BRATTLEBORO — A piece of land in the Connecticut River, between Brattleboro and Hinsdale, N.H., was once the center of entertainment for Brattleboro area residents. Now barely noticeable, there once stood a grand pavilion and baseball field.
And it all started 100 years ago this summer.
It was in 1909 that a group of Brattleboro men, led by George S. Fox and M.J. Moran, formed the Island Amusement Co., and built a baseball diamond and bleachers. Many rivalries sprung up between the local baseball clubs in the various towns around Brattleboro, and many a heated game ensued. Sometimes these games drew crowds as large as 3,000.
Out of the Island Amusement Co. grew the Island Park Co., which, in 1911, built a grandstand and connected pavilion at the east end of the diamond. The recreation center became known as Island Park, advertised as “The Home of Clean Amusement.”
From the grandstand, the public viewed baseball games in the daylight and motion pictures by night. It was in front of the grandstand that President Taft, President Roosevelt, and Governor Pinchot spoke.
Among the greatest of the spectacles seen from these tiers of seats was the Brattleboro Pageant of 1912. After weeks of preparation, adults and the youth of the town depicted the entire history of Brattleboro. Using the whole island for a stage and the mountain as a backdrop, the Little River was designated as the Connecticut, and the Indians and settlers went up and down in canoes, depicting the history of the community. The Island also celebrated “The Coming of Art,” alluding to the work of Larkin Mead and William Morris Hunt.
The pavilion contained a dance hall, a balcony, bowling alleys, a boat landing, and a refreshment room. Vaudeville was presented on stage in the ballroom and, on rainy nights, the movies were shown inside.
The pavilion was opened in 1911 and nearly all of Brattleboro flocked to Island Park. The Keene Cheshire Republican said of the Pavilion: “A visit to the pavilion and grandstand at the riverbank will make a man gasp...Fox and Moran have surely done their share in providing a proper...setting for baseball, and if Brattleboroians do not appreciate their efforts, every many, woman and child in that beautiful burg should be sentenced to 60 days in some less favored locale.”
All the while, baseball became more and more popular, and games frequently were played on the diamond. It was an ideal field, except for a cove that cut into right field, and the fact that a long drive in that direction would guarantee a home run. The local team was always well supplied with righthand hitters.
In 1911, Brattleboro joined the new Twin State League (a minor league), which included teams from Bellows Falls, Springfield, Vt., and Keene, N.H. The league scheduled a season of 36 games, with the first game to be played at the new Island Park.
In the fall, the Island contained the high school gridiron too, and it was there that Brattleboro won the Connecticut River Valley title in 1919. In 1920, the football field was moved to Western Avenue but subsequently brought back to the island. (It later returned to Western Avenue, where Allerton Avenue is now.)
In 1916, the local sportsmen became so bold as to play baseball on Sundays, and a number of successful games were played. The following year, at Town Meeting, Hinsdale voters voiced their disapproval, and the practice was discontinued.
In 1920, the island suffered one of its most disastrous floods. The bridge from the Vermont shore was carried out by an ice jam and high water, and it took Cornelius Flanagan, an island resident who was crossing the bridge, to his death. It was the flood of 1920 that drove the Grant Granite Works from the Island, where it had been established in 1889. (Grant moved to South Main Street. Later, it was Bairossi Monuments, and then Abbiati Monuments.)
When the bridge was carried out in 1920, Island Park was isolated. It was not reopened until a new bridge was built in 1921. At that time, E.J. Fenton leased the property from the New England Power Association (NEPA), into whose hands it had fallen after the death of Fox and Moran. (NEPA bought the Pavilion in February, 1924.)
As other recreational areas grew around Brattleboro, the Island's monopoly waned. Gradually, boating, vaudeville, bowling, and movies were dropped, but the dance hall in the pavilion continued. Dances were held there regularly through the summer months and, in August, 1927, Miss America and Miss Universe for 1926 made public appearances there.
Brattleboro danced to many well-known orchestras on the Island, the appearance of Paul Whiteman's band marking the zenith. Three hundred who could not get in the Pavilion danced on the bridge.
Since the construction of the Vernon Dam, the island had been flooded nearly every spring, and sometimes more often.
In July, 1916, a rainstorm sent the river over flood stage and the island was inundated. Every year, high water took away a little more of the buildings until the fall of 1927, when more than half of the island was washed away. The pavilion was badly damaged and NEPA decided against repairing it. So, it was torn down, bringing the Island to the close of its productive life.