Hingham Baseball: Reminding Young and Old That We Are All The Same

“Take me out to the ballgame” wrote Jack Norworth in his 1908 song of the same name. By that date, early in the 20th century, baseball had long been considered America’s pastime.

One reason for baseball’s popularity is its unique ability to unite generations.  It is a game that is inherently able to be played by people of all ages and as such has always been a unifying force within small American communities.

Whether it’s a sandlot game between neighborhood kids or a semi-formal league between towns, the game of baseball brings people young and old together under a common love of sport and competition. This was true in Hingham, where informal baseball teams formed as early as the 1870s.

More often than not, these teams were comprised of a mix of men, from schoolboys to middle-aged business owners to retirees, all of whom share in common their love of the game and their sense of community.

Preserved in the archives of the Hingham Historical Society are a number of photographs from this early era of America’s favorite sport. Team photos of Hingham men with their dapper uniforms and basic gear show us not only how frightening it must have been to be a catcher in those days but also how Hingham’s older and newer generations put aside whatever differences they may have had to come together and compete.


This picture, taken c. 1905, illustrates the demographic mix, with a teenager like Charlie Jeffries (back row, far right) playing on the same team as middle-aged William Blake (middle row, far right) and an elderly William Turner (back row, second from left). These men all pose with the same uniform proudly displaying the large Hingham “H.”


Other photos, like this one, depict a team comprised entirely of young men and boys, many of whom would go on to accomplish great things in our town.  This photograph, by amateur Hingham photographer Frank W. Reed includes himself as a player (back row, third from right) along with the bearers of many prominent Hingham names: Ripley, Howard, Lane and Stoddard, to name a few. One player, Wilbur T. Litchfield (back row, second from right) would go on to become one of Hingham’s very first electricians and would help to electrify Hingham’s streets and some of its first homes between 1896 and 1900. (Note the rudimentary catcher’s mask displayed at lower left. The “C” on the players’ uniforms may refer to Hingham Centre.)

As these young men grew, one thing typically stayed the same and that was a love for the game.  We can look at these images and quite literally watch some of these Hingham men age over time through their continued participation in the sport. James H. Kimball was a lifelong fan of the game, appearing in team photos as a young man here in Hingham, going on to play at Dartmouth and later returning to town to continue playing on several teams during his time working for his family’s lumber business on Summer Street.  About the photo below, Jim Kimball wrote

This shows the first Hingham ball team that I played on, in August, 1899.  I was a sophomore at Darmouth.  No larger crowd ever gathered than on that Saturday afternoon in August, when we played the first game against the team which was organized by the Rev. C.H. Porter.  It was a gala occasion and drew a big crowd.


The photo below is of “Porter’s Players,” the Hingham team’s rival in the epic game Mr. Kimball remembered years later. (The Rev. C.H. Porter was pastor of the New North Church.)  They lost the August game, 8-4, and went on to lose a Labor Day rematch that same year, 9.6.


Teams started out in plain clothes, with no gear, playing “stick ball” before formally adopting the recognizable equipment and uniform style we see today. The one constant from those early days until now has been the sport’s unique ability to bridge the age gap. Today we recreate that camaraderie through our annual Vintage Base Ball game. Though when you look at these early photographs and watch our “modern” vintage game, one thing becomes abundantly clear: we are all the same. In this way, baseball provides us with a special way to visualize our same place in the community and realize that it just a continuation of generations long past.


The Back Office in 1914

George E. Kimball Lumber Company 1914.

George E. Kimball Lumber Company, 1914.

This recently donated photograph depicts the interior of the George E. Kimball Lumber Company office on Summer Street near Hingham Harbor. The office perfectly represents the changing times around the start of the 20th century. Taken in 1914—as evidenced by the calendar on the wall to the right—the photo depicts furnishings which are a telling mix of new and old. The bentwood chair, spare tire, and cabinets filled with all manner of supplies, along with the desks themselves, show a company that has been around for years. The telephone, electric fan, and hanging electric lights are representative of a business that is readying itself for the future. Identified in the back of the photo, wearing an apron, is the mustached James M. Kimball. He would help keep the business running for years to come by shipping lumber by boat from Kimball’s Wharf or delivering it by cart to locals residents and builders. To his left is his nephew James H. Kimball. In addition to helping run Kimball Lumber, he was the leader of the Imperial Saxophone Quartet in Hingham and a member of several of Hingham’s earliest baseball teams at the end of the 19th century.  The well-dressed man at the desk presumably is the eponymous George E. Kimball, father of James H. and founder of the firm.

Powerful Words in the Name of Freedom

Every day Hingham residents drive or walk past the entrance to a small park lying between Central and Hersey Streets. Now known as Burns Memorial Park, it was once home to Tranquility Grove, an outdoor space used for meeting and rallies—including in particular abolitionist rallies.

