in 1919.2 The team was part of the Negro National League, the first Black baseball league in America.
While Mack Park was located over four miles from the Black Bottom Neighborhood, where many of the city’s Black residents lived, the park become a hub of the African American community.3 Oral accounts speak to the excitement that fans felt when visiting the park. John Glover and his family were one of the many that left the South as part of the Great Migration. Moving from Alabama to Detroit in 1919, Glover spent his childhood at the ballpark. He recalls the exciting trips to Mack Park:
“At the time, Mack Park was way out of town…We used to take the Mack streetcar down, and if you were the least athletically inclined you could hop off the car before the conductor came through and collected fares. I don’t know how many the park officially held…But it was always filled when I was there. You even had a few whites in the crowd.”4
On July 7, 1929, the Detroit Starts were scheduled to play the Kansas City Monarchs at Mack Park in a doubleheader. Heavy rains soaked the field, postponing the games. Fearing a loss of profit, Roesink doused the base paths in gasoline to dry it out. (Setting the dirt on fire to dry up soggy ground was not unusual in baseball at the time.) But the fire raged out of control. The blaze engulfed the wooden bleachers, injuring hundreds of fans.5
To make up for the loss, Roesink built Hamtramck Stadium (also known as Roesink Stadium) several miles northwest of Mack Park’s original location. Completed in 1930, the new park is located in Hamtramck, a small city surrounded by Detroit. Hamtramck, originally founded in 1798, was incorporated as a village in the early 1900s. At the time, Hamtramck was a predominately Polish community.6 Author and Detroit native Richard Bak speculates that Roesink built the stadium in Hamtramck to attract both Black and white patrons.7 Even after the new stadium’s construction, Mack Park continued to operate as an informal sandlot.
Hamtramck Stadium became the new home of the Detroit Stars and eventually the Detroit Wolves. The park saw some of Detroit’s finest players, including Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, one of the leagues best pitchers. He played for the Stars from 1923 to 1931.
While fans remained loyal to their team, patronage dropped in the early 1930s due to the Great Depression. Black baseball faced added challenges with the death of Negro National League founder Rube Foster in 1930. The league fell apart shortly after his death, and the Detroit Stars disbanded in 1931. They were replaced by the Detroit Wolves, a Negro baseball league that only played for the 1932 season.
Hamtramck was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. A State of Michigan Historic Marker was dedicated at the site in 2014.
In 2020, the Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, a nonprofit group, restored the infield and successfully petitioned City Council to name the field Norman “Turkey” Stearnes Field at Historic Hamtramck Stadium.8
Want to learn more about baseball? Explore some of the Teaching with Historic Places resources, including the Black Baseball Curiosity Kit or the Jackie Robinson lesson plan.
1 Richard Bak, Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars: The Negro Leagues in Detroit, 1919-1933, (Wayne State University Press, 1995), 57; Larry Lester, Sammy L. Miller and Dick Clark, Black Baseball in Detroit, (Arcadia Publishing, 2000), 7, 42, 65.
2 Lester, Black Baseball in Detroit, 7; Emily Fisher, “Migration has Been a Thorn in the Historical Story of Detroit’s Black Population,” (02.18.2021), https://detroitisit.com/migration-detroits-black-population-history/. For more information on census data of the Great Migration, visit the U.S. Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/020/
3 A historically Black community located near the center of Detroit, the Black Bottom Neighborhood was demolished in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for a new residential area and freeway. “Black Bottom Neighborhood,” Detroit Historical Society, https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/black-bottom-neighborhood.
4. Quoted from Bak, Turkey Stearnes and the Detroit Stars, 97.
5 Historians estimate that approximately 160-220 fans were hurt in the fire. Gerald Van Dusen, Detroit’s Birwood Wall: Hatred and Healing in the West Eight Mile Community, (Charleston: The History Press, 2019), 160.
6 Greg Kowalski, “Images of Modern America: Hamtramck,” (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2015); Stephan Szymanski and Silke-Maria Weineck, City of Champions: A History of Triumph and Defeat in Detroit, (New Press, 2020), 247.
7 Bak, A Place for Summer, 144.
8 “Historic Hamtramck Stadium is on the verge of a comeback,” Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, https://www.hamtramckstadium.org/
The content for this article was researched and written by Dr. Katherine Crawford-Lackey.
3201 Dan St, Hamtramck, MI 48212
One of only a few remaining Negro league baseball stadiums.
National Register of Historic Places
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