Skip to content

THEN AND NOW: Bradford St. home has some baseball history

It’s possible the sport may have been played in Barrie as far back as the 1850s, but it was Benjamin Wilson Rhinehart who formally introduced American-style ball to town, says history columnist

This ongoing series from Barrie Historical Archive curator Deb Exel shows old photos from the collection and one from the present day, as well as the story behind them.

164 Bradford St.

A little baseball history for you.

But first, let’s talk about a one-time owner of this handsome home: Ben Rhinehart.

Benjamin Wilson Rhinehart was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1850, immigrating to Canada when he was two and a half years old. The family settled in Newmarket, where his father had a very successful boot and shoe store, employing many workers.

Unexpectedly, at the tender age of 10, Rhinehart was forced to go to work when his father was stricken with paralysis. His help was needed to support the family of eight.

Looking to improve his situation, Rhinehart left Newmarket for Barrie, about 1870. Once in town, he met Charles Naylor who worked at the Gazette. When Rhinehart told Naylor what he wanted, his new acquaintance took him to meet Daniel Crew, proprietor of the Advance newspaper office. Rhinehart was hired and started the next day, apprenticing, at $1.50 per week.

Ben would remain at the Advance for 25 years, learning all aspects of the trade.

In 1875, Benjamin Wilson Rhinehart married Elizabeth Naylor, daughter of James and Amelia Naylor, one of Barrie’s pioneer families.

Elizabeth, like her parents, had been born in Lincolnshire, England, moving to Canada when she was four years old. Her brother Charles, also born in England, was the same Charles that introduced Rhinehart to the printing world, and obviously to his sister as well!

Charles started his own career in the printing business at the Spirit of the Age, a conservation Barrie paper favouring the Orange Order (Protestant) view, that operated from 1858 to 1865. Charles would work for the Gazette, the Advance and the Examiner, then newspapers in Toronto, Newmarket and Owen Sound, before moving on to Imlay City, in Michigan.

It was while visiting his sister in 1917, that Charles – printer, writer and poet – passed away unexpectedly. His funeral was held at the Rhinehart home on Bradford Street.

Benjamin Rhinehart continued in his printing career, working at the Advance, the Gazette and the Examiner. He was active in his community: as part of the Barrie fire brigade, the school board and a member of Burton Avenue United Church. He was also an active Oddfellow, initiated into Barrie Lodge No. 63 just a year after arriving in town.

Rhinehart also belonged to Barrie Lodge No. 3 of the Uniformed Encampment, a lodge that eventually disappeared due to attrition … but not before Ben Rhinehart took the Encampment, along with the Barrie Band, to a grand celebration in North Bay, where they won first prize at the tournament and praise from the town of North Bay as the finest and most sociable of all the Encampments in attendance.

Later, in 1901, when dozens were petitioning for the renewal of Patrick McAvoy’s licence of the Railroad House in Allandale, as a Ward 5 elector, Rhinehart’s name was among an even longer list of those opposed to granting the licence.

Benjamin Wilson Rhinehart, dean of the printing fraternity of Simcoe County, had a long and distinguished 56-year career as a printer, working into his late 70s.

The home on Bradford Street, where he lived with Elizabeth and their daughter Bertha (Birdie), a dressmaker, and where his own funeral took place, is still a striking house with a lovely mix of architectural features.

Are you wondering if there’s still a baseball story in your future?

Well, also in 1871, this new citizen and printing apprentice, organized the first American baseball club in Barrie. When an announcement was placed in the papers to attend a meeting at a downtown hotel, an enthusiastic crowd of 75 to 100 people turned out. There was no question of the interest in forming a baseball club … most of the discussion was about uniforms!

The organizer settled the issue by asking all those who preferred red stockings and white trunks to stand on one side of the room and those who preferred white stockings and black trunks to move to the other side. The room neatly divided into two equal groups, each choosing a captain: David Powell for the red stockings and Ben Rhinehart for the white stockings, or ‘Stars’ as they called themselves.

The boys on the teams rapidly took to the sport, practising at night in Queen’s Park, the resulting baseball games providing loads of enjoyment and entertainment for players and fans.

When reflecting on the baseball club, Rhinehart commented: “There was no tin-pan sports about the boys in those days.” He went on to say, “every player was out to practise or they heard about it. In those days, it was underhand pitching and the art of curve-ball pitching had not then been discovered.”

It’s possible the sport may have been played in Barrie as far back as the 1850s, but it was printer Benjamin Wilson Rhinehart who formally introduced American-style ball to Barrie, and the community’s passion for baseball has never left.