Spartan Municipal Stadium & NFL Football in Portsmouth, Ohio

Exploring Local Sports History in the Digital Age

Built in 1930 as the home of the National Football League's Portsmouth Spartans, the concrete and brick grandstands, known today as Spartan Municipal Stadium, has long been recognized as one of Portsmouth, Ohio's most significant historical sites. The Spartans played here for three years, in the depths of the Great Depression, from 1930 until 1933, when the franchise moved to Detroit and was reborn as the Lions.

During Portsmouth's NFL years, the stadium helped pioneer night football with the Spartan's playing their first game under modern electric lights against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 24th, 1930. While the Portsmouth night game was certainly the first such game played in region, the honor of the first ever NFL night game is held by the Providence Steam Rollers for their game, the previous fall, in November 1929.

According to Wikipedia, "At the end of the 1932 season, the Spartans were tied for first place in the league with the Chicago Bears. That prompted what in retrospect became known as the first NFL playoff game. Blizzard conditions in Chicago meant the game was moved from Wrigley Field's outdoor field to the indoor field at Chicago Stadium, which allowed for only an 80-yard field. The game was won 9–0 by the Bears, on a touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange. The resulting interest led to the establishment of Eastern and Western conferences and a regular championship game beginning in 1933."

Explore the history of NFL football in southern Ohio and learn about the construction of Spartan Municipal Stadium via newspaper article transcriptions and historic photographs.

Sources

"Pro Football," Salt Lake Tribune (4 November 1929).

“League Franchise Assures Stadium Here,” Portsmouth Times (9 April 1929).

H. Coleman Grimes, “Stadium, Only Skeleton of Real Self When Whistle Blows, Will Seat 8,000,” Portsmouth Times (26 August 1930). 

Portsmouth Spartans Historical Society.  Web. http://www.portsmouthspartans.org/

“Record Crowd Puts Approval on Night Game,” Portsmouth Times (25 September 1930).

“Spartans to be Honored Aug. 10,” Portsmouth Daily Times (15 June 1970).

"History of the Portsmouth Spartans," Wikipedia. Web. Accessed 5 March 2017.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Portsmouth_Spartans

"Spartan Municipal Stadium," Wikipedia.  Web.  Accessed 5 March 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartan_Municipal_Stadium

Images

Aerial View of Spartan Municipal Stadium (c. 1955).

Aerial View of Spartan Municipal Stadium (c. 1955).

One time home of the NFL's Portsmouth Spartans, Municipal (Universal) Stadium, Portsmouth, Ohio (c. 1955). | Source: Image courtesy of the Ackerman Collection, Southern Ohio Museum, Portsmouth, Ohio. Accession No. 1996.2.38. | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

"Spartan Municipal Stadium," by Roy Green (6 June 2011).

"Spartan Municipal Stadium," by Roy Green (6 June 2011).

Roy Green captured the concrete stadium as a backdrop in this photograph of Spartan Municipal Stadium signage. In his commentary, Green notes that the structure is the "original home of the NFL's Detroit Lion's. The old stadium is in fair shape. I know they've done a lot of repairs and it needs more. The history here is amazing. A lot of football legends played here in the past." | Source: Image courtesy of the Photography of Roy Green. Web.https://www.flickr.com/photos/photos_by_roy/ View File Details Page

Dr. Louis Chaboudy & James Secrest Celebrate Portsmouth Spartans History (15 June 1970).

Dr. Louis Chaboudy & James Secrest Celebrate Portsmouth Spartans History (15 June 1970).

In the summer of 1970, the Detroit Lions commemorated the surviving members of their 1935 NFL Championship team. Among them were a handful of former Portsmouth Spartans, as the Lions franchise had originated in Portsmouth. Dr. Louis Chaboudy and James Secrest of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce hosted a local celebration, which exhibited Spartan memorabilia and hosted some of the original players who once called Portsmouth's Municipal Stadium home.The Portsmouth Daily Times reported:"The pride of area football fans in the early ‘30s, the ‘Men of Purple,™ led by Coach George (Potsy) Clark and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Earl (Dutch) Clark, was considered by many of the nation™s sportswriters as one of the finest professional teams in the nation."The Spartans compiled an 11-3 won-loss record in 1931; 6-1-4 in 1932, and 6-5 in 1933 before the local franchise was sold to a group of Detroit businessmen for $10,000 in April 1934. "Several of the former Spartans were regulars with the Detroit Lions when the Motor City team won the 1935 World™s Championship by defeating the New York Giants, 26-7. The ™35 Lions included former Spartans Ernie Caddel, Harry Ebding, ‘Ox™ Emerson, Ace Gutowsky, Bill McKalip, Clare Randolph, John Schneller, the late George Christensen and the Clarks." | Source: “Spartans to be Honored Aug. 10,” Portsmouth Daily Times (15 June 1970). | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

<em>Portsmouth Daily Times</em> Coverage of the First Night Football Game in southern Ohio.

