Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, November 03, 2017

John T. Brush of Pelham Manor, Owner of the Famed New York Giants Baseball Club

The only part of the old Polo Grounds stadium that once stood in Coogan's Hollow in Upper Manhattan that still stands is a beautifully-ornate stairwell that leads from Edgecombe Avenue at the top of Coogan's Bluff down to Harlem River Driveway at about 158th Street.  The famed stairway opened in 1913.  At its base was a ticket booth that sold tickets to the baseball, football, and other sports events hosted in the stadium.  During sporting events (particularly New York Giants baseball games), fans who had no tickets for the game typically thronged the stairwell which offered a clear view of the field.  A damaged marker at the stairwell reads:  "THE JOHN T. BRUSH STAIRWAY PRESENTED BY THE NEW YORK GIANTS."

John T. Brush Stairway in a Recent Photograph.  Source:
"Polo Grounds" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (visited
Oct. 29, 2017).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Damaged John T. Brush Stairway Plaque in a Recent Photograph.
Source:  "Polo Grounds" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia
(Visited Oct. 29, 2017).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

John Tomlinson Brush (June 15, 1845 - November 26, 1912) was the owner of the New York Giants baseball team, a Major League Baseball franchise, from 1890 until his death.  He also was a leading force behind the crystallization of the rules that govern the modern World Series.  He was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame on its Roll of Honor in 1946.  At the time of his death in 1912, John T. Brush was a resident of Pelham Manor.  

New York Giants Owner and Pelham Manor Resident
John Tomlinson Brush in 1911.  Source:  Library of
No. LC-DIG-ggbain-09870 (visited Oct. 29, 2017).  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

Pelham Manor, it turns out, has a long and storied history with the New York Giants of Major League Baseball.  Indeed, one of the nation's biggest sports celebrities of the teens, 1920s, and 1930s lived and died in Pelham Manor:  Baseball Hall of Famer John McGraw who lived at various times at 915 Edgewood Avenue and 620 Ely Avenue.  Known as "Little Napoleon," McGraw was one of the greatest players of his day and became a Hall of Fame manager with the New York Giants.  He and his wife, Blanche, moved to Pelham in 1921 and remained until his death from prostate cancer in 1934.  Mourners clogged the streets of Pelham as his body lay "in-state" in his home at 620 Ely Avenue.  See John McGraw of Pelham Manor: Baseball Hall of Famer, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 28, July 16, 2004, p. 10, col. 1See also Wed., Oct. 08, 2014:  Only Known Motion Picture Footage of 1924 World Series Championship Game Found! 

John T. Brush was born June 15, 1845 in Clintonville, New York.  Orphaned as a youngster, he was raised by a grandfather.  He left for business college at seventeen, but enlisted in the First New York Artillery in 1863 during the Civil War. Brush became a successful clothier after the war.  He opened clothing stores in Troy, Lockport, and Albany, New York.  

In 1875, Brush moved to Indianapolis where he opened a successful department store.  As his wealth grew, he "became involved in local baseball as a means of promoting his store" and built a local ballpark in 1882.  In 1886, Brush bought the National League baseball franchise St. Louis Maroons and relocated the club to Indianapolis.  According to one account:  "When the Indianapolis team folded after the 1889 season, Brush was compensated with $67,000 and a share of the Giants franchise, along with a promise of the next available team; he quickly acquired the [Cincinnati] Reds club after its financial collapse" in 1890.  He kept the team in Cincinnati.  

Brush became increasingly involved with the New York Giants as a minority owner.  He joined with Giants majority owner Andrew Freedman to lure John McGraw ("Little Napoleon") away from from Baltimore to manage the Giants.  

In the early years of the 20th century, Freedman left the Giants and Brush took over as majority owner and team president, selling his interest in the Cincinnati Reds for $180,000 (about $5.67 million in today's dollars).  According to one biography of Brush:  "When the Giants won the 1904 NL pennant, Brush refused to allow the team to meet Boston's defending champions in the World Series due to his animosity toward Johnson; a permanent agreement between the leagues was eventually made after meeting some of Brush's conditions, and the Giants won the 1905 World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics."

