Soldiers Field came into the possession of the university in June, 1890, as a gift from Major Henry Lee Higginson of the Class or '55. It came at an especially opportune time, as the athletic accommodations of the university on Holmes and Jarvis Fields had been growing inadequate for some years past, and there was, moreover, no room for further expansion in their neighborhood. Its location was also peculiarly satisfactory, on account of its adjacency to the Longfellow estate of nearly eighty acres, which had been left to the university some time before, but had not been utilized, on account of the expense necessary to put it into condition. The Soldiers Field gift being on higher ground, could be used at once, and at the same time opened up a prospect of eventual usefulness for the Longfellow estate.
Major Higginson's gift consisted of about twenty acres of land, all on a higher level than the neighboring marsh land. It was given to the university with the hope expressed that it might be used for the present for athletic purposes, but without any reservation whatsoever, except it should be called Soldiers Field, in memory of Major Higginson's comrades in the late war.
On June 10, 1890, Major Higginson formally presented Soldiers Field to the university at a meeting held in Sewall and attended almost entirely by students. Major Higginson's letter, in which he stated the purpose of his gift, was read by President Eliot, and the donor himself was then introduced. Then followed the memorable and impressive address which has since become so widely known, in memory of his comrades who had died in the war and in whose honor the field was named. These men, whose names are now inscribed on the Soldiers Field monument, were: James Savage, Jr. '54, Charles Russell Lowell '54, Edward Bailey Dalton '55, Stephen George Perkins '56, James Jackson Lowell '58, Robert Gould Shaw '60.
The gift was accepted, and steps at once taken to raise money to put the field into condition for use. Plans were made looking eventually to the complete removal of all athletics to the field and to a complete unity in their arrangement. Football, baseball and track athletics were to be given complete accommodations, athletic buildings and a boathouse to be erected, the place to be beautified and the approach to it from the square to be made attractive by arrangements with the Park Commission.
Many of these plans could, however, only be realized in the course of years, and actual progress was rather slow. In the following autumn a gang of fifty men were set to work on grading and filling in, and considerable progress was made. Similar work was continued spasmodically for the next year or two, until in the fall of 1892 it was possible for the field to be used at times for football practice. In the next two years work on the football field and the locker building was pushed rapidly, so that in the fall of 1893 the field was used for secret practice, and by the fall of '94 the field and building had reached practically their present condition. The only practical advances that have been made since that time have been in the matter of seats and appointments for the football field and in the grading of adjacent land for the use of the class teams.
The question of the healthfulness of Soldiers Field for training purposes, which has caused considerable recent discussion, had of course by no means been neglected by the corporation when the original plans were made. At their request a thorough investigation of the question was made by the State Board of Health, which resulted in a statement that the Soldiers Field District compared favorably with any in the Charles River Valley and had on the whole a better health record than the vicinity of Holmes Field.
As rumors of unhealthfulness had again arisen, a further investigation was made this spring by the State and City Boards of Health. The favorable result of this has been stated in the Crimson, and coming as it does from the most expert authorities it cannot be disputed. It is especially gratifying at this time since it enables the Athletic Committee to proceed with confidence in fitting out the field for the accommodation of the baseball and track athletic interests.
When the field was first put into condition for athletics a number of cross trenches were dug 35 feet apart, connecting with a large central drain leading to the river. At the mouth of the main drain a valve was placed to keep out the tide. On examination it has been found that these drains serve their purpose well in some parts of the field and poorly in others. This is due to the fact that the soil of a portion of the field, particularly in the middle of the old gridiron, is largely clay and mud, through which the water does not drain easily.
As shown by the plan, the diamond and gridiron will be on the southwestern side of the field. If possible, both will be on the same axis, pointing northwest, with an outlook directly across the marsh, which after the park improvements are made will be a very pleasant one. The gridiron and all that part of the field within the running track will be prepared for use by first stripping off the surface to a depth of about one foot and then grading. The dirt removed in grading will be thrown over the dike in the extreme western corner of the field to obtain room for an extension of the track. After leveling and removing all dirt from the drain trenches the whole will be filled to an average death of six inches with clean gravel, and the surface loam will then be replaced, covering the gravel with a layer of some ten inches. The gridiron will be sodded some time in August and will probably be quite ready for use in October. The diamond will be located on the southern corner of the field, where the soil is well drained and the surface nearly level, so that very little work will be required to get ready for baseball. The exact direction in which the diamond will face is undecided, as it is important to keep the sun as far as possible from being in the catcher's eyes.
For the running track it is proposed to have a foundation of 18 inches of heavy stone. Over this a layer of finer crushed stone will be placed, and the whole will receive the usual cinder covering. The practice fields will be rolled and graded somewhat, but not much work will be done until the necessity for it appears, since the only really damp portion of the field is, as we have seen, that area near the middle portion of the old gridiron which was usually too slippery for satisfactory work. The whole field will ultimately be surrounded with trees, and when the boulevard is constructed will become very attractive.
As to the buildings to be erected, it is in the first place necessary to improve the present locker building and to build a cage for the use of the nine. It is hoped that enough money can be raised for a baseball pavilion to be placed behind the backstop, and also for small locker houses beneath the seats of the football field for the greater convenience of the players. The steel seats now on Holmes Field will be moved over during the summer to form the side seats for both fields, and money must be raised to build new steel ones to replace the old wooden seats now on the southwest side of the field. The site for the new boat house has not yet been determined. It is thought that if it were placed next the bridge the crews would be considerably inconvenienced in launching their shells when the tide was running out, and would always have to start off up stream. It is the general opinion that it should not be built on piles and should contain an attractive room, where meetings could be held and trophies kept; that it should, in short, be a rowing centre in every way. The boat house will of course contain a tank.
The estimated cost of the boat house is $25,000, and this sum a committee of the members of the New York Harvard Club are endeavoring to raise. It is hoped that the Boston graduates will contribute an equal amount toward the field improvements. Some $12,000 of the necessary $25,000 has already been raised toward the boat house without any general appeal.
At a meeting of Boston graduates held ten days ago at the University Club, the following committee of five were appointed to take immediate steps toward raising the $25,000 still necessary for field improvements, the total cost of which is estimated at $47,000, about $22,000 being already available for use: Prof. Alexander Agassiz '55, A. P. Garner '88, Prof. Hollis, C. F. Adams, 3d, '88, S. D. Warren '75. A large item will be the cost of the
(Continued on third page.)