The historic Hinchliffe Stadium was added to the Great Falls National Park by a final United State Senate approval Friday afternoon. The stadium is one of the last remaining places where the Negro League held baseball games at a time when blacks were excluded from mainstream teams.
“It has a special place in the hearts of many New Jerseyans,” New Jersey Senator Robert “Bob” Menendez said of the stadium. “It played a vital role in the story of America’s fight against institutionalized segregation.”
The stadium was home to both the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans. 11 current members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame have tread the ground at the stadium among them Larry Doby, Josh Gibson, William Julius “Judy” Johnson, Oscar Charleston, and Leroy “Satchel” Paige.
Car racing, professional football, and boxing matches were common at the stadium which fell into disuse in 1997.
Oklahoma Senator Thomas “Tom” Coburn criticized the inclusion of the stadium in the National Park System. He circulated a picture of the stadium with overgrown shrubs and graffiti on December 4, captioning: “The House just voted to add this to our National Park System.”
Taking to the floor, Menendez brought picture boards of his own to refute Coburn. He showcased images of local residents cleaning up and painting the stadium. Menendez said critics see a rundown stadium while he sees a monument to how far America has come since the dark days of racial segregation.
“When I look at Hinchliffe Stadium I see a field of dreams. An enduring reminder of how far we have come since the days of ‘separate but equal’ when institutionalized segregation marginalized the works, dreams, and achievements of African-Americans,” Menendez said.
“Does it have historical significance? Yes. Should it be part of the National Park System? Absolutely not,” Coburn remarked.
“Expanding the National Park Service is a disastrous idea,” Coburn added. He said adding the stadium into the park system will cost $100,000.
“The argument that we’re dumping this land on the National Park Service is simply false,” said Menendez. The park service is not purchasing the land nor developing it, said Menendez.
The Paterson Public School System owns the deed to the landmark and the original bill passed in the United States House of Representatives with effort from Congressman Bill Pascrell in July bars the park service from taking ownership of the land.
Coburn said lowering the standards of adding sites into the park system to please local constituencies is short sighted and endangers Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and the Grand Canyon.
“We’re taking care of the politicians but are we taking care of the parks?” Coburn asked. “Are we doing what is in the best long term interest of preserving pristine, unique aspects of our country as we add ball fields or the old Colt manufacturing facility in Connecticut,” Coburn said. He criticized the inclusion of a large number of sites to the park system adding it will divert resource from the more important parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.
“Hinchliffe Stadium should be part of the Paterson Great Falls National Park,” Menendez said. “I know it. Everyone who knows about its history knows it. And America should know it as well.”
The city is taking steps to restore the stadium. Sometime ago it issued a contract to New York based design firm Wank Adams Slavin Associates to stabilize and partially restore the stadium as well as compile a future restoration plan.
Next step is for President Barack Obama to sign the defense bill inside of which is the park provision into law.
“Not only does it deserve recognition for its place in history, but it deserves the opportunity to be restored into a place where tomorrow’s youths will be able to walk in the footsteps of yesterday’s legends,” Menendez said.