Russwood Park's Early Days as Red Elm Bottoms

The origins of old Russwood Park, our city's baseball stadium that burned in 1961.

Russwood Park the day after the 1960 fire.

In our April issue, when I wrote about the great fire that destroyed Russwood Park, I gave a brief history of the old ball field, and noted that the area was originally called "Red Elm Bottoms." In my usual haphazard way, I didn't make any attempt whatsoever to explain the origin of that rather unusual name, hoping that perhaps one or two of my half-dozen readers would "fill in the gaps" for me.

And so they did, First of all, Stephanie T. Wilson had this to say:

"Red Elm Bottoms originally was part of a bayou with Red Elm trees growing in the water. My mother lived  at 982 Elizabeth Place, which was one block long (it's no longer there), with her house facing Jefferson. Currently the parking garage on Madison is where Elizabeth Place once was. Her home was three doors down from Pauline to the east; to the west down about 6 or 7 houses at the end of the street was an alley. On the far side of the alley was a bayou, part of the Red Elm Bottoms that ran north and south alongside the alley. If you went south you would be at Russwood Park, going north would put you at the Memphis Steam Laundry. On the corner of Jefferson was a small cafe called the Lone Star Café where you could get a beer and/or a little something to eat."

And then John Guinozzo, who knows more about local sports history than any man or woman alive, also commented:

"The park built in the early 1890s was known as Frank's Park in the name of Charley Frank (founder of early Memphis baseball) and the one that built the park. When Memphis joined the new Southern Association in 1901, that park became home of pro baseball in Memphis. High Schools, colleges, and pro football was played there. The name Red Elm Bottoms (and later Red Elm Park) was an area east of the city and was a low-lying area that a creek surrounded."

John, author of the Memphis Baseball Encyclopedia, published and updated annually, is currently at work on a new book, The Sports Reference Guide of Memphis, which will be a comprehensive history of Memphis and area sports from 1835-present.

Many thanks, Stephanie and John, for this information.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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