Wednesday, February 8, 2017

From the Archives Part 3: Galbreath Field and the Cincinnati Riverhawks


In the latest edition of stories from the archives, some decade old photographs of an abandoned football stadium reveal the history of a short-lived pro soccer team just as the current team pursues major league status.

 

Over time, a lot of urban exploration content has been featured on QC/D. During the past ten or so years, some photographs and stories from my interest in documenting abandoned, forgotten, or little-known locations have fallen by the wayside. They were either never featured or only had a small mention. Over the next few weeks, this “From the Archives” series will dig up some of those older stories and share more history and exploration of abandoned places across the Midwest.


- FC Cincinnati vs. Crystal Palace at Nippert Stadium in July, 2016. QC/D Photo. 

Last week was filled with a lot of soccer news. Major League Soccer’s deadline for expansion applications arrived, and Indianapolis and Phoenix threw their hats into the ring along with the ten expected markets applying, for a total of 12 cities vying for four spots. As expected, FC Cincinnati submitted their bid coming off the heels of a record-setting inaugural 2016 season and a visit from MLS Commissioner Don Garber back in November. As one of the founding members for Die Innenstadt, an independent FC Cincinnati Supporters Group, I was pretty excited by the news. I’m hopeful for the club’s MLS ambitions. I believe they are achievable and good, but I am also content supporting this club as it exists in the United Soccer League: a provisional Division 2 outfit one step below MLS. While the club has plenty to brag about, they’ve kept a lot of cards pretty close to their chest. There’s been a lot of talk about potential stadium plans, and as they submitted their bid last Tuesday, a photo they tweeted out contained something curious:

- LEFT: FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding (left) and majority owner Carl Lindner III (right) holding up the club's application to join Major League Soccer. RIGHT: Zooming in on the photo reveals a stadium proposal which, as of this writing, has not been made public and has fueled speculation.

The image bolstered other recent reports that the club was exploring potential sites within the city for a home of their own. Throughout the entire process, they’ve been vague on location specifics, but they’ve maintained that they want it in the “urban core.” Social media lit up with speculation as to what exactly that means: Do Covington and Newport count? What about the West End and Queensgate? Is there even room downtown? And on and on and on. However, one thing has been pretty certain: no stadium way out in the suburbs.

If you ask me (and if you study the demographics the league is targeting), this is great news. One of the best things about playing at Nippert Stadium in the heart of the city is that Die Innenstadt meets at a local restaurant and bar, Mecklenburg Gardens. The food, beer, and staff are all wonderful. After hanging out there, we march one mile through uptown and join other supporters groups in a historic stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati. Building a soccer-specific stadium in the suburbs is a bad idea. Sorry West Chester and Mason, but there’s not much going on out there. No one wants to march from Applebee's across four lanes of Union Centre Boulevard, past the Ikea, and into a traffic-clogged parking lot.



Even so, pro soccer was once played in Cincinnati’s suburbs. With all this stadium talk in mind, I was reminded of another story to add to “From the Archives.” My fellow Die Innenstadt member, Jeremy, actually dug up these photos for me. The original files are long lost on some random hard drive or DVD, so bear with me on the poor image quality and complete lack of understanding I had in photographic editing back in Nov. 2007. He actually found these stored away on UER.ca, an urban exploration website I used to post on quite a bit:

- Galbreath Field in Kings Mills, Ohio: a former neutral site high school football stadium and former home to the Cincinnati Riverhawks professional soccer organization. Seen here abandoned in 2007.

Before FC Cincinnati started averaging ~17,000 fans in its inaugural season, the market had seen its fair share of pro and amateur teams of the indoor and outdoor variety come and go. As far as I can tell, one of the first instances of a pro team in the city seems to be a local club that played "The Pilgrims" of England on their international tour in 1909 as described here. The Cincinnati Comets were charter members of the American Soccer League in 1972 and even won the first league title before eventually dissolving after the 1975 season. There were a few notable indoor soccer teams as well. One was the Cincinnati Kids, partly owned by Reds’ legend Pete Rose. The captain of the Kids, Derek Doogle, even guest starred on 70's TV classic "WKRP in Cincinnati" with another Reds’ great, Sparky Anderson, in an episode aptly titled “Sparky.” However, The Kids only lasted one season.

Promo piece on the Cincinnati Kids as seen on Channel 5 WLWT in 1978:



Another notable indoor team was the Cincinnati Silverbacks; this team relocated from Hara Arena farther north, a building recently covered here on QC/D, and previously played as the Dayton Dynamo. The Silverbacks played in the historic Cincinnati Gardens before moving down to the riverfront at The Crown (now US Bank Arena) where they only lasted only one more season. The Cincinnati Saints, another team, fielded arena and outdoor teams from 2009 to 2014. As FC Cincinnati entered the market, the Saints moved to Dayton and adopted the original Dynamo name. Yet another name in the pro soccer shuffle was the Cincinnati Riverhawks.

