“Sulphur Springs Bottom” was the name given to Nashville’s recreational area after the city became Tennessee’s capitol. During the Civil War, it is where Union soldiers first taught Nashville citizens how to play the “northern game” of baseball. In 1870 the area was referred to as Athletic Park, and in 1885 it became the home of Nashville’s first professional baseball team, the Americans, in the newly-formed Southern League.
Located on the north side of Nashville near downtown and bordered by Fourth Ave., Fifth Ave., Jackson St., and a railroad spur, the park was so named because a natural sulphur spring was nearby. Residents would fill empty containers with the odorous liquid to use for medicinal purposes, or just take a drink right from the spring.
Grantland Rice re-named the ballpark “Sulphur Dell” in 1908 while working as a newspaper reporter in Nashville.
Sulphur Dell had these unusual outfield dimensions due to the shape of the city block in which the ballpark was located:
Left Field: 334′ Center Field: 421′ Right Field: 262′
The distance from the grandstands to first base was only 42 feet, and to third base was 26 feet. But that was not all: the playing surface was below street level and there was an embankment around the entire outfield that was part of the playing field.
The right field embankment began at 224 feet from home plate, rising at a 45-degree angle towards the fence, ending at 262 feet. The right fielder, if standing at the base of the fence, was 22 1/2 feet above the infield! The embankment in left field began at 301 feet from home plate.
The outfield fence was made of wood and was 16 feet high. Running from the right field foul pole to a point 186 feet toward center field, there the fence was capped by a screen that added an additional 30 feet of height but decreased to 22 1/2 feet high midway to center field. In later years the screen height remained the same, but a second tier of signage was added in right field.
In its 100-year existence, Nashville’s professional baseball teams called Sulphur Dell “home”: the Americans, Seraphs, Tigers, Vols, and Negro League Elite Giants all played at the famous ballpark. The Nashville Vols played their final game at Sulphur Dell on September 8, 1963 as a member of the South Atlantic League after 61 years in the Southern Association from 1901 through 1961.
Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969. A new ballpark is currently under construction in the general vicinity of Sulphur Dell and will be the new home of the Nashville Sounds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League! While it will not include the quirky outfield hills of Sulphur Dell, it will have an 8,500-seat grandstand and be a worthy replacement to outdated Herschel Greer Stadium.