Hingham was home to an active group of abolitionists. Led in large part by local women who were considered extremists by many, Hingham’s abolitionists worked for freedom through petitions, speeches, meetings, and protests. High-profile abolitionists visited Hingham regularly during this period, including Frederick Douglass (who came more than once), William Lloyd Garrison, an aging John Quincy Adams, and the Grimke sisters.

On August 1, 1844, the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society hosted a large regional rally to mark the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. The rally featured a speech by Frederick Douglass at the First Baptist Church and a procession down Hingham’s Elm Street to Tranquility Grove. As the abolitionists entered the Grove, they were greeted by large white banners hung from the surrounding fir trees. In bold black letters, the banners spelled out anti-slavery slogans:

20141011_110642They are slaves that fail to speak/ for the fallen and the weak

20141011_110456True freedom is to be earnest to make OTHERS free

20141011_110507God made us free! Then fetter not a brother’s limbs!

20141011_110636Welcome All to Freedom’s Altar!

Fragile and creased with age, the banners from the 1844 Tranquility Grove meeting are preserved in our archives. One of them makes direct reference to Tranquility Grove, greeting supporters entering the rally with a verse:

Hail! Friend of Truth, thou enterest here
The grove long named TRANQUILITY.
O let thy soul then breathe sweet peace,
Pure love and TRUE HUMILITY.

P1060107The efforts of the Hingham abolitionists contributed to the larger national abolition movement which would continue to gain traction across the country until the Emancipation Proclamation brought their hard work to fruition. The banners remain an evocative reminder of Hingham’s participation in that important work, and their powerful statements still right true to this day.

The Lane Family Seen Through 19th Century Deeds

Sometimes, even the most mundane documents give us deeper insight into the lives and relationships of Hingham’s oldest families. Such is the case with a collection of deeds and wills recently donated to the Historical Society by Philip S. Allen. The focus of the collection is the Lane family, one of Hingham’s oldest and most prominent, particularly well-known for Jared Lane, one of the town’s many talented coopers. The deeds and wills, however, cast light on Hannah Lane, the widow of Rufus Lane, Jared Lane’s brother and a painter who resided on South Street where the Hingham Water Company once stood.

After Rufus’ death in 1801, Hannah did not remarry. She enjoyed the use of her husband’s considerable personal and real estate, which she conveyed to her sons, Charles and Rufus, over the course of her 37 years as a widow. (When Rufus died, Charles and young Rufus had not inherited directly, having been only 11 and 13 at the time.)

The first deed from Hannah is dated 1811, ten years after Rufus’ death, and conveys to Charles and Rufus a small shop and its contents located on Town land near Elisha Cushing’s estate (now, 692 Main Street). Like later conveyances to Charles and Rufus, the shop was conveyed to them jointly. Charles and Rufus are described as “painters,” like their late father, and paid their mother $300 for this property.

Lane Deed (1811)

Hannah Lane’s 1811 Deed to sons Charles and Rufus Lane

Hannah later conveyed other real estate, with a house upon it, to Charles and Rufus jointly. In April 1824, they divided this property between them, by means of a Land Division Agreement, also in our collection. It is easy to tell the two are brothers just by the language used in the agreement. Like two young boys dividing a candy bar, they drew a very specific line down the center of the property—and through the house—with each brother getting half. The Agreement addresses the specific aspects of the house and property to which each is entitled—including entire rooms which are divided and split down the middle.

The brothers acquired other land over the years, and not always from their mother. Another deed in our collection, from January 1824, evidences their purchase of nearly three acres of woodland in the area of Hingham known as the “Third Division” (the area of Levitt Street, merging into present-day Wompatuck State Park) from the previously mentioned cooper Jared Lane and his wife Sarah for $133.33.

The brothers jointly owned the firm of R & C Lane, which was engaged in mackerel fishing and dealt in fishermen’s supplies, and they frequently sold property back and forth between them. One deed in the collection has Rufus buying land and “all the buildings upon it” on North Street from his brother Charles for the considerable sum—in 1833—of $2,700. As the years went by, their property holdings began to reflect their unique personal interests, but that didn’t stop their mother from continuing to sell to the two of them together. The final deed in this collection, dated March 1835, is from Hannah to her two sons—again jointly—conveying a shop and land at the junction of North and South Streets in Hingham Square, for $717.87.

The collection includes Hannah’s Last Will and Testament, written in 1835. Upon her death, in 1838, she bequeathed all of her remaining real estate not just to Charles and Rufus but also to her one surviving daughter, Sally, who had married Benjamin Parker of Boston in October 1814. (This was the sole mention of Sally in these Lane family documents.) She left her personal property to her eight grandchildren. The will of one of these grandchildren, Abigail, is the final record in this collection. Abigail’s will, made only three days after her grandmother died, leavers all of her personal and real estate to her cousins, Charles Lane, Jr. and Rufus Lane, Jr.