Correction: This story was updated Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, at 12 p.m. to change the lead photo. A previous version of the story had a photo of the wrong historical marker.
(Editor's note: First of three parts)
As many readers of this column are aware, the history department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is comprised of skilled and enthusiastic faculty committed to both student success and public service. The department engages students through an array of relevant courses and experiential learning opportunities (inside and outside the traditional classroom setting), while serving the Chattanooga community through a robust internships program, free public lectures and other events, and historical consultation and expertise.
In 2017 UTC's former director of civic engagement approached the department about creating a series of public markers documenting the history of Engel Stadium and baseball in Chattanooga. With support from the chancellor's office and a community research and engagement grant from the UC Foundation, this project was carried out by a team of undergraduate researchers — history majors Olivia McDaniel and Hannah Ragan in 2017-2018, and history minor Nate Collyer in 2019 — under the faculty supervision of professor Mike Thompson.
Five permanent markers detailing Chattanooga's rich baseball past were unveiled in early September, and are available for public viewing and reflection along a paved walking path adjacent to historic Engel Stadium and UTC's Intramural Sports Complex (accessible via the facility's O'Neal Street entrance). The remainder of this article, the first in a three-part series, features text from the marker highlighting the history of Engel Stadium itself.
Located at the corner of O'Neal and East Third streets adjacent to Warner Park, Lincoln Park and Fort Wood, Engel Stadium stands on the site of Andrews Field where baseball had been played since around 1910. Constructed in only 63 working days during the off season, Engel Stadium opened in 1930 and was home to the Chattanooga Lookouts for much of the remainder of the twentieth century. A large and modern 12,000-seat ballpark that measured 471 feet from home plate to the center field wall, Engel Stadium was among the first in the nation to include a press box. The stadium was named for Joe Engel, who arrived in Chattanooga in 1929 to oversee the Washington Senators' new minor league team and remained in the city until his death in 1969.
The first baseball game played at Engel Stadium was an exhibition between the Lookouts and the Senators on March 22, 1930. Opening day was on April 15, when the Lookouts defeated the Atlanta Crackers by a score of 6-5. Lights were added to the stadium for the 1936 season, and nearly 25,000 fans packed the grounds for a house giveaway promotion that May. Among the many notable players who participated in either exhibition or minor league games at Engel Stadium were Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew, the last being the only player to hit a home run over the deep and high center field barrier. In later years, stadium spectators witnessed the emerging careers of Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, and Adam Dunn. Aside from baseball at nearly all levels, Engel Stadium hosted football games, concerts and speakers, including evangelist Billy Graham in the early 1950s.
During the era of Jim Crow, African American fans were required to enter Engel Stadium through a segregated entrance in left field and sat in the outfield bleachers. White fans entered through the stadium's main entrance and were seated in the grandstands. On the field, the first racially integrated competition occurred in April 1952, when Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella's Brooklyn Dodgers played an exhibition against the Boston Braves. It was not until the 1963 season, however, that the first integrated Lookouts team suited up at Engel Stadium.
After playing a final game at the historic but aging stadium on Sept. 10, 1999, the Chattanooga Lookouts relocated to the new BellSouth Park (now AT&T Field) in 2000. Now property of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Engel Stadium has benefitted from the preservation efforts of the Engel Foundation and Cornerstones Inc. In 2009 the stadium was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2012 many of the baseball scenes for the Jackie Robinson film "42" were shot at Engel. In June 2014 future Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant hit 16 balls out of Engel Stadium to win the Southern League home run derby.
Mike Thompson is a UC Foundation associate professor and head of the UTC history department. Nate Collyer, a Hixson High School graduate, is a senior history minor at UTC.