LOOKING BACK: Southampton Kildees organized

Published 5:49 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Seventy-five years ago, on Jan. 14, 1949, 37 stockholders of the newly organized Southampton Athletic Association met in Franklin Town Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to finalize details pursuant to continuation of professional baseball in Southampton County. In 1948, the Franklin “Cubs” professional Class D baseball team was established under the ownership of Frank D. Lawrence, owner of the Portsmouth “Cubs” AAA baseball team. In November of 1948, he decided to relinquish his ownership of the Franklin team and conveyed it to the Southampton Athletic Association.

George J. Lane of Franklin presided over the meeting — with Theodore B. Kingsbury III serving as secretary. The principal accomplishment at that meeting was the election of a board of directors and to hammer out other details regarding team management. The following were elected directors of the organization: Junius W. Pulley and R. B. Story, of Courtland; Hinton Smith, of Boykins; J. E. Fox, of Capron; J. D. Owen, of Sedley; Sam Pope, of Drewryville; R. N. Darden Jr., of Newsoms; John Faircloth Jr., of Ivor; and George Lane, William Camp Sr., Arthur Vaughan, L. J. Sanford, W. C. Jones, Hinson Parker, Fenton Matthews, Harold Atkinson, Charles Morgan, and Cecil Vaughan III – all of Franklin. 

Elected as officers: George Lane, president; William Camp Sr., vice president; Arthur Vaughan, treasurer; Hinson Parker, secretary and legal counsel.

Harold Atkinson, a player with the 1948 Franklin “Cubs” team, was selected to be the team business manager and George Lacy, former catcher for the University of Richmond and the Boston Red Sox, was to be the player-manager. 

Lacy and Atkinson, working together, immediately began making contacts in their efforts to get a cohesive team assembled for the spring 1949 baseball season. They were challenged to exceed the record established by the 1948 Franklin Cubs team. “Tink” Cornwell and several other players of the 1948 team had committed to sign with the 1949 team and Jim Gillette of Courtland joined the team. Frank Lawrence of the Portsmouth “Cubs” and H. P. Dawson of the Norfolk “Tars” were planning to send some players to Franklin. The Lynn, Massachusetts club of the Class B New England league agreed to send eight players to Franklin. And, Manager Lacy was anxious to have any boys who were playing for the various Southampton County League town teams (amateur) to apply with the Kildees. “They should stand excellent chances of breaking into the Kildee line-up and play professional baseball,” he said. 

The assembled group decided on a name for the team: The Southampton “Kildees” name was chosen, reaching back in time to the late 1890s when Southampton County had a team named the Franklin “Kildees.” That name was chosen by the 1890s team based on the fact that some people of that time thought the players’ skinny legs made them look like Kildees, a bird that existed in the area at that time. That team played at the old town baseball park which at that time was located at the southeastern corner of Franklin and Jackson streets — next to the old Franklin Cotton Gin. 

The home field for the 1949 Kildees was established at Franklin Field, located at the southwestern corner of Gardner Street and Hill Street, directly behind Franklin High School. 

The Class D Virginia League consisted of the following teams: Emporia “Nationals,” Hopewell “Blue Sox,” Lawrenceville “Robins,” Petersburg “Generals,” Southampton “Kildees,” and Suffolk “Goobers.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net.