Portsmouth Daily Times Coverage of the First Night Football Game in southern Ohio.

The history of the NFL's Portsmouth Spartans, including accounts of their first night game in September 1930, is well documented in the local newspaper, the Daily Times. In January 2017, Shawnee State University's Clark Memorial Library acquired its Historic Portsmouth Newspaper Collection, which included bound copies of the Portsmouth Times from the 1930s. This image captures one of those original bound volumes as it was being placed in temporary storage for future digitization. | Source: Image courtesy of the Scioto Historical Collection, Digital History Lab, Clark Memorial Library, Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio. | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

NFL League Franchise Assures Construction of Stadium for Portsmouth Spartans (8 April 1929).

NFL League Franchise Assures Construction of Stadium for Portsmouth Spartans (8 April 1929).

The Portsmouth Times newspaper provided extensive coverage of the Spartan's entrance into the NFL and the "fight" for construction of a suitable stadium. Here the Universal Stadium Company confirms its plans to build upon news that the Spartans will receive an NFL franchise.TRANSCRIPTION League Franchise Assures Stadium Here: Vote Revision in Articles of Incorporation; Ask Secretary of State for Papers to Operate as Profit Concern. To Issue Stock. Plan to Sell 150 Shares, No Par Value; Notes Secure League Permit. Action was taken by the board of directors of the Portsmouth Football Association Tuesday which virtually assures the Portsmouth Spartans a place in the National Football League, one of the most selective groups of professional football teams in the United States. The decision practically writes a guarantee that the long fought-for stadium will be built on Labold Field, and will be ready for use when the football season opens this fall. The men agreed at the meeting yesterday to sign a note for $2,500, which will be put up immediately as an entrance fee to the National League. Manager Harold W. Griffen made formal application Wednesday to Joe Carr, president of the league, who advised that the Spartans might go ahead making arrangements for the coming season the same as if the team had been formally accepted.Hung In BalanceUntil Tuesday the fate of the stadium was hanging in a balance as the Stadium Corporation announced that they would not go ahead with the project unless the Spartans entered the National League. They were of the opinion that without National League teams to play here the Spartans would not be able to draw sufficient of a crowd to support a stadium. As soon as the agreement was made to sign a note as an entrance fee to the league, the stadium people, who attended the meeting, stated that they were ready to go the limit with their plans and that as soon as the city awarded them the lease on the field they would begin work. The granting of the lease on the Labold Field will mark the close of more than a three-year fight for an athletic stadium here. At first popular subscriptions to build a stadium failed, then three bond issues failed when the matter was brought before the voters. A private enterprise has agreed to go ahead with the work and accept the responsibility.To Sell StockWith the decision of the directors to enter the league the members of the association also decided to change the articles of incorporation and, instead of being a corporation for operation without profit, they will ask the secretary of state to grant them corporation papers for operation as a profit-making concern. One hundred and fifty shares of stock will be issued at no par value, which will be sold to Portsmouth people at $100 per share, to provide $15,000 of capital stock.Manger Griffen announced Wednesday that he can promise the football fans some of the greatest attractions in the country this season. He is already after games with Benny Friedman and his famous New York Giants, the Green Bay Packers, champions of the National League last season, and with the Chicago Bears and several other big teams. The Spartans have been told that they will have eight league games, four in Portsmouth and four abroad. The Ironton Tanks and the Ashland Armco Teams will also be on the schedule this fall. An announcement will be made in the near future as to when the season tickets will be placed on sale. | Source: “League Franchise Assures Stadium Here,” Portsmouth Times (9 April 1929). | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

Portsmouth Times Reports on Stadium Construction and and Field Preparations for Opening Game (26 August 1930).

Portsmouth Times Reports on Stadium Construction and and Field Preparations for Opening Game (26 August 1930).

