Dexter Park

Though technically located in Woodhaven, Dexter Park hosted the Brooklyn Bushwicks, one of the prominent semi-pro teams of the era.

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Coming From the Trot
Maker: Currier&Ives Dated: 1869
Two early landmarks sat on the north side of Jamaica Plank Road by Elderts Lane. Snedekers Roadhouse and Woodruff's stables were both tied to the Union Race Course in what is now Woodhaven. This lithograph depicts the location just east of the Brooklyn-Queens border on the north side of Jamaica Avenue, next to Snedeker's. Hiram Woodruff was a world famous trainer and racer of trotters. Hiram died in 1867 and is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery. His most famous trotter was Dexter, and the grounds here became the location of Dexter Park in 1880.
The King of the Road
Legend has it that Dexter was buried out in centerfield. It may have been prompted by a story about workers uncovering a jawbone, but given that these areas were all farms at one time finding a remnant of livestock is not surprising. The racehorse was purchased by a wealthy publisher and died around 1888. The Eagle reported in 1914 that Dexter had been stuffed and was on display in Collins Museum near Brooklyn Ferry. My own research indicated the contents of Collins Museum was auctioned off in 1868, 20 years before Dexter's death, so the inconsistent facts help feed the legend.
Early park use
The park started out as a picnic ground. Although baseball games were reported there as early as 1885, the most prominent activity was pigeon shooting.
Dexter Park, circa 1910
In 1901 the William Ulmer Brewery purchased the grounds. It was common practice in those days for breweries to own bars and other outlets that would act as a distribution point for their product. The facilities included a ball field, bowling alleys, a dancing pavilion, and a carousel. In 1905 the Brooklyn Royal Giants, a Negro League team, began leasing the field.
Max Rosner
The real story of Dexter Park begins with Max Rosner. Rosner owned 2 baseball clubs; the Cypress Hills club began playing at the park in 1911 and his Bushwick Club played at Wallace's Ridgewood Grounds in Bushwick. When the Wallace grandstand was destroyed by fire in 1917, Rosner would eventually migrate his Ridgewood club over to Dexter Park, pulling the best players from the two clubs. It is presumed he retained the more prominent name even though they were now playing in Woodhaven. Rosner and his grandson Charlie Hyman are seen here posing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Rosner acquired Dexter park in 1922, and a year later constructed a 6,000 seat concrete and steel grandstand. For the next 30 years Dexter Park would be a symbol of a pre-television era where people would go out, socialize, and be entertained for a very reasonable price.
From a 1928 issue of The Chat,I thought this was an amazing story. Max Rosner made a serious attempt to bring the Brooklyn Dodgers, then known as the Robins, to Dexter Park. I have no idea how close he came to pulling this off, but as we know it never happened.
Baseball was not the only game in town at Dexter Park. This April 29 1929 article appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Star, reporting on a full house at the National Challenge Cup, a sort of U.S championship, won by the NY Hakoah over the St. Louis Madisons. Semi-pro and college football games were popular, as was boxing.
Rosner was not afraid to innovate, and invest, in the business. He installed lights at Dexter Park and on July 23, 1930, five years ahead of Major League baseball, night baseball was played at the park.
This shots is from David Dyte's excellent Brooklyn Ballparks webpage. It gives a view of the light towers.
A neat two-page photo spread from New York PM Daily in 1940.
Phil Rizzuto and Joe DiMaggio
What was truly amazing about Dexter Park was the number of baseball legends that appeared there. It was very common for ballplayers to supplement modest salaries with barnstorming in the off-season, or even after retirement. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, were just a few of the many stars that appeared there, along with the Negro League greats including Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige.
Scorecard, 1940s
A war-time era scorecard replete with an ad from the Hamburg Savings Bank. One old-timer noted the R&H beer sold at the ballpark was known to fans as "Rotten and Horrible".
Franklin K Lane High School
Of course Franklin K. Lane would be constructed on the property next to the ballpark in 1938.
The post-war era spelled the demise of the park. The Negro Leagues would eventually disband following the integration of Major League baseball and television brought baseball into people's homes for free. A midget racecar racetrack was added in 1951, circling the ballfield. Roller Derby events were added, as well as pro wrestling. Bust Rosner saw the writing on the wall, and he disbanded the Bushwicks in 1951. (Other semi-pro ballgames continued to be played there until the park's closing in 1955.)
Dexter Park
The park was closed in 1955, and the 10 acres of property sold to 213 Dexter Corp. for $415,000. In 1956 the park was torn down and the land used for housing. It wasn't until 2000 that a commemorative sign was placed at the site. .
For those who would like more material, here is a list of my sources:
Dexter Park, Jane and Douglas Jacobs, Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society
Whatever Happened to Dexter Park?, Henry W. Schramm, self-published 1998
Baseball's Peerless Semipros, Thomas Barthel, St. Johann Press, NJ 2009
David Dyte's Brooklyn website.
Tom Tryniski's wonderful newspaper search engine Old Fulton NY Postcards.
The Brian Merlis Collection
I would also like to thanks early contributors Alan Heins and Joe Scheibeler.