There are two separate, yet overlapping, stories of how and why the New York game took hold in Baltimore. Both involve the Excelsiors of Brooklyn. First, in the summer of 1858, 28-year-old Baltimore grocer George F. Beam of Orendorf, Beam and Company visited Brooklyn on business. Beam and Samuel Orendorf formally went into business together in 1853 forming a “wholesale grocery and commission business” with a warehouse on the southeast corner of Baltimore and Howard Streets in Brooklyn, Beam was invited to a baseball contest by fellow grocer Joe Leggett, the famed catcher of the Excelsiors of Brooklyn. Beam was said to be immediately smitten with the game. He returned home to Baltimore and began talking up the experience with friends and associates. It’s not known whether Beam succeeded in gathering enough men to actually practice the game or play a contest in 1858 or early 1859, but he did succeed in forming the city’s first club, aptly dubbed the Excelsiors of Baltimore.
The Excelsiors of Baltimore were formed in early July 1859, probably on the 8th or 9th, at a meeting in the offices of Mess, Woods, Bridges and Company on Commerce Street near East Lombard Street. The men, mainly merchants from the western portion of the city, organized for the pursuit of “physical exercise and healthful recreation.”
The reason for the New York game taking hold was espoused by William R. Griffith, an early ballplayer and executive. His assertion credits Henry Polhemus, a big outfielder with the Excelsiors of Brooklyn, with coaching and otherwise promoting the fledgling sport in Baltimore.
Polhemus was from a wealthy Brooklyn family. The 1860 U.S. Census shows the family holding $100,000 in real estate and employing four live-in servants and a cook. Henry was listed as a merchant. He was the Brooklyn supplier for Baltimore’s Woodberry Mills, a cotton/textile plant that was part of Horatio Gambrill’s local mill empire. As such, Polhemus occasionally traveled to Baltimore on business. Woodberry Mills wasn’t too far from the city’s main ballpark on Madison Avenue. This proximity and the encouragement of local baseball enthusiasts led Polhemus to venture out to the diamonds and offer his advice and assistance to the Excelsior players and others. (Baltimore Baseball History- Brian McKenna).
Today, the Capitol Conference is made up of 19th Century Base Ball Clubs from the Baltimore/Washington region of the country. The Southern or “Capitol” Conference includes all of the clubs on the western shore of Maryland as well as Virginia and any future expansion in to West Virginina. Current clubs include the Chesapeake Nine of Baltimore and the Arundel Excelsior BBC. We are also actively looking for organizers who want to re-form a club in the Williamsburg/Norfolk region of Virginia and start clubs in Fredericksburg, Richmond, Charlottesville, and western Virginia.