The Portsmouth Times newspaper provided extensive coverage of the construction of what became known as Spartan Municipal Stadium. Here H. Coleman Grimes reports on delays in the pouring of concrete and the preparation of temporary structures for the Spartan's first NFL season. The Times also details the conditioning of the grass turf, plans for night games, a speaker system for play-by-play commentary, parking, and a special section for inexpensive children's tickets.TRANSCRIPTION Stadium, Only Skeleton of Real Self When Whistle Blows, Will Seat 8,000.   The curious football fans who have visited the site of the new stadium no doubt wonder just what is going on and wonder whether or not there will be any seats for them to sit on when they come to the football games this fall.  Those who have been curious enough to take a look for themselves also wonder, for they have heard rumors which in most cases have been incorrect.True enough it does not look as if there will be seats by the time the games roll around.  In another week, however, the observer will see a force of thirty or more carpenters working to erect stands and what will be the superstructure of the stadium.  There will be little concrete poured on the stadium this season.  The delay which the company encountered in securing a lease and making other arrangements delayed the beginning of the stadium and it will be impossible to complete it before the opening of the football season.  The only concrete that will be poured will be in the box seats and for the footers.  Twenty tiers of wood stands will be so erected that the super-structure will be turned into forms for pouring the concrete.  No more concrete will be poured this year after the opening of the football season as it would not be convenient for workmen to go ahead with the building of the structure between games.Next spring, with the breaking up of the frost, work will be started again and the stadium will be completed as originally planned.  Ten more tiers of seats will be added and permanent stands of concrete will be erected.  Baseball diamonds and a track oval will be built.The stadium this season will be of wood construction.  There will be 21 boxes, complete and 20 tiers of seats.  The seats will hold 4,200 people and the boxes will hold 300. Fifteen boxes will contain 14 seats and six will contain 12 seats.  The stadium will be built on the west side of the field.Bleachers on the east side of the field this year will seat 3,500 people.  The bleachers are the same stands that were used last season.  This will give a total of 8,000 seats for this season.  Needless to say, the playing field will run north and south as it always has.One Section for ChildrenThe south end of the field will be enclosed and will be reserved for children.  Youngsters up to 14 years of age will be admitted to all games for twenty-five cents.  An attempt will be made to "corner" the youngsters in this space reserved for them.  They will be kept from running over the playing field either before the games or during intermission between halves, if possible.  What they do in their own rooting section within reason, is up to them.Going back to the stadium, rest rooms will be proved in the rear of the structure.  Temporary dressing rooms providing showers, lockers, rub down tables and the like, are being built for the Spartans and the Trojans and for all visiting teams.  These will be made permanent next season.  Large concession booths will be built at the north end of the field.  These concessions will handle all kinds of soft drinks and edibles.  They will be the most complete concession stand of their type in this part of the country.The seats in the stadium will be as comfortable as any in any stadium and the chairs in the boxes will be the next thing to lounging chairs.  A commodious press box will be built at the top of the stadium for the convenience of newspapermen.  The press box will be covered and equipped with chairs and tables. The press box this year will be more or less temporary as it will be moved several feet higher next year when the stadium is completed.Entrance to the field will be at the north end.  There will be three turn-stiles to take care of the crowds and large exits will be thrown open at the end of games so that crowds can get out easily and quickly.  Cinder walks are being built all over the field so that there will be absolutely no necessity of any person stepping in mud or slush.  They are being built, several of them, from the street to the field and all along the inside of the field and stadium proper.Ample free parking space for automobiles will be provided this year and attendants will be on hand to watch automobiles and direct parking and traffic so that there will be no congestion.  Automobiles can be let in and out of the field within a short time.  There will be no necessity for anyone to park their automobiles on the streets outside of the field.It Is UniversalThe stadium will be known as the Portsmouth Universal Stadium, owned and operated by the Universal Stadium Company.  In choosing a name for the new athletic structure the company said that the name is what it implies. It is open to everyone and every kind and type of athletic amusement will be provided in the seasons to come.  It is "Universal."A great deal of speculation has resulted as to what condition the field will be in for playing purposes.  The company built a new football field, leveled it and undermined it with tile for proper draining facilities.  Seed specialists and caretakers of some of the best known football fields in the country were consulted before planing seed.  It was necessary to plant seed that would grow quickly and provide a thick carpet of grass.  The market was scoured for the best that money could buy. A half ton of seed was planted two weeks ago and already the grass is more than an inch high.  By the time of the first game the grass will be ready for at least one cutting and will make the turf firm and solid for the hard use it will have during the season.  Special care must be taken of the grass if the field is to be kept in the best of condition.A field cover of the latest design will probably be purchased by the stadium management to cover the field when not in use and keep it dry at all times.  This will give the players a fast field at all times which insures fast football.Loud Speaker for Detail PlayAn address system is being installed so that the spectators will be kept informed throughout football games as to substitutions, penalties, and a running account of the game.  The announcing can be heard clearly all over the stadium and he will provide the information that a fan usually has to dig through a program or rule book to discover and then is dubious.  This will also aid the inexperienced fan and help him to become better acquainted with the fine points of the game as the game is being played.Lights of the latest design will be erected for night football.  This will be something new to the Portsmouth fans but night football has proven such a success in other cities that the management decided to install a plant here.  The lighting plant will not be finished until September 16. Some of the games booked by the Spartans and the Trojans will be played at night.  The lights are placed on poles forty feet apart in front of the stadium.  The field will be flooded with light and engineers claim that the game can be seen better than in the daytime.An eight-foot board fence will be constructed all around the field.  The company declares that the fence will enclose the finest football field in this section of the country within another year.A large booster program will be issued by the stadium company before the first football game which will tell of all the events in the stadium this season.  The merchants of the city are cooperating with the stadium company in making the program a masterpiece in announcing the openings of the stadium and athletic field. | Source: H. Coleman Grimes, “Stadium, Only Skeleton of Real Self When Whistle Blows, Will Seat 8,000,” Portsmouth Times (26 August 1930). | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

Account of First Night Football Game in Spartan Municipal Stadium, Portsmouth, Ohio (24 September 1930).

