Tales From Iowa City: Iowa Field

By Mike Jones on January 30, 2018 at 1:29 pm
Copyright, the University of Iowa Libraries. University Archives.
Copyright, the University of Iowa Libraries. University Archives.

In 1890, college athletics was seeing a dramatic increase in interest across the United States. At the State University of Iowa, baseball had been played informally since around 1870, gymnastics had been held since the mid-1880’s and in 1889, the Hawkeyes played their inaugural season of football. To demonstrate to the people of Iowa City that the S.U.I. had formidable athletes, their athletic association held their first field day on May 10th, 1890. Activities included “throwing base ball”, “kicking foot ball”, “throwing hammer”, “hop, step and jump”, sparring, 3-legged race, “high kick” and last but not least, tug of war.

It was that same year that S.U.I. President Charles A. Schaeffer, a proponent of college athletics, saw to it that Iowa have a dedicated space to play baseball, football, and other sports. This space, abutting the Iowa River and positioned between what is now Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street, was known as Iowa Field.

Iowa Field was at first, quite literally, a field:

Later, a smaller grandstand was built for football games:

The trees you may notice in the foreground is the timber skirting the Iowa River. This was the timber that Burch the Bear, Iowa’s live bear mascot from 1908-1910, followed north when he escaped from his cage at Iowa Field. Again, it isn’t clear who thought that having a live black bear as a mascot was a good idea, but it’s irrelevant: Burch met his untimely end when he fell through the ice of the Iowa River and drowned in March of 1910.

Over time, the field became modernized and by the late 1920’s, it featured two large grandstands and end-zone seating:

Governor's Day troop formations on Iowa Field, The University of Iowa, 1927
Governor's Day Troop Formations on Iowa Field, The University of Iowa, 1927
Copyright, The University of Iowa. Libraries. University Archives.

No, your eyes aren’t fooling you. The western grandstand quite literally extended over the Iowa River and the foundation appears to partially be in or over the water. 

Be it issues with flooding or the fact that the university was growing, Iowa ultimately decided to move a majority of their sports west of the Iowa River, playing their final game at Iowa Field on November 3rd, 1928, defeating the South Dakota Coyotes. In only seven months, Iowa Stadium (now Kinnick Stadium) would be constructed, opening in October of 1929. Iowa Field was razed and the land was used for storage, temporary housing and ultimately, a parking lot. In the mid-1960’s the water plant and the English and Philosophy Building were built and are still in use today.

There are several more good images from games played at Iowa Field available in this excellent photo stream.

Iowa field snow

(via Iowa Digital Library)


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