WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Base Ball in Waukesha

By the late 1860s and early 1870s base ball was being played throughout the state on summer afternoons. Communities established their own teams, which challenged those from surrounding towns.
One of the more active and well-documented teams was the Waukesha Diamonds. The Diamonds organized in July of 1868, playing at Carroll College, adjacent to the Cook and Hadfield quarry. The combination of underhanded pitching, unkempt playing fields, and the absence of gloves was responsible for many high scoring games, such as the Diamonds’ 49-34 victory over the Oconomowoc Clippers in September 1868.

Research by the Old World Wisconsin staff documents the Diamonds competing each season through the mid-1870s. Players included many of the sons of local middle-class families. They joined the team for a season or two before establishing themselves with family and career. Learn more base ball history by reading the Waukesha Diamonds’ Bios – 1874 Season.

Waukesha Diamonds’ Bios – 1874 Season

Jack Street – Top Row – Upper Left
This Waukesha ballist was the son of the superintendent of the Waukesha County Manufacturing Company—a major woolen milling operation. Street’s father, a native of Scotland, was an active member of the Village Board, Baptist Church, and various fraternal organizations. Born in Grant County, Wisconsin, Jack and his family arrived in Waukesha in 1871. Waukesha Diamond box scores from the period indicate that Street played as a “scout” in right field. As a “striker,” he could be found in the lower levels of the batting order.

Frank and Bill Blair
Frank – Bottom Row – Center
Bill – Bottom Row – Far Right
These brothers were the sons of William Blair, a native of Scotland. Their father, an influential community figure, owned the local threshing machine factory. He also served as President of the Waukesha County National Bank. Frank, sometimes known as “Pony,” was one of the original club directors in 1868. Bill, or “Willie,” is believed to have been the Diamonds’ captain during the 1870s. Newspaper box scores list Frank at both the center field and second base positions, while Bill covered right field. Eventually, Frank took over his father’s business with their brother George, and Bill became a Waukesha druggist.

Leslie Spence – Bottom Row – 2nd from Right
Born in Waukesha in 1854, this ballist hurled for the Diamonds during the 1874 season. He eventually made his way to La Crosse, where he was part proprietor of a drug store and became the chief engineer of the fire department. The Waukesha Freeman noted in 1882 that “no better boy ever went from Waukesha than Leslie.” He was considered to be “an admirable citizen and a worthy friend.” Spence later moved on to Lodi, where he lived with his wife and daughter, who took her father’s name of Leslie.

Bill Orvis – Top Row – Upper Right
This Waukesha Diamond was the son of a Yankee day laborer. He appears in the team’s classic 1874 studio portrait. He recalled this photograph in a ca. 1920 interview with the Milwaukee Journal: “To pose before a camera in those days was an ordeal and to make themselves more comfortable some of the boys discarded their shoes and sat in their stocking feet.” He eventually donned his footwear and left Waukesha for Madison where he became the assistant state law librarian. His colorful interview commentary provides valuable insight to our understanding of local “base ball” traditions.

Billy Holbrook – Top Row – 2nd from Left
Born in Surry, New Hampshire, in 1851, this Waukesha Diamond arrived in the village in 1868—the same year the ball club formed. His father, a hotel proprietor by trade, had previously managed hostelries in Prairie du Chien and Milwaukee. He was drawn to the Spring City to operate the Exchange House. Billy eventually succeeded his father in that position in 1879—the year he married Ella Hall. He also served as the village marshal. A team box score, appearing in the Milwaukee Sentinel, indicates that Holbrook played the shortstop position during the 1871 season.

Charlie Culver – Bottom Row – 2nd from Left
A skilled craftsman by trade, he also tended third base for the Waukesha Diamonds. Born in Wisconsin in 1850, Charlie was the son of eastern Yankees. He spent his boyhood and early career under the employment of his older brother, Orlando, a Waukesha harnessmaker. With his leatherworking ability, Charlie may have fashioned the team’s base balls. By 1880 he had established his own harness shop in Pewaukee before eventually becoming a “commercial traveler” and relocating to Milwaukee.