TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA - I remember the first time I went to Indiana State's football stadium, I left with a full-ride scholarship to play wide receiver. That's just where my memories begin, however, the memories of Memorial Stadium begin more than a century earlier. Memorial Stadium was built by the city of Terre Haute between 1923 and 1924 (decades before Bloomington's Memorial Stadium).
Terre Haute Tribune-Star - The stadium was designed by Shourds-Stoner Co., architect-engineers, of Terre Haute. Dalton D. Shourds founded the firm in 1912. George J. Stoner, the youngest principal, was a 1915 Rose Poly graduate. The firm opened offices in Chicago in 1923.The design followed the plan presented to the city in 1921 and 1922 by landscape architect George E. Kessler.
If any of my Indy readers recognize that name 'Kessler', yes, that would be the same name that our Kessler Boulevard is named after. Kessler was a German-born American city planner. The city of Indianapolis asked him to design a quick way to get from the west to east side of the city.... that would be Kessler Boulevard.
Okay, now back to Terre Haute... and back a few more decades. Memorial Stadium was built for baseball, but before there were grand slams and no-hitters, this was a place for horse racing. This was site of Vigo County's fairgrounds, and within these grounds was an ICONIC horse racing track.
The Indiana Statesmen - "During the two decades the track was on horse racing's Grand Circuit, over 20 world records were set there. By special design, it was the fastest track in the country. Terre Haute's "Four-Cornered Track" was, literally, world famous."
The location of the fairgrounds/racetrack was perfect, it was right along the Old National Road. This 1874 map of the area shows the proximity of the track to the National Road.
Before I-70 was built (1960's), the quickest way to get across the country was own the National Road, which ran right through Terre Haute.. and right by the racetrack. This allowed travelers to make it to and from the track with ease.
Although the people of Terre Haute loved to watch their horses race, they soon fell in love with another sport, baseball. The city decided to turn the fairgrounds into an immaculate baseball arena, Memorial Stadium. The name was chosen to honor those that fought in World War I.
Indiana Statesmen - "When memorial Stadium was dedicated in May, 1925, it was hailed as the "finest minor league baseball stadium inn the country" and second only to New York's Yankee Stadium in playing area. Baseball Commissioner Kenneshaw Mountain Landis was here for the inaugural ceremonies."
Slideshow of Memorial Stadium Baseball Park
Minor league baseball was always a rich part of Terre Haute's history. The city had a multitude of teams that were affiliated with major league programs. For example, the Terre Haute Phillies, then followed by the Terre Haute Tigers, were affiliates of the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers respectively. The stadium also featured MLB exhibition games that would draw massive crowds.
Legends would take their turns at the plate as Memorial Stadium began to gain more and more national notoriety.
Terre Haute Tribune-Star - Terre Haute includes an array of famous players like Asa “Ace” Stewart, Paul “Dizzy” Trout, Jim “Jumbo” Elliott, Art Nehf, James T. McGuire, Tommy John, Brian Dorsett and more. Terre Haute was even home to Hall of Fame players including Mordachi “Three Fingers” Brown, and Max Carey.
The interstate, TV, and loss of MLB affiliation all aided in the downfall of professional baseball in Terre Haute and in 1967 Indiana State University took over the stadium. ISU converted Memorial Stadium into a place to play football, and the only original aspects that still remain from the stadium are the arch and the outfield wall.
In 1967, ISU became the first school in the country to own and operate an artificial playing surface. I'd have to imagine that this had to be the worst turf in the world!
Nearly fifty years later, it would be me running onto the field at Memorial Stadium, creating my own memories that will last a lifetime. I think back to the hot summer workouts where we would have to run to the top of bleachers.
I would often get to the top and pause, reflect on where I was, reflect on what I saw and begin to reflect on who I am. If you would have been at Memorial Stadium when it first opened in the 1920's... would you have thought you'd one day see a guy like me with a banner hanging from the stands?
Neither would I. That's what's most exciting about the future, we don't know anything about it.
Oh yeah, and three more things for you to check out:
1.) The trail that currently surrounds Memorial Stadium makes the shape of the outline if Indiana.
2.) I was a pretty good football player.
3.) Only 3 teams in ISU Football History have made the NCAA playoffs, the 1983 team, the 1984 team, and the 2014 team that my brothers and I were apart of