“The annual __ epidemic has broken out in the northeast part of Kinsley with unusual virulence. We understand that some of the young folk have it very badly. At this time, it is reported to be spreading to other parts of the city.”
Before you grab your mask and head for quarantine, the above announcement appeared in the May 25, 1894 issue of the Kinsley Graphic, and the blank did not refer to “Covid” but to “lawn tennis.”
In celebration of the new city tennis courts in South Park, I decided to look into the history of tennis in Kinsley.
One year after Kinsley was founded in 1873, the rules for this new English sport of lawn tennis were set down. This was the second sport that was deemed appropriate for upper class Victorian English ladies to play. The first had been croquet because it was not too strenuous for women, and it offered ample opportunity for flirtation between the sexes.
If you have ever played croquet, you know it provides little in the way of exercise and certainly cannot be described as a nail-biting competition. Lawn tennis quickly rose in popularity because it was more competitive, provided more exercise, and still offered the possibility of flirtation, especially during mixed double matches.
Lawn tennis is first mentioned in the July 13, 1882 issue of the Kinsley Mercury as “the favorite game for pastime on East Eighth street these evenings.” By the spring of 1890 several lawn tennis clubs had been organized.
Lawn tennis courts were relatively easy to establish as reported in July, 1907. “Dr. Haynes (of Belpre) gave a novelty party to a number of the young people Friday evening. After a weed pulling, the guests were invited into the dining room where refreshments were served. The doctor thinks with another crowd of such industrious young people they will have their lawn tennis court in fine condition.” (Graphic, July 19, 1907)
In 1895 a double court had been set up beside the Bicycle Club clubhouse at the octagon house (411 E. Fifth St.). Other courts followed at Senator F. B. Hine’s house (816 E. Second Ave.), in the south part of town (probably in South Park), at Senator F. Demont Smith’s home (816 E. Second St.), at lawyer W. E. Broadie’s home in the east part of town in 1911, and south of the Graphic office (301 E. Sixth St.) in 1912.
In the beginning ladies played lawn tennis in their everyday dresses which had long sleeves, long skirts, bustles, and full-covering aprons. Gradually the dress was simplified by removing the ruffles and bows, and the skirt was shortened to show the ankles. It still would have been quite confining, and ladies were usually expected to lob the ball to their partner who then hit it over the net.
Tennis continued to gain popularity with prominent people playing in large club tournaments here and in neighboring towns. In 1913, a tennis court was prepared north of the school as “much interest has been shown in this line of athletics. There is no better school sport than tennis as it is suitable alike for boys and girls.” (Graphic, May15, 1913)
The 1914 KHS annual reported, “This season we have two good tennis courts, and judging from the number who are seen ‘swatting’ the rubber ball, tennis is going to be a great factor in helping work off the spring fever from a goodly number of K.H.S. students.” There appears to have been a tennis team on into the 1920s but when track was started in 1923, it disappears as a school sport.
In 1939, the city commissioners used a WPA Park Improvement project to provide labor to build two tennis courts in South Park. According to the May 18, 1939 issue of the Mercury, “Backstops will be installed and a gravel-clay floor made for the courts, but players will be required to furnish the nets.”
I’m not sure when paved courts were first installed, but perhaps it was about the time tennis was revived as a male sport at the high school in 1951. There was a team in 1952, but again tennis seems to have been dropped when wrestling was added in 1953.
The June 20, 1974 issue of the Mercury showed a picture of city manager Lloyd Britton on the newly “rebuilt” tennis courts in South Park.
With the new courts available in South Park, maybe Kinsley will again catch the tennis bug. The sport certainly provides good exercise, and it can still offer an opportunity to flirt with the opposite sex.