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May 11. 2013 2:16AM

Manchester's Gill Stadium nearing centenial rededication, still going strong


Manchester's Gill Stadium is seen under construction in 1913, with Valley Street in the background. (COURTESY)

This is the first in a series of articles about the history of Gill Stadium as it prepares for its centennial rededication on Sept. 8. Future installments will appear in the Saturday editions of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

On Sept. 8, 1913, the new Manchester stadium known as Textile Field was dedicated with a visit from the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, a soccer game, a relay race and fireworks. By day's end, about 14,000 people had passed through the stately new brick, wood and steel structure.

For more than a year now, planning has been under way for a celebration weekend at what is now Gill Stadium to commemorate the centennial of that 1913 dedication.

The rededication is planned for Sunday, Sept 8, 2013. Organizers hope to fill the field with former and current players and coaches who have participated in contests at Gill. Following the rededication, the nationally ranked Southern New Hampshire University men's soccer team will take on Dowling College.

Other events planned for that weekend include a banquet on Friday night, a road race on Saturday and a high school football game that night featuring Manchester Central and Concord. The planning committee also hopes to bring former and current marching band members into the celebration.

Filling a need

What do you do if your company owns a 6-acre tract of land located less than a mile from the center of a large city, and the community has no decent athletic facility? If the year is 1913 and the 6-acre tract in Manchester is home to a park with rotted stands and a collapsing fence, you tear it down and build a stadium.

At that time, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company employed 16,000 people in its extensive system of Manchester mills. The company encouraged its employees to participate in sports within the framework of its Manufacturers League, but the company-owned facility where the league played most of its games, Varick Park, was terribly outdated and rundown. Varick was demolished, and Textile Field was constructed in its place at a cost of $30,000.

As it came into being 100 years ago, Manchester's new stadium was in good company. Also opening in 1913 were Ebbetts Field, home to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Manhattan's Grand Central Station.

Textile Field's brick facade, 3,000-seat grandstand and wood-and-steel roof protecting the seats were the architectural highlights, the grandstand arcing around the south side of the multi-purpose playing field and quarter-mile cinder track that surrounded it. A 100-yard straight track for sprints was located directly in front of the grandstand. Elite runners of the time were said to consider the tracks among the fastest in the country. Twenty-eight arc lights illuminated the facility.

In addition to the 3,000-seat grandstand, the stadium also included box seating for another 100 spectators and wooden bleachers at either end of the grandstand providing seating for 1,000 more. Bleacher seating opposite the grandstand also was available for football games, and standing room could accommodate as many as 5,000 .

Stars come out

While dedication day was a multi-event affair, the main attraction was the baseball game.

Though it was clear by the time they arrived to christen Textile Field that the Red Sox (who had dedicated their own new ballpark the previous season) would not defend their title, they still featured an impressive lineup. That included six players - Bill Carrigan, Larry Gardner, Harry Hooper, Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Smoky Joe Wood - who would later be enshrined in the team's hall of fame and one, Speaker, who would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Boston's opponent for the dedication game was a team of all-stars from the local Manufacturers League. The amateurs gave the Sox a game but ultimately lost, 3-1.

The soccer game featured the Amoskeag Textile Club and the Manchester Light Blues, champions of the Lowell, Lawrence and District soccer league.

New names, new faces

Textile Field was purchased in 1927 by the City of Manchester from Amoskeag Industries and renamed Athletic Field. In 1967, it was renamed again, this time for Ignace Gill, longtime superintendent of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

In 2003-04, the stadium underwent a major renovation, thanks to the arrival of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Easter League affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays, who would use Gill as their home field in 2004 while a new stadium was under construction on the banks of the Merrimack River. Work on the older building included the installation of 2,200 new seats under the roof, structural repairs, and enhanced press box, upgraded lighting, and the installation of an artificial-turf playing surface.

While the Fisher Cats now occupy Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, games continue at Gill, which remains an important part of the fabric of Manchester. And on the weekend of Sept. 6-8 current and former players, coaches, musicians and fans will return to the still-stately edifice as it celebrates its past and sets the stage for another 100 years of memories.

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