Tannery Road and Hart’s Road – which I believe would be considered the epicentre of the community once known (in local sports circles, at least) as “The Tannery.”
Last night I posted what I think is kind of a haunting picture of an old abandoned house on Tannery Road, which is between Madoc and Hazzard’s Corners. And thanks to some interesting information provided by readers in the comments (here), I now find that house more haunting than ever, though still beautiful in its decrepitude.
Tonight I want to tell you the other thing I know about Tannery Road: that once upon a time (and not all that long ago, in the overall scheme of things), it was quite famous for its sports teams. Particularly its girls’ softball teams.
Now, this is something that I only rediscovered thanks to the Madoc/Madoc Township history book Way Back When…, a gold mine of local information, long out of print and very hard to find, which I chanced upon a while back at a yard sale in Madoc. (And instantly pounced on, of course.) In the chapter entitled Community Life, there is a comprehensive section about local sports. And there I discovered a sub-sub-section entitled “The History of Tannery Baseball,” by Earl Sexsmith. It brought back memories that would otherwise have been buried forever: memories of how, when I was a kid growing up at the Manse here in Queensborough, the words “The Tannery” (in reference to a sports team) would (whether people would admit it or not) strike fear into the hearts of sports teams from other local hamlets, like Cooper or Eldorado or, yes, Queensborough. Because “The Tannery” were very good, and very, very determined to win.
(People, if I’ve got any of this wrong, please feel free to correct me. These memories are from many decades ago, after all. But sometimes something buried deep down can be very true. And that frisson I get [as a Queensborough girl] when I think of “The Tannery” doesn’t come from nowhere.)
Earl Sexsmith’s report in Way Back When… tells us about how “the first of the many Tannery ball teams” (a boys’ team) was organized in 1948: “The boys and I went to see Mr. Tom Walsh about putting up a backstop and making a playing field on his place just above the fair grounds.” (Tannery Road is not far from the grounds where the Madoc Fair is held every September.)
“The boys would play against their fathers which made a great evening of fun. Not to be left out, the girls started playing too. A few exhibition games were played with Cooper, Eldorado and Queensborough. These areas boasted great experience, and our boys took some awful beatings, but the boys were never discouraged. As they made mistakes, they were learning … With the schedule drawn up we started to play. We were beaten badly every game but the team never quit. At home games, the area was packed with spectators.”
You might guess where this is going. The Tannery teams kept at it, and got better and better – and started to win. (And meantime, a girls’ team was organized and started playing exhibition games. But back to the boys.)
“The first set of playoffs, they met Queensborough whom they eliminated in the first round. At the same time, Eldorado had eliminated Cooper. This matched the Tannery against Eldorado for the trophy.
“Each team had won their home games and the series was deadlocked at two and two. It was decided that the fifth game would be taken to Tweed and played under the lights. One of the biggest crowds ever at the Tweed Ball Park saw the Tannery come up with a convincing 8-3 win.
“As a final climax, the boys were brought back to Madoc for a celebration. For these young boys this triumph was as great as the Yankees winning the World Series.”
Of that I have no doubt. But I think Mr. Sexsmith should have said (because I am certain it was true) that the triumph was felt not just by the boys, but by their families and the whole Tannery community. (Even though the Tannery is not, and as far as I know never really was, a community per se, i.e. had no stores or community centre; it was just a few homes and farms along and near Tannery Road.) Because those were the days when little communities like Queensborough and Cooper and Eldorado – and the Tannery – invested enormous amounts of pride in, and support for, their local amateur sports teams. Here is a photo I took a couple of summers ago of Queensborough’s old ball diamond, which hasn’t been used in many a year but still evokes memories for some of us:
The days when diamonds like that were busy and popular places were the days of rural life at its best, if you ask me. Anyway, back to our story.
Mr. Sexsmith recounts that the Tannery boys’ teams had many more victories and championships, but then interest and activity in softball faded throughout the area for some years. Ah, but then: “The game of ball came alive again when a bush league was formed consisting of Cooper, Eldorado, Bannockburn, Queensborough and Tannery, in the middle of the sixties.” People, we have come to the era of my childhood in Queensborough, and thus the source of my Tannery memories! And that is when the Tannery girls’ softball teams became a force to be reckoned with.
At first, Mr. Sexmith tells us, the girls lost a lot, just as the newly formed Tannery boys’ team from two decades earlier had: “The first year… we never won a game and many a time were humiliated by the score. The girls were young, 14 and 15 years of age, playing against much older and more experienced women.”
But then a separate local league for women’s softball was formed, and the story began to change.
“In 1969, a league was formed of Madoc, Cooper and Tannery. Many hard-fought games were played through the season, when the Tannery girls, who were thought of as the underdogs, came out as the league champions.
“The playoffs then began with the Tannery girls facing the Cooper ladies. When Tannery was down two games to none, the remainder of the series was shifted to Madoc and played under the lights. (Apparently you always knew when things were getting dramatic, because the games were moved to a larger centre and played “under the lights.”) The Tannery girls made a great comeback, tying the series at two each and setting the stage for that big fifth game.
“During the fifth and final game, in the bottom of the seventh inning, with two out, a home run was hit and it was the winning run for the Tannery girls.”
(People, they make movies out of this kind of thing!)
Success bred success. “With the start of the seventies, and a title of ‘CHAMPIONS’ to defend, the Tannery girls decided to go into a higher league which included Stirling, Marmora, Frankford, and Madoc-Cooper Combines.” Stirling, Marmora, etc., were big places compared to Tannery Road, let me tell you.
Anyway, we learn that at the end of the regular season, the Tannery girls stood in second place. In the quarter-finals of the playoffs, Tannery beat Stirling and Madoc-Cooper beat Frankford; the Tannery girls then met Cooper-Madoc in the semi-finals. They eliminated their old rivals in three straight games.
“This put Tannery into the finals with Marmora who had been taking it fairly easy as they had a bye for the quarter- and semifinals … The series was the best four out of seven; the games were hard-fought battles.
And now, the thrilling climax:
“It was a cold Saturday night, the last Saturday in September, that finally saw the last game of the season. The Tannery girls had done it again; they became champions and once again walked off the field bearing the trophy proudly. Along with this trophy, they took great pride in knowing that they had won this trophy by eliminating three teams and in ten straight wins, not to be beaten during the entire playoffs.”
Did I mention that they make movies about this kind of thing?
A photo of “The Tannery Girls Team” (it doesn’t say whether it’s the winning ’69 team or the winning ’70 team) from the book Way Back When… I remember Eileen Brooks (“manager”) as a great athlete and coach. And her kids (some of whom are in this photo) were great athletes too.
Mr. Sexmith tells us how, after that never-to-be-forgotten season, softball died down in the Tannery. The young men and women were growing up and moving on to careers; and though he doesn’t say this, I think it is possible that the big late-midcentury migration of people from rural areas like Tannery Road to towns and cities had begun, and there might well not have been enough young people around to make up successor teams.
But they were good times while they lasted, were they not? Times when every little community had its own softball team – maybe even both a men’s and a women’s team – and when crowds would turn out to cheer for every game, despite the mosquitoes and the lack of lights. (Unless, of course, the team was in a thrilling playoff match and the game got moved “under the lights.”)
Do you miss those days? I sure do.