Beginning in the early 1890s, Brush became afflicted with "locomotor ataxia," also known as tabes dorsalis, a loss of coordination of movement, often (but not always) associated with a syphilitic infection of the spinal cord.  By the early 20th century he also suffered from rheumatism.  

Despite his tremendous success as owner of the New York Giants, Brush's health deteriorated in the first decade of the century.  By this time he had moved to Pelham Manor which was not far from the storied Polo Grounds where the Giants played their games.  (Research has not yet revealed the home in which he lived.)  Indeed, despite his illness, Brush oversaw a complete reconstruction of the Polo Grounds in 1911.

In 1912, the New York Giants and the Boston Red Sox advanced to the World Series (or, the "World's Series" as it was known at the time).  Shortly before the Series, Brush was involved in a car accident on September 11, 1912.  A truck barreled into his car overturning it.  Though he was not thrown from the vehicle, he suffered two broken ribs.  He was confined for a time in his home at Pelham Manor.

The august members of the National Baseball Commission were forced to travel to Pelham Manor for a meeting regarding the upcoming World Series with their ailing co-member of the Commission.  Thus, on September 25, 1912, the following members of the Commission gathered in Pelham Manor for a critical meeting concerning the upcoming 1912 World Series between the New York Giants and the Boston Red Sox:  "Ban" Johnson, President of the American League; Thomas Lynch, President of the National League; "Garry" Hermann, Chairman of the National Baseball Commission; John Heydler, Secretary of the National League; John T. Brush, owner of the New York Giants; Joe O'Brien, Secretary of the New York Giants; James R. McAleer, President of the Boston Red Sox; and Robert McRoy, Secretary of the Boston Red Sox.  The group reached a decision at the meeting to start the upcoming World Series at the Polo Grounds and alternate between New York and Boston one game at a time until conclusion.   See YALE WINS; YANKS LOSE; WORLD'S SERIES OCT. 8 -- Giants and Red Sox Start at Polo Grounds and Games Will Alternate Between Boston and New York, The Evening Telegram [NY, NY], Sep. 25, 1912, Vol. XLVI, No. 25,365, p. 1, cols. 1-7.

Despite his failing health, Brush attended the 1912 World Series, though his Giants lost to the Red Sox who took the Series with four wins, three losses, and a single tie.  Thereafter his ataxia grew worse and doctors feared for his life.  Believing that a change of venue to the milder West Coast (where special treatments also would be available), his doctors arranged for him to travel by his own private railroad car across country in November.  At the time he was resting and receiving treatment in the Imperial Hotel in Manhattan.  

At the scheduled departure date, Brush became gravely ill.  He was removed unconscious from the Imperial Hotel and placed on his rail car.  The train actually rushed across country to get him to his destination but Brush died in his private car near Louisiana, Missouri on November 26, 1912.  His railroad car was detached from the train and routed to St. Louis where his body was removed and transported to Indianapolis, where his married daughter lived, for his funeral.  His daughter's husband, Harry Hempstead, succeeded him as President of the New York Giants.  See "John T. Brush" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (visited Oct. 29, 2017).

Soon after Brush's death, the Giants organization, led by Hempstead, built and dedicated The John T. Brush Stairway at the Polo Grounds.  It stands today in silent homage to Pelham Manor resident John Tomlinson Brush.  

*          *         *          *          *
"Brush Strong Enough To Go Driving To-Day
Head of Giants Making Game Fight for His Life and Expects to Win.

FRIENDS of John T. Brush, owner of the Giants, say that the fans might as well cease their speculations as to his successor.  At the Imperial Hotel, where Mr. Brush is ill, it was said this morning that he had made up his mind on a thing he usually goes through with it.  For twenty years now he has fought a game fight against a disease which attacked him when the present players on the New York team were in knickerbockers and short skirts and he expects to win again.

Notwithstanding his weakened condition Mr. Brush wanted to go out driving in the park Saturday and would have done so but for the weather.  It is his intention to go out to-day.

Mr. Brush attended the first game of the world's series at the Polo Grounds and contracted such a severe cold that he was unable to attend the other games.  Instead of going to his home in Pelham he went to the Imperial Hotel hoping to be able to see some of the later contests.

