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J. P. Small Memorial Stadium is baseball stadium located in the Durkeeville community of northwest Jacksonville, Floridamarker. Throughout the years the stadium has been known at various times as Barrs Field, Joseph E. Durkee Athletic Field, and the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park. The park was the first municipal recreation field in the city of Jacksonville.

History

Barrs Field era

The Stadium, when it was first built, was originally known as Barrs Field. It currently sits on a patch of land that was owned by Joseph Durkee, a former Civil War Union officer, who settled in Jacksonville following the war. Durkee became a prominent businessman and politician. In 1911, his son, Dr. Jay Durkee, gave control of the property to Jacksonville businessman and Jacksonville Baseball Association President, Amander Barrs. Barrs created the recreational field that became the site used by local teams, including the Jacksonville Tars and the African-American team, the Jacksonville Athletics, a team on which James Weldon Johnson played. In addition, major league teams, along with their star sluggers, played at the field, including the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Spring Training use

The Philadelphia Athletics were the first major league team to use Durkee Field for spring training in 1914 until 1918. In 1918 the Pittsburgh Pirates held their spring training at the ballpark. Then from 1919 until 1920 the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers called Barrs Field their spring training home. The Dodgers would return for one last spring at Barrs in 1922.

Durkee Field era

The city wanted had been wanting a full time professional baseball club, however they did not have ownership of Barrs Field. That all changed though in 1926 when Jacksonville gained control of the property and renamed it Joseph H. Durkee Athletic Field, and created Jacksonville’s main municipal park on the site. In 1932 the city purchased Durkee Field for $348,000. However in 1936, the original stadium was destroyed in a fire. However, the city immediately rebuilt the stadium in 1936-1937. The new structure was built with a larger building that afforded space for a separate section to seat African American patrons in the era of segregation.

The Jersey City Giants held spring training at the ballpark in 1946. Jackie Robinson was playing for the Montreal Royals along with John Wright the two of whom were integrating organized baseball. That spring, a Giants-Royals game was scheduled for March 24, 1946 at Durkee Field. The Jacksonville Playground and Recreation Board prohibited "white and Negro athletes" playing together in their facilities and pledged to bar Robinson and Wright from the park. The Royals, with support from the Dodgers, refused to leave Robinson and Wright at Montreal's training camp in Daytona Beach and canceled the game.

Negro League use

Durkee Field was home to the Negro League and minor league baseball teams. Hall of Famers;marker Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, James Thomas Bell and Judy Johnson played at Durkee Field. Jacksonville’s only Negro League team, the Jacksonville Red Caps, a team made up of employees of the East Coast Railroad, used the park as their home field. In 1953, the field added another layer of history when it became the location of the first games played by the newly integrated Jacksonville Braves, a farm team of the Milwaukee Braves, that included a 19-year-old Hank Aaron. The team’s manager hired Aaron and two other black players. Through the years, the field provided the city’s African-Americans other important uses. Area schools, including Stanton High School; Raines High School; and Edward Waters College practiced and played games in the park. The following year, Sam W.marker Wolfson Baseball Parkmarker was built and replaced Durkee Field as the municipal ballpark.

Possible demolition

By the late 1970’s, however, the park experienced a major decline. The stadium was slated for demolition; however, a case was made for its renovation. In 1980 Councilwoman Sallye B. Mathis sponsored legislation to renovate the exterior of the stadium and to rename Durkee Field in honor of the legendary local coach, James P. Small who coached and taught at Stanton HS for 33 years. He later coached at Raines High School for one year before retiring. He died in 1975.

The renovation project was completed in 1985. Renovations included structural repairs, a new roof, press box and dugouts, paving the parking lot, a new playscape and lighted fields. Councilwoman Denise Lee and Mayor Jake Godbold then hosted a rededication ceremony of the newly named J. P. Small Memorial Ball Park.

Today

Following demolition of Wolfson Park in 2002, J. P. Small Ballpark became the last historic park in the city of Jacksonville. In May 2003 the Jacksonville City Government pushed forward legislation that would give J. P. Small Ballpark a permanent historical marker. Further renovation in 2006 included a small museum.

References

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