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Berkeley ballpark added to National Register

Berkeley Mills Ballpark is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The date on the sign is wrong. The ball field was built in 1949 and the grandstand was completed in 1950. Berkeley Mills Ballpark is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The date on the sign is wrong. The ball field was built in 1949 and the grandstand was completed in 1950.

Although Hendersonville had its first organized baseball team in 1909 — the short-lived Hendersonville Planets of the Western North Carolina Industrial League — the city’s most durable baseball legacy is the Berkeley Spinners, which organized in 1948 and played through 1966.

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Now, the home of the Spinners is officially on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to a successful nomination commissioned by the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Reviewed last June by the North Carolina National Register Advisory Committee, the nomination of Berkeley Stadium won the seal approval of the National Register Advisory Committee and the Keeper of the National Register, a part of the National Park Service. The city recently received notification that the ballpark had made the National Register.
Older people who remember the mill village and the Spinners games and younger people who played ball at the stadium all have a connection to the ballpark that’s worth preserving, said Cheryl Jones, a native of Hendersonville who is chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.
“There was just so much history that was specific to Hendersonville tied up in this landmark,” she said.
The landmark designation won’t restrict any plans the city has to develop Berkeley Mills Park.
“That was one of the things we gathered ahead of time,” Jones said. “It should actually be an asset as they move forward to try to develop that park.”
The ballpark was among the historic properties on an “active list” the commission keeps. Some properties in the city appear worthy of the designation, Jones said.
“Even though we’d like to get some more (properties) on there we can’t always get property owners to agree to participate,” she said.

Winning builds morale

Quoting historian John DiMeglio, the city’s nomination describes the significance of industrial league baseball.
“A winning ball club meant a stable workforce,” DiMeglio wrote. “Who would want to leave a mill with a title team to take a job with a competitor that fields losing nines?”
Berkeley Mills was a well-established manufacturing plant when it started the Spinners three years after the end of World War II. Established as Balfour Mills in the early 1920s by Ellison Adger Smyth, the maker of cotton calico cloth had sprouted a village of 75 mill houses. By 1946, the International Cellucotton Products Co. had purchased Balfour Mills (changing its name to Berkeley) and the surrounding mill village had more than 100 houses.
A year after it started the Spinners, Berkeley Mills hired grading contractor Dan Waddell (the father of Hall Waddell, owner of Reaben Oil Co. and the Triangle Stop stores) to construct the ball field “in a park like setting” north of the plant and mill village.
“A sloping hillside was selected as the site of the new ball park and bulldozers got down to business,” an Asheville newspaper reported. “Trees were pushed over, sawed up and moved way by willing hands. The hillside was shaved off to fill a gully which became the outfield.” The result was a new ballpark “in a park-like setting, tucked against a wooded hill.”
Under the direction of supervisor Dennis Taylor and maintenance superintendent “Haig” Sheely, mill employees helped build the grandstand and other structures in 1949 and 1950. (In their first season the Spinners played their homes games at the fairgrounds ball field or at Hendersonville High School’s diamond.)

Pride of the Industrial League

By industrial league standards, Berkeley Stadium was a gem.
Besides a grandstand,” Asheville Citizen sportswriter Red Miller reported in a story published on July 7, 1949, the ballpark had showers and dressing rooms for players, “a finely constructed screen towering some 40 feet in the air behind home plate to protect fans in the stands and catch high fly balls” and a concession stand “where employees serve soft drinks to sweating fans. … The field itself is still without grass but that will be remedied this fall when the season is over. Manager Shaney says it will be shining with brand new orchard grass next spring. There are also plans afoot for lighting the field for night games.”
When the stadium lights were erected, Berkeley Mills Ballpark became the only diamond in the WNC Industrial League equipped for night games. That made it a popular site for tournaments, though opposing teams complained that the lights allowed the Spinners more opportunity to play and practice at night and gain an unfair advantage.
“Berkeley Mills Ballpark, with its electric lights and covered grandstand, was the favorite field for WNCIL games,” said the city’s nomination, by Dan Pezzoni of Landmark Preservation Associates, of Lexington, Va. “More typical of the League’s fields was the Ecusta ballpark in Brevard, which had low, unroofed wooden bleachers, a low wire-mesh backstop and little else.” At Ecusta, Leon Pace recalled, fans “brought lawn chairs or sat on the hood of a car.”
The Spinners’ popularity — and the stability of Southern cotton mills — would not last forever. In 1962, the Western Carolina League dissolved and the Spinners hung up their mitts. A Times-News article a year after that described a reduction in personnel at the plant, from 670 to 250, “as the main factor in the discontinuation of the team.”
After the Spinners disbanded, the park continued to be used for baseball.
In the early 1960s, two local teams, the Hendersonville All-Stars and Brock’s Bombers (sponsored by Brock’s Ice Cream Bar and Drive-In) played there. The Hendersonville Stingrays and the Sportsman Bombers used the park in 1964 and 1965, respectively, and from 1969 to 1972 teams from the Western North Carolina Independent Baseball League played there. It’s been used, too, for Senior League and Babe Ruth baseball.
Kimberly Clark donated the ballpark and 58.6 surrounding acres to the city in 2008. The city added a new restroom in 2012. The city’s Berkeley Mills Park master plan preserves the historic stadium and envisions an outfield picnic patio for fans.
Non-historic structures that replaced the original versions — the concession stand and dugouts — are not contributing historic structures, the nomination says, but adds: “None of these resources is so large or obtrusive as to significantly detract from the overall historic character and integrity of the ballpark. … The ballpark’s park-like setting retains the basic character seen in historic period photos.”

In footnotes, architectural historian Dan Pezzoni credits the authoritative book by Patrick Gallagher, The Berkeley Spinners: A Baseball History, 1948-1961, and received information and history from former Spinner Dewey Hunnicut, Michael Baldwin and Edith Bayne of Kimberly Clark, and Jeannie Lindsay, Leon Pace and Richard Wilson of the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society.