- Galbreath Field, former home of the Cincinnati Riverhawks, seen abandoned in 2007.

The Riverhawks started in 1997, playing in the USISL Premier Development League, an amateur league known today simply as the PDL, or Premier Development League. By their second season, they joined the A-League. Interestingly enough, while FC Cincinnati is currently trying to attain membership in Major League Soccer, the top league of America’s soccer pyramid, the Riverhawks were once in the nation’s top league. Before MLS existed in 1996, the A-League was the de-facto top professional league. After MLS debuted, the A-League merged with another league to become Division 2 in the American soccer pyramid below MLS. The Riverhawks lasted until 2003 but had little success, consistently finishing at the bottom of their division. In 2003, the organization disbanded.
- Galbreath Field's scoreboard and sound system as seen abandoned in 2007.

In 1999, the Riverhawks began playing at the Town and Country Sports and Entertainment Complex in Northern Kentucky. However, before the move to a neighboring state, the team had spent its first two seasons at Galbreath Field in Kings Mills/Mason, Ohio, right next to Kings Island Amusement Park. I remember attending only one match in the team’s existence. My friend Patrick and his dad took me when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I can’t say the experience was particularly memorable, but I did come away with a t-shirt we bought or that was given out for free. That shirt is now long lost to the Goodwill bins of history.

- Galbreath Field's light poles.

Galbreath Field was the longtime home to Archbishop Moeller High School’s football team. Along with the private, Catholic school, the field would also host several high school football rivalry games where large attendance was expected. The field’s last tenant was nearby Kings High School when their facilities were found to be contaminated with lead. After Kings moved back to their campus, Galbreath Field was closed down. The stands of the stadium were demolished, but some structures still remained.

Fresh off of a maintenance shift at nearby Kings Island in November 2007, long after I attended a sole Riverhawks game, I went and snapped these photographs. Please forgive the over-editing, poor resolution, and lousy composition from nearly ten years ago. Had Jeremy not found these still withering on the internet, I probably would have completely forgotten about this place.

- Gravel on the former grounds of the Cincinnati Riverhawks in 2007.    
- Abandoned ice storage at Galbreath Field circa 2007.
- All of the light towers were demolished sometime after these photographs were made in 2007.
 
- The fence which once separated the playing field from the stands as seen in 2007.
- Audio hookups for American football games at the field. 
- Galbreath Field being reclaimed by nature in November, 2007.

While Galbreath Field served shortly as a professional soccer venue and for a long while as a high school football venue, it actually owes its birth to college football. The field adjoined what was once the College Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame opened in 1978, complementing the surrounding entertainment complex of Kings Island Amusement Park (which at the time included a monorail safari/zoo), its former resort, its former campground, tennis center, and golf course. By all accounts, the Hall of Fame was never that popular, and by 1992, it had closed down. In the ensuing years, the museum building sat quiet aside from the locker rooms and restrooms which were used when Galbreath field still hosted the occasional high school football or minor league soccer game. Although Kings High School had been playing at Galbreath near the end, the hall building itself was demolished in 2004. According to some Cincinnati Enquirer articles from 2005-2007, the field was apparently still used for the occasional local band competitions in the following years.

- The College Football Hall of Fame seen at the bottom of this 1979 Kings Island Amusement Park Guide on KICentral.com. Galbreath Field was located just to the left of this photo. 

Since then, there’s been a lot of nearby commercial development, but nothing has been built on the grounds of the former hall of fame or football field. Sometime after these 2007 images were made, all remnants of the field were completely demolished. Today, only the driveway remains.

- Site of the former College Football Hall of Fame and Galbreath Field as it appeared in 2016.

Galbreath Field was named for John Wilmer Galbreath, a Columbus-based philanthropist and property developer. A prominent donor to the National Football Foundation, Galbreath gave $100,000 to the charity while lobbying for the Hall of Fame facility to be built in Columbus. A longtime supporter of Ohio State football and graduate of the university, he erected the Galbreath Memorial Chapel on the OSU campus in memory of his first wife. Galbreath was also once the owner of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Credited as the man who first broke baseball’s “million dollar mark” after signing Dave Parker in 1979, Galbreath oversaw his franchise winning three World Series from 1945 until 1986.

- John Wilmer Galbreath for whom the Riverhawk's stadium was named after. Image via Wikipedia

The story of the Galbreath-sponsored College Football Hall of Fame is one of its own - a unique idea and attraction that never seemed to draw many people (and now exists elsewhere). That story, and others (including more from the archives): coming soon to QC/D.

- Galbreath Field's light poles as they stood before demolition in 2007.

I want to note that this is the first article I've published on QC/D since Andrea Ward recently joined the team. Andrea is awesome and has been kind enough to edit/proofread my writing. Although, I've probably made quite a few grammar mistakes since she gave me the edited version, her help has been invaluable so far. Welcome, Andrea!

Thanks to Jeremy Bentley and Marshall Hunt as well for their help with this article. 

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