Account of First Night Football Game in Spartan Municipal Stadium, Portsmouth, Ohio (24 September 1930).

Portsmouth may not have held the first night football game in NFL history, but it did pioneer the use of electric lights in the region.  Here the Portsmouth Times reports on the debut of night football in Spartan Municipal Stadium on 24 September 1930.TRANSCRIPTIONRecord Crowd Puts Approval on Night Game. Reception Accorded Grid Tilt Under Floodlights Means It is Fixture Here.  Skepticism Vanishes.  Many Visitors from Tri-State Get First View of Local StadiumNight football is a success. Sixty-five hundred shouting, raving fans so stamped it unequivocally after seeing the Spartans and Brooklyn elevens in action at Universal Stadium Wednesday night. Light As DayAs light as day and not a shadow of any kind on the greensward the players cavorted over it with boyish-like enthusiasm.  The plays were as easily followed as in the day time, the white ball was easy to see and the new lighting system worked perfectly.  There was not a single hitch of any kind to mar the success of one of the greatest night games in the history of football.  The vast throng followed the players so easily that many of them readily admitted that the they would just as soon see a night game as one in which Old Sol turns on his floodlights.Marvelous SceneThe hundreds of visitors, who flocked to the stadium from all parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky were awe-stricken when the lights were first turned on.  It was a marvelous scene, one they could dream about.  ‘I have heard a lot about night football and after seeing this game I am sure it is here to stay™ said one of the leading citizens of Ironton.  ‘The scene is perfect.  It is indeed a rare picture.  I have always said the first city in the Ohio valley to inaugurate night football will derive untold publicity from it,™ thus spoke Charlton (Shorty) Davies, famous Ironton coach and gridiron strategist.  And so it was all along the line last night.  Night football has come to stay, at least in Portsmouth.Cast Aside SkepticismThose skeptically-inclined soon waived aside their skepticism last night and placed their stamp of approval on nocturnal grid encounters.  The many distinguished visitors were unstinted in praising the completeness of the new playing field, the remarkable work of the Spartans, the coaching and team handling of Harold Griffen and the public spiritedness and aggressiveness of Harry Snyder, builder of the stadium.Band Makes HitAnd while the home folk and the visitors were revealing in the glistening rays of the new lighting system, a smashing line thrust by the incomparable Glassgow, the end running of that scintillating star Chuck Bennett and the all round playing of Lumpkin, they did not hesitate to praise Leader Schnabl and the Portsmouth High School band.  They played before the game started and presented an inspiring picture as they marched down the middle of the field beneath rays of the lofty artificial lights.  Between halves the band also gave a parade and when it massed in front of the big stand and reeled off its school theme song everybody stood and cheered the band and its capable leader.  Attired in their summer garb of dark coats and white trousers the boys and girls made a splendid impression and did their bit to putting over the first night football in this section with the proverbial bang. | Source: “Record Crowd Puts Approval on Night Game,” Portsmouth Times (25 September 1930). Image courtesy of the Scioto Historical Collection, Digital History Lab, Clark Memorial Library, Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio. | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

Screenshot of the Wikipedia entry for "Spartan Municipal Stadium," as updated to March 5th, 2017.

Screenshot of the Wikipedia entry for "Spartan Municipal Stadium," as updated to March 5th, 2017.

The stadium's history is intertwined with that of the early National Football League, which the Portsmouth Spartans joined in the fall of 1930. For three years the stadium hosted professional teams from across the nation, including the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.In the spring of 2017, as part of the content upgrade for Scioto Historical 2.0, students at Shawnee State University began studying the history of the stadium and documenting how its entry in Wikipedia changes over time. This image from March 5th, 2017, inaugurates the series of screenshots, which will be collected annually every spring. | Source: "Spartan Municipal Stadium," Wikipedia (5 March 2017). | Creator: Andrew Feight View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Andrew Feight and Sean Dunne, “Spartan Municipal Stadium & NFL Football in Portsmouth, Ohio,” Scioto Historical, accessed April 26, 2017, http://sciotohistorical.org/items/show/112.
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