Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sponsored Lecture: Penn State, State College, a Sinkhole, the WPA, and the Building of Memorial Field

Presented by Ronald A. Smith, Professor Emeritus, Kinesiology
Sponsored by the Penn State University Archives
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Noon-1:00 p.m.
Foster Auditorium

Utilizing collections held by the Penn State University Archives and the Centre County Historical Society as well as material gleaned from newspapers, School Board and Borough meeting minutes, Professor Smith offers his presentation on the creation of State College’s iconic “Sinkhole” Memorial Field.

When State College was incorporated in 1896, it had one school, built by College Township and a high school would not even be created until the next decade. There were no intercollegiate athletics and no athletic field, except on the Penn State campus. There was, however, a sinkhole on a farm on the outskirts of State College that, when purchased in 1914, became a playground for a new school on Nittany Avenue.

The sinkhole was not prime agricultural land and was used by some in State College to deposit their garbage. When purchased, the objective was not to use it as an athletic field, but rather as a school play area. It wasn’t long before it became a place for the4 baseball team to play its games and a practice field for football (State College boys played their games on the Penn State campus).

By the mid-1920s, the Chamber of Commerce saw the “Hollow” as a future athletic stadium and soon John Bracken, head, Penn State’s Landscape Architecture Department, had drawings of an expanded State College school campus, including a stadium.

Little progress was made on the “Hollow” until the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the height of the Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President and the New Deal attempted to come to the rescue by building government projects and putting millions to work. The most prominent program was the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created in 1935. The WPA made possible the building of a stadium in State College, following the leadership of the State College schools superintendent Jo Hays. The nearly $100,000 project created the limestone-adorned athletic field that was named Memorial Field in 1946.

Smith offers the illustrated story of a sinkhole in the “Hollow” that was developed first into a baseball field, and then soon became the target of the State College Borough for an engineering project to drain surface water from Allen Street and elsewhere. How the School Board negotiated the draining of State College run-off water into the sinkhole with the State College Borough will be part of the discussion.

Join us for a lively hour-long presentation. For more information, contact Jackie Esposito, University Archivist,, 814-863-3791.

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