23rd Street Grounds: The long-forgotten first home of the Chicago’s NL ballclub
By: Alex Patt
A long time ago, in a city not so far away there was a ballpark called the 23rd Street Grounds. This particular ballpark was the first home of the Chicago Cubs franchise as they entered the National League in 1876. A ballpark that is often lost and forgotten about in Chicago sports history.
The 23rd Street Grounds existed long before any classic Chicago sports venue was even conceived. Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Chicago Stadium and Soldier Field were not even built in the same century when this park was erected. It was not the home of the Cubs for very long, but it is significant.
Back in 1874, the Cubs (known as the White Stockings then) were part of the old National Association when they moved into the park permanently. They had lost their former home, Union Base-Ball Grounds to the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. That park was located in present day Millennium Park. In 1876 when the National League was founded the White Stockings played their first season as an NL team at the 23rd Street Grounds and went 54–13 that year and won the National League Pennant. After the stadium served again as their home in 1877, they moved back to the site of the old Union Base-Ball Grounds where Lakefront Park was constructed as their new home.
So what was watching a game at the 23rd Street Grounds like? Well, hard to say. There are very little existing descriptions and accounts of the park itself. No known photographs or sketches of the park in detail even exist. All that is known is that it was a wooden park with a traditional diamond on the playing field. According to Steve Johnson’s Chicago Cubs Yesterday & Today (2008) publication, the capacity at the park was roughly 1,500 and the outfield was short. Exact dimensions of the park are also unknown.
The park was located within the blocks of 23rd Street, State Street and Cermak Road. It is not even known where exactly the park sat, there are no markers of any kind, only that it was within that square area. Today that area holds the National Teachers Academy and some local businesses.
The fate of the 23rd Street Grounds is also hard to find. All that seems to be known is that it closed after October of 1877. Many of those old ballparks burned down due to being made of wood, but regardless of what happened to the park it was clear that it was only around for five-some years.
Many different ballparks followed before they moved to their current ballpark in 1916, but this one was important no-less. While the organization was around before the National League formed, it saw their transition from the National Association to the NL. Their first ever NL pennant was won during their reign at the ballpark and it was officially one of the first ever ballparks in the NL. Lots of historical significance in a place that is mostly forgotten.
If you are ever at the National Teachers Academy at 23rd and State Street, remember that the Chicago Cubs once played baseball there.