Over the course of the town’s history, the ball park’s home was in several different locations, both in and out of town. On May 30, 1903 a baseball team was formed, the name being the Cortland Base Ball Association. Bylaws and rules governing the association were adopted. One rule prohibited any games on Sunday. Another rule prohibited profanity on the grounds. The grounds were leased from Charlie Krapp and were located in the south part of town. It was controlled by a board of three directors: president, secretary and treasurer. W.E. Robbins was manager and Oscar Sherman, captain.
In 1935, the Village Board and the Booster Club appointed a committee to see about a proper location for a new ball park. The new field was located on the north side of First Street. “The new Kitten Ball Park is located in the corner of the golf course. Opening of the park will be May 14, eight teams have been listed from the immediate surrounding communities. Two games will be played every Tuesday and Thursday night. Admission 5 cents under 14 free.” Plans were to have night football in the fall. In the late 1940’s it was moved to the first mile corner north of town on the east side of the railroad tracks.
In the early 1950’s, the field was moved back to town to the present day location at Fifth Street and New Hampshire Avenue. “On October 15, 1954, the Cortland Raiders met the Liberty High School team on the newly erected athletic field…..At half time the dedication of the field was held.….speakers expressed their thanks to all who donated money and time to erect this field for the enjoyment of the people of this community.” At that time, home plate was in the southeast corner of the dirt field. It was well lighted with eight poles with double lamps. A small wooden structure used as the concession stand sat on the south side, along with bleachers on the east and south sides of home plate.
With the completion of the new Norris School and grounds in 1969-70, football games were no longer played at this location. In the late 1970’s, permanent changes started to occur at the ball park and continued over these past 30 years. The field was turned so home plate was in the southwest corner; new fencing was put up; larger seating stands were built; an electronic scoreboard was added, and an enclosure was constructed at the top of the seating stands from which the scoreboard could be controlled. Ray Thomsen donated money in the mid 1980’s to build a new concrete concession stand in memory of his wife. Picnic tables were added for convenience, trees were planted, a sprinkler system was installed, and a group of volunteers built a wooden play set on the grounds. In 2004, the old wooden playground equipment was replaced with new modern, composite equipment in vivid colors, similar, but much smaller in size, to that which was placed in the community park.
Clarence Hartwig became the town maintenance man in the mid 1980’s and continued in that role for over two decades. Of all the responsibilities that position entailed, improving and maintaining the ball field was his passion. He loved the game; he never missed a night down there to watch whatever team was playing. Around 2005, Clarence started building the new T-ball field and dugouts located west of the main field. Over the years he worked hard, most of the time by himself; on occasions with help from his son and grandsons and even a ball park neighbor helped dig post holes in the early morning hours. Clarence put his heart and soul into this ball park, his pride clearly making it the impressive site it is today!
About five years ago, trees were donated and planted behind the main outfield area and a newer scoreboard was purchased. In recent years, agri-lime replaced the in-field area of both fields. This enabled the fields to be used almost immediately after a rain. At the same time, the in-field area of the main field was set up for three different baseline lengths in order to accommodate whatever team was playing on the field. In 2008, a hand-held remote control unit for the scoreboard was purchased using a memorial donation from the DeBoer family. The most recent improvement was new fencing put up around the in-field portion of the main ball field, the dug outs and batting cage.
Various teams use these fields including T-ball, boys player pitch, boys baseball, girls coach pitch, girls 12-14 and under softball, men’s fast pitch softball, and Norris Titans baseball. The ball field is also host to the annual fireworks show held every year during the Cortland Fest summer event.
Cortland is very proud of its ball fields. All of it was possible with monies given by the Village Board, memorial donations, concessions funds, and a lot of hard work!
The village of Cortland bought the old brick public schoolhouse and surrounding grounds in the early 1970's to be used as a community center and park. Over the years, numerous improvements have been made to develop it into the pleasant and impressive park of today.
The community center features a kitchen, stage, gymnasium and multi-purpose room. Two additional rooms are used privately as meeting rooms for two community organizations. After a tornado struck nearby Hallam in 2004, Cortland made application to FEMA for construction of a storm shelter. It was added to the east side of the gymnasium with dedication in 2007. In the summer and late fall of 2010, new windows and exterior siding were installed.
On the park grounds you will see many large trees, a picnic shelter, and oval sandbox with mechanical shovels, playground equipment, and an outdoor multi-purpose tennis and basketball court. By 2004 most of the old playground equipment was in need of updating and a grant was obtained. Along with the grant funds, several fundraising efforts resulted in a new, modern composite playground arena of vivid colors with activities for young and old. An adult health station trail was also installed with the grant funds. The brick fundraising project was probably the most successful. Near the playground arena one can view bricks purchased and engraved honoring or in memory of loved ones and families. In the summer it's a beautiful memorial when flowers are in bloom.
At the base of the flag pole, in the center of the park, a time capsule was buried in 1983 during Cortland's Centennial celebration to be opened 50 years from that date (2033). In 2007, a local family donated three red benches in honor of family members adding nice seating to the park.
In the spring of 2008, the Cortland Improvement Association started work on a 20-foot octagon, maintenance free gazebo. It was constructed and retained at a temporary location on Main Street for two years and then moved to its permanent home in the park in the spring of 2010. Flower plantings around the gazebo, a sidewalk to the wheelchair ramp, flower berms and two more benches were added. In 2011, lighting will be installed in the gazebo, a permanent flower bedding wall will be constructed around the gazebo, and two additional benches will be placed in the park.
The community will no doubt continue to enjoy and appreciate this park for many years to come!
We often wonder how many residents remember when the Union Pacific Railroad made its daily run through Cortland. Those who do recall the sounds and vibrations of the trains will always have a pleasant reminder as that same ground is being converted into a cycling trail for all age groups. The old railroad right of way stretches nearly 60 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska to Marysville, Kansas. The trail was so named because the corridor will be taking users near the Homestead National Monument, located west of Beatrice.
The completed portion of the trail runs from Lincoln to Cortland where it currently ends. An eight-mile segment is also completed linking Pickrell wich Beatrice. In the summer of 2011 work will begin on the ten-mile segment from Cortland to Pickrell. Upon completion of that segment, cyclists will be able to ride from Lincoln, via the Jamaica North and Homestead trails, all the way to Beatrice.
There are no current plans to develop the three-mile stretch south of Beatrice to Holmesville. The Nebraska Trails Foundation owns the right of way from Holmesville to the Nebraska-Kansas border; however, there are no plans as yet to develop that seventeen-mile stretch. The foundation sold approximately twelve miles of right of way from the Kansas border to Marysville of which only abouth two miles have been developed by a local nonprofit foundation.
Additional information on this project can be found on the web under Homestead Trail.