From 1907 until Fulton County Stadium opened in 1965, Spiller Field – also known as Ponce de Leon Park or Atlanta Crackers Field – was Mecca for baseball fans in Atlanta. Both the Atlanta Crackers and the Atlanta Black Crackers played there and the diamond was graced by the likes of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Luke Appling, Eddie Matthews, Pete Richert, Tim McCarver, and Chuck Tanner.
In 1940 the park hosted an exhibition boxing match between a 45-year old Jack Dempsey and wrestler Clarence “Cowboy” Luttrell (Dempsey won), and it was also where the Tech High Smithies and Boys’ High Purple Hurricanes played their Friday night football games during the 1940’s (these games often outdrew college games at the time).
The park was especially known for a pair of magnolia trees that stood in center field and were actually part of the field of play until Earl Mann purchased the team and field in 1947 and moved the outfield wall in about 50′.
The field occupied the space on Ponce de Leon Avenue where the Midtown Place retail development is today, directly across from Ponce City Market. The trees – surprisingly still healthy and thriving – stand in between what is today a Whole Foods store and the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. Despite their apparent good health, the trees are threatened by their proximity to the large retail development to their immediate west, so the environmental non-profit Trees Atlanta took action.
A team met Wednesday August 14 to take cuttings from both trees. These cuttings will be nurtured over the next two years, then replanted along the BeltLine’s arboretum. Some may be made available for purchase. These new plantings will be direct genetic descendants of the magnificent magnolias you’ll see in the photos that accompany this article. Kudos to Trees Atlanta and their partners Bold Spring Nursery (they’ll be cultivating the cuttings) and Sunbelt Equipment Rental (they supplied the cherry picker) for taking action to preserve an important part of Atlanta history.
Mann’s son Oreon was on hand for the cutting event and brought along a bag of photos and other memorabilia from the days when he was a batboy and his father the owner of the premier baseball team in Atlanta. We were all surprised – and touched – when Mann walked over to one of the trees and pointed to where he and his stepmother had buried his father’s ashes when he died in 1990.
To see photos from the cutting event, visit: http://vahi.org/propagating-the-spiller-magnolias/