Coleman Field Sayre's Grand Playground - Jim Nobles
Sayre's Church of the Redeemer not only provided the Coleman Memorial Parish House as an indoor recreation center for the town as told in the last issue of the Sayre Quarterly but also Coleman Field at the rear of the Parish House as an outdoor center for recreation. For nearly seven decades summer athletics and Coleman Field were synonymous.
The facility was built as the Coleman Athletic Field and included the entire expanse from the back of the Parish House at South Wilbur Avenue and Hayden Street and extended west to Brock Street. One lot and house at that corner were not included. The north side of the field was bounded by Packer Pond and hospital property. Included in all that area were the athletic field, tennis courts, an outdoor gymnasium, children's playground and the Round Pond. The ball diamond lasted the longest and is best remembered today. The facility was constructed in 1911 through the generosity of Mary Packer Cummings, the Church of the Redeemer's long time benefactor. Much of the information for the first part of this article was found in a pamphlet printed by the Physical Department of the Church of the Redeemer in 192.
The original field was 385 by 310 feet. Around its outside was a cinder track, five laps to a mile. Inside that area was space to be used for baseball and football games. Seating for 1,000 was provided by a covered grandstand along with permanent open portable bleachers along the first base side near the tennis courts. Initially, the use of the field by was membership - $2.00 for a year.
Two tennis courts were built immediately to the east of the ballfield and were fenced in on all sides by twelve foot netting. The yearly tennis court membership was $2.00, but only $1.00 if the person already held a $5.00 membership in the outdoor gymnasium.
The outdoor gymnasium was built adjacent to the ball field and to the rear (north) of the tennis courts, toward the hospital property. It opened in 1913. Equipment included "parallel bars, horizontal bars, flying trapeze, flying rings, climbing ladder, parallel rod slide, traveling rings, giant's stride, teeter ladder and may other apparatus too numerous to mention."
Completing Sayre's grand playground was an area around the Round Pond designated for those too young to use the other facilities. The Children's Playground included "sand pits, merry-go-round, swings, baby's hammocks, sailing boats and other pieces of apparatus to entertain the children."
The Round Pond, mentioned sometimes as Coleman Pond or Mrs. Packer's Pond, was at the base of a gentle slope extending westerly from the rear of the Parish House. The area around it was nicely landscaped providing a pleasant scene/ The late Paul Seibel has written that for a period of time canoes were allowed on the pond and fishing for goldfish was common although the canoes were later eliminated because of safety concerns.
To accommodate parents, grandparents, and spectators, benches were built into a concrete wall which extended from the Round Pond to the tennis courts near the grandstands along Hayden Street. The wall was five to seven feet high with a grate iron fence atop it and along the Hayden Street sidewalk.
The person most responsible for all that has been described so far was the Church of the Redeemer's great benefactress, Mary Packer Cummings, sister of Robert A. Packer. The Packer family ran the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Robert headed the railroad here. In the years after his untimely death his sister made some of his dreams a reality through Sayre's Episcopal Church. The name Coleman for the parish house and field was in memory of Mrs. Cummings' friend and one time rector of the Church of the Redeemer, the Rev. Leighton Coleman, D.D. His picture hangs near the entrance of the new Coleman Memorial Parish House attached to the original church. He left Sayre to become Bishop of the Diocese of Delaware.
The actual construction of the athletic field involved filling in a large area at the edge of Packer Pond. A previous issue of the Sayre Quarterly quoted information from a newspaper of 1911 that that section of the field had been used as a brick plant operated by Sidney Hayden. Hayden's bricks had been used throughout the area in construction projects including the Lehigh Valley Railroad's engine house over town. It was estimated that 16,000 cubic yards of dirt had to be moved into the lower end of the pond which had been the brickyard. Grading of the field came next followed by construction of the grandstands and fencing. The covered grandstands were completed by Memorial Day 1911. Lumber for them came partially from an old ice house on the property which was torn down. The stands were eighty feet in length and twenty-two feet wide. Seating capacity was 500 but increased in later years with the addition of open bleachers.
In another Sayre Quarterly the dedication ceremony for Coleman Field on May 30, 1911, was described. Mary Packer Cummings could not be present but was represented by David J. Pearsall who arrived in Sayre on the Lehigh Valley Railroad from Mauch Chunk where Mrs. Cummings resided. The Boys' Battalion and Drum Corps escorted him to the field where he was introduced by the Rev. Herbert L. Hannah of the Church of the Redeemer. His speech was followed by a drill by the Boys' Battalion, a baseball game and a track meet.
Over the next six decades Coleman Field and its extensive facilities were used by numerous athletic groups. A fence around the outfield and lights for night games were added. At one time a concession stand was operated by BSA (Boy Scouts of America) Troop 19 of the Church of the Redeemer. The Sayre Fire Department had a three-story training tower beyond the centerfield fence. In the late 1960s after Sayre High School's baseball diamond was lost by the addition to the present high school Sayre's home games were played on Coleman Field. It was also their practice football field. The 1930s May Field Days were held here under the direction of Doc Brown. Doc Brown was pictured in the last issue of the Sayre Quarterly.
The fantastically successful Lehigh Valley Railroad tem made Coleman Field their home field. Mike Fedchak, a Sayre native and member of the Sayre Historical Society since it began in 1989, remembers that the LVRR management sent workers to maintain the field. He also remembers when there was plenty of precipitation that the Packer Pond rose and the right fielder would have water up to his ankles. A ball hit into the pond was always a home run.
In 1970, the seven and one-half acre Coleman Field was sold by the Church of the Redeemer to the Robert Packer Hospital to protect their long-range development plans. The price tag was $100,000. At that time a lease was arranged so both Sayre High School and the Sayre Borough Recreation Commission cold still use the field until it was needed.
That "need" came within the decade. Over the next few years Sayre's grand playground became bricks and mortar, asphalt, a helicopter landing pad and a memory.
Another article in this issue of the Sayre Quarterly presents a nostalgic view of Coleman Field and provides additional details of uses and users. Be sure to read "Memories of Coleman Field" by Fran Wolcott.