It was feared for a while that the owner of the Giants would not recover and there has been much speculation as to his successor.  It was reported that Harry Stevens would buy the controlling interest of the club but nothing was known of this at the offices of Mr. Stevens in Madison Square tower.  Mr. Stevens has sufficient financial backing to take over the club and would be a good man in the place but it was said last night that if anything should happen to John T. Brush that his son-in-law, who lives in Indianapolis would become the head of the club.

Baseball men all over the country are pulling for Mr. Brush to get back his health and continue at the head of the Giants.  He is the man who framed most of the rules for governing baseball in the United States.  He started with the game when its future was uncertain.  While owner of the Cincinnati Reds his wonderful brain for organization gradually brought order out of chaos.  Mr. Brush is also the author of the present rules and regulations governing the playing of world's series.  Hiss loss to baseball would be a severe one."

Source:   Bulger, Bozeman, Brush Strong Enough To Go Driving To-Day -- Head of Giants Making Game Fight for His Life and Expects to Win, The Evening World [NY, NY], Oct. 22, 1912, p. 16, cols. 4-5.

Owner of Giants Succumbs as He's Being Rushed in Search of Health.
Only Partly Conscious When Taken From Hotel Imperial Sunday Night.

ST. LOUIS, Mo., Nov. 26. -- The body of John T. Brush, owner of the New York National League Baseball Club, who died early to-day in his private car near Seeburger, Mo., arrived here this morning.  In the car accompanying the body were two nurses, a valet and a railroad man.  The body was forwarded to Indianapolis, where the funeral will be held Thursday or Friday from the home of Mrs. Harry Newton Hempstead, the daughter of Mr. Brush.

Mr. Brush, who was seriously ill from locomotor ataxia [Editor's Note:  also known as tabes dorsalis, a loss of coordination of movement, especially as a result of syphilitic infection of the spinal cord] when he left New York Sunday, failed rapidly on the trip.  At Indianapolis yesterday the railroad company considered detaching the baseball magnate's private car because of his serious condition, but they decided to attempt to rush him to the Pacific Coast.

The car was here two hours last night and a tank of oxygen was placed in it for emergency use.


When Mr. Brush was placed in an automobile at the Hotel Imperial Sunday night and taken to his private car he was hardly conscious, but his physicians thought his life might be prolonged for a time if he could reach California.  The decision to remove him was a last resort, for he was known to be in very critical condition.  

Early in 1910 Mr. Brush came near dying of the locomotor ataxia, which finally did cause his death, but he spent the winter in Texas and was much improved when he returned in time to see the Giants capture the pennant.

Lately he had been unable to see friends and had been out of doors only for an occasional automobile ride in Central Park.  His health became much worse after an automobile accident last summer in which his hop was broken.

He put the active direction of the Giants' affairs in the hands of H. M. Hempstead, his son-in-law, some time ago, and also made R. H. McCutcheon secretary and treasurer of the club in the place of J. D. O'Brien and John Whalen, who, respectively, had filled those offices.  Mr. Hempstead will be the principal owner of the Giants as a result of Mr. Brush's death.


Mr. Brush was sixty-three years old and a native of Clintonsville, N. Y.  His parents died when he was about four years old and he was cared for by an uncle, a farmer.  At the age of twelve the boy went to work in a general store.  Later he became a clothing store clerk and a member of the firm of Owen Pigley & Co., clothiers, of Utica.  He opened clothing stores at Lockport and Troy, N. Y., and then went to Indianapolis, Ind., where he established himself in the same business, becoming president of one of the largest clothing concerns in Indiana.

He had a beautiful home in Indianapolis which he called 'Lombardy,' in honor of his wife, who was Miss Elsie Lombardy, an actress.  It was in the Indiana city that he became interested in baseball, acquiring the franchise of the Indianapolis team.  He became a figure in the baseball world when he acquired a National League franchise for that team."

Source:  JOHN T. BRUSH DIES IN PRIVATE CAR ON HIS WAY TO FRISCO -- Owner of Giants Succumbs as He's Being Rushed in Search of Health -- WAS LONG A SUFFERER -- Only Partly Conscious When Taken From Hotel Imperial Sunday Night, The Evening World [NY, NY], Nov. 26, 1912, p. 12, col. 1

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