Hinchliffe Stadium is a majestic concrete oval sports arena just above the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey. It was built in 1932 and has been listed on the US State and National Registers of Historic Places since 2004.
It is one of the handful of surviving stadiums that was home to professional black sports during the Jim Crow era. At at time when baseball was the most popular sport in the States, Hinchliffe was home to some of the greatest baseball players in the country, who were ironically not allowed access to the major leagues due to their race.
The design of the stadium was inspired by a decades-long popular stadium movement of the 1920s. It is a large concrete oval with near-continuous seating laid out like a classical amphitheater. The project was finalized under the persistent efforts of Major John Hinchliffe, for whom the facility was named.
The stadium opened on the 8th of July 1932 as a combination of athletic facility and investment for the people of industrial Paterson in the early days of the Great Depression. The construction of the stadium provided employment opportunities at a time when workers were being laid off by foundering local industries as a result of the economic downturn.
Home of the New York Black Yankees
After opening, the stadium hosted the Negro League and barnstorming teams. In 1933, after the stadium’s first complete season of hosting baseball, Hinchliffe hosted the Colored Championship of the Nation. The following year, the New York Black Yankees moved to the stadium, and it remained their home until 1945.
During their residence year at Hinchliffe Stadium, on the 13th of July 1935, Elmer McDuffy pitched an 8-0 no-hitter against the House of David. Patterson Evening News described it as “the first time such a feat had ever been turned in by the Negro club in this territory.” Besides McDuffy, other Hall of Famers that played in this stadium were Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Oscar Charleston and Larry Doby–the legendary player who broke the American League color barrier in 1947.
He grew up in Paterson playing football and baseball in Hinchliffe Stadium for Paterson’s Eastside High School, and was scouted from Hinchliffe for the Newark Eagles in 1942. Hinchliffe Stadium was also home to The New York Cubans, who were part of the Negro National League.
Stadium heyday and subsequent decline
The stadium’s heyday lasted well into the fifties, and in 1963 the two high schools of Paterson assumed full ownership. They undertook many repairs and upgrades of which the most notable was the addition of another block known as the Valley of the Rocks above and along the river. During the 1970s, the usage of the stadium diversified to include concerts, antique car shows, and firework displays for the Great Falls Festival that became the main feature of Labor Day in Paterson. The general decline of Hinchliffe Stadium started sometime during the following decade. The decrease in students attending both of Paterson’s high schools meant fewer activities, fewer leagues, and fewer matches in the City Stadium, as it was called by locals.
In the late 90s, the stadium was threatened by demolition, which forced Eastside High School and Kennedy High School to play all of their games on the streets. The following year, however, the stadium was reopened and both schools returned to use the facility. The impending threat of demolition remained until 2002 when it was fully revoked after the non-profit organization Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium took a stand to save this important part of Paterson’s history and culture.