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Before the Red Bulls, There Was Harrison Park Stadium

Apr 12, 2022
Antique Map of Harrison NJ

In 2010, the Red Bulls Stadium in Harrison celebrated its Opening Day. Many people believe that the Red Bulls Stadium was the first Major League Stadium built in Harrison.  In fact, that is not an accurate statement.  The Red Bulls Stadium is the second Major League Stadium that called Harrison home. 

Although both Major League Stadiums built their stadium in  Harrison, they never identified themselves as being Harrison, New Jersey Teams.  The Red Bulls are the New York Red Bulls although their namesake stadium is located in New Jersey.  The predecessor to the Red Bulls Stadium was the Harrison Park Stadium which was also located near the Harrison rail station with its easy access for patrons from New York City and Newark NJ. The stadium was built for a Newark baseball team, the Newark Peppers.

The Harrison Park Stadium was located adjacent to the old Harrison Path Station now demolished because the leadership of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency did not have the foresight to incorporate its reach history into the new Harrison Path Station layout.  In the approximate area where the Hudson County Parking Garage was built now taken over by the Town of Harrison, the Harrison Park Major League Baseball Stadium stood.

Map of SOHA (Southern part of Harrison NJ with Harrison Park Stadium noted

The Harrison Park Major League Baseball Stadium was built with money from a young oil tycoon by the name of Harry Sinclair.   Sinclair loved baseball teams and wanted to be a Major League Ball Club owner.   The original plan was to build the baseball stadium in New York City but agents of the New York Giants purchased the proposed New York City property location.  In 1915, Sinclair turned to a mentor Patrick T. Powers for advice.  Powers proposed that the stadium be located in Harrison with its train service from New York City just a short train ride from NYC.  Does that sound familiar?  The same thought process existed when what was to become the Red Bulls Stadium was proposed.  All those starry-eyed for a Soccer Stadium in Harrison envisioned every fan coming by train to the scheduled soccer games.  Game Day traffic jams have proven that although some fans come on the train, the vast majority come by a car causing traffic on game days.  In 1915 there were Blue Laws that prohibited shopping and baseball games on Sundays in New York City but the Town of Harrison did not have Blue Laws in their Ordinance Book so shopping and baseballs games could be held on Sundays.

Harrison Park was built on what was called the West Hudson Field, a green space where local football and soccer clubs played in the heart of what is affectionally called SOHA (Southern Harrison) today.  Harrison Park would sit across from the Otis Elevator plant and a little over two blocks from the Passaic River.  It was a long fly ball away from neighboring Newark NJ.  The Property prices in Downtown Newark, one of two alternate locations, were just too high to make it economically viable for an up-and-coming Professional Baseball Team to afford.

It is reported that Harry Sinclair spent $300,000 on purchasing the land and building the Baseball Stadium. A lot of money in 1915.  Three hundred thousand dollars in 1915 is the equivalent of $8,400,000 today.

Harrison Park Design

The Harrison Park Stadium design had a grandstand behind the home plate that would seat 12,000 fans shielded  from direct rain by a roof above their heads.  Seating extensions along the two foul lines provided seating for thousands of more fans. A separate bleacher section for the left, center, and right outfields added seating and standing capacity.  The Stadium was built of wood and steel.

The stadium was laid out catty-corner on the property allowing for both left and right foul lines 375 feet long and dead center field’s fence stood 450 feet away from home plate.  As previously mentioned, the team was named the Newark Peppers

Newark Mayor Thomas Lynch Raymond declared Opening Day April 16, 1915, as an official City of Newark half-day holiday.  This allowed Newark City workers to leave work to attend the early afternoon game against a Baltimore team.  An estimated 25,000 to 32,000 persons attended the Opening Day Game.  These numbers overflowed the stadium.  Newark Mayor Raymond threw out the first pitch.  The Newark Peppers lost on opening day to Baltimore but would win their next game against Baltimore.

Harrison Park only existed for a little over eight years.  A fire in August of 1923 would take hold after a Newark Bears baseball game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and firefighters from Harrison, Newark and surrounding communities were not able to save the Grand Stand and the stadium was completely ruined.  The Stadium was never rebuilt and shortly thereafter it became a surface parking lot. Today it is part of the Harrison Parking Garage next to what was the old part of the Harrison Station on South Frank E. Rodgers in Harrison NJ.

This Town of Harrison plat of properties shows the location of Harrison Park and although a lot has changed the landmarks are still the same surrounding the rail lines that run through the southern part of Harrison going to New York City or neighboring Newark NJ.

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