From Sugar Beets to Baseball: How Halbach Field Got its Name

An abandoned dumping ground for the old Detroit Sugar Company mill took on new life in the 1920s when it became Rochester’s high school and community athletic park.

After the Detroit Sugar Company demolished its factory at the west end of Woodward Street in 1906, the company deeded the property back to the village of Rochester. Around 1923, local residents started using the portion of the vacant land on the south side of Woodward and east of the railroad track (today’s Paint Creek Trail) as an unofficial ballpark. In the spring of 1925, the village took steps to improve the field by grading, filling, and seeding the property. The facility had no formal name, and it was simply referred to as “Athletic Park.” The field opened with a community baseball game in June 1925, when the Rochester Independents defeated a team from Armada by a score of four to two.

Two dozen older boys pose for a team photo in uniform with a trophy in the foreground.
The Rochester High School football team won the league championship in 1928 (From the Archives of the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm).

Crowds gathered at the village athletic ground beginning in 1928, when it became the home field for Rochester High School’s baseball and football games. Before that, the high school games had been played at Butts Park, an unofficial field on the David Butts farm on South Hill. The players remembered the surface of their new home field as being rock hard and causing many bumps and bruises. Despite the problem, the RHS team won its first league championship at the Woodward field that same year. Rochester High would play football on the Woodward Street field for the next 30 years, until a football stadium opened at the new high school site on the corner of Walton and Livernois in 1958.

In 1936, the Rochester Kiwanis Club adopted a project to organize a softball league to play at the village athletic park. The club formed a committee led by Kiwanian Fred Halbach to light the field for night games. Under Kiwanis sponsorship, the field was not only lighted, but a new grandstand was also built by men from the village who donated their labor.

Fred Halbach, a district inspector for Detroit Edison’s overhead division, had two young sons and lived nearby on Ludlow Street. He was a member of the board of directors of the Rochester Kiwanis Club and was also president of Rochester’s community recreation association.

Even though Rochester was still struggling with the effects of the Great Depression, Halbach inspired townspeople to contribute nearly $1,000 to make the improvements to the ballpark.

Two men shake hands on a baseball diamond at home plate with a crowd of people in the stands.
The dedication ceremonies for Halbach Field in 1936 (Courtesy of Rochester Hills Public Library)

A dedication ceremony for the improved athletic park was held on the evening of June 24, 1936, with the brand new lights shining on the field and the grandstand packed with spectators. In a surprise move during the festivities, the village fathers announced that the facility would be named Halbach Field in honor of Fred Halbach and all of his efforts to improve it.

In 1946, the village council and the board of education agreed to manage Halbach Field jointly, since so many school athletic activities were held there. They formed a five-member governing board with two members appointed by the village council, two by the board of education, and a fifth member selected by the other four. This arrangement lasted until the building boom of the later postwar era brought new schools with their own athletic facilities to the community.

Flier for a game event on the field
A baseball game between Rochester and Pontiac merchants was announced in this May 1947 newspaper ad published in the Rochester Era.

Halbach Field also served as a center for the village’s social activity in its heyday. In addition to school and community athletic events, the field also hosted the Kiwanis Club’s annual Halloween Party, a wastepaper jamboree during World War II, Independence Day festivities and fireworks shows, home and builders’ shows, and summer arts and crafts programs for children, among many other activities.

Sadly, Fred Halbach had very little time to enjoy the fruits of his labors at the ballpark that was named for him. He was stricken with a heart attack and died at the age of 42—just six months after Halbach Field was dedicated in his honor. To this day, Halbach Field memorializes his efforts on behalf of the youth of Rochester.

Halbach Field Sign
Halbach Field Sign Today
About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen recently retired after 34 years as local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She currently serves as the research chairperson for the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

Comments

  1. Len Kutschman says

    Around 1971 I was a 19 year old part time employee working for the City of Southfield. One of the employees in the office was Fred Halbach, the senior Mr. Halbach’s son. He told me all about his dad and the story behind the ballfield in Rochester. He was quite proud of the mark his family left on the community!

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