This historic professional baseball park in Nashville once stood between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, North and Jackson and Summer Streets. Union troops introduced baseball to the city in 1862, when they played in a low-lying area north of the statehouse known as Sulphur Springs Bottom. In past times, a salt lick and sulphur spring had attracted animals to the thick canebrake in the Bottom and made the location a popular place for hunting. In 1885 Athletic Park was built on the site, and the Chicago White Stockings used the facility to “take the waters” and hold spring training. The next year, Nashville fielded a minor league club.
When the Southern League reorganized in 1901, Nashville was among the eight-team association and maintained its affiliation until 1961. The Nashville Vols played in the old, wood-planked stadium, renamed Sulphur Dell by the famous young sports editor of the Nashville Tennessean, Grantland Rice. The new electric trolley line made access to the stadium convenient for fans.
The field possessed rather peculiar dimensions and several natural obstacles. Located less than one-fourth mile from the Cumberland River, the playing surface lay below street level. As a result the field frequently flooded. A 16-foot high wall enclosed the outfield, and an open press box sat atop the grandstand in the northwest corner. The dimensions of the six-thousand-seat park were intimate, with seating only twenty-six feet and forty-two feet away from third base and first base respectively. The trademark of the stadium, however, was its short right field wall–which stood only 262 feet away from home plate, and at 236 feet, the field uniquely slanted at a forty-five-degree angle upward to the wall. Most right fielders positioned themselves on a 10-foot-wide shelf constructed half way up the incline. A rope was strung along the base (at 235 feet), and overflow crowds sat on the grassy outfield. Casey Stengel once reportedly bragged that he hit a bunt for a home run down the right field line at Sulphur Dell. The short porch was popular with left handed hitters, but pitchers often referred to the park derisively as “Sulphur Hell.” Visiting teams nicknamed the field “The Dump” because of the stench caused by burning garbage at the city landfill located beyond the right field wall.
One of the most exciting games ever played at Sulphur Dell occurred on the last day of the 1908 season. The Vols were pitted against their arch rivals, the New Orleans Pelicans, in a winner-take-all league championship game. Reportedly, over ten thousand fans crammed into the tiny stadium and witnessed a tremendous pitcher’s duel between the Vols’ right-handed Vedder Sitton and the Pelican’s masterful lefthander, Ted Breitenstein. Nashville won the game in dramatic fashion by scoring the game’s only run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sportswriter Rice called it “the greatest game ever played in Dixie.”
Sulphur Dell was reconfigured in the winter of 1926, when the diamond was relocated in the southwest corner of the field. The faint outline of the original base paths remained forever visible in shallow center field. The stadium held the distinction of being the oldest professional baseball park in the country when it was razed in 1963. Today the original site is a parking lot for state vehicles.