Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hardware Retailer William Sweet and Boise Baseball [otd 10/26]

William Sweet.
J. H. Hawley photo.

On October 26, 1870, Boise businessman and booster William N. Sweet was born 30-40 miles south of Des Moines, Iowa. He was fatherless at birth, his father having died six months earlier. Later the family moved to Nebraska where his mother proved up a land claim and then remarried.

Starting in his early teens, Sweet thoroughly learned the hardware business. With that as a core, he soon became manager of a general store in Nebraska. However, successive bad crop years and the malaise from the Panic of '93 caused the store to fail. Early in 1895, Sweet sold off the last of his own horses as a stake and headed for the gold fields around Cripple Creek, Colorado.

He did poorly prospecting and soon took a regular job, again handling hardware. His expertise fueled a rapid rise to a managerial position in a company that had stores in several towns, including Boulder and Pueblo. However, after a decade, a series of store consolidations led Sweet to worry about his future with the company.

Sweet moved to Boise in 1907 and landed an assistant manager job at a major hardware concern. After five years, he became co-owner and president of his own firm. The company soon grew to be one of the largest in the state. In 1911-1912, he served as President of the state hardware and implement dealers’ association. That organization then went inactive for a decade, when Sweet again became President of a reorganized association.

Mr. Sweet harbored a strong interest in outdoor sports, raising horses and greyhounds during his years in Nebraska and later in Colorado. In Boise, he participated in various civic improvement programs and became a director of the State Fair. He also helped organize the Western Tri-State Baseball League.

By the time Sweet arrived in Boise, the city had had some form of baseball for almost forty years. Various amateur, and then, after about 1904, professional or semi-pro leagues formed and disbanded. Attempts to build associations beyond the immediate area were all short-lived.
Baseball 1912-13.
Library of Congress.

The Western Tri-State League included teams from Boise, Pendleton, Walla Walla, and other cities in the region. Sweet remained as unpaid president of the league during its two years of existence.

In his History, H. T. French wrote, “Boise is headquarters for one of the best baseball leagues in the Northwest and has fine ball grounds with in a few blocks from the main portion of the city.”

When the Tri-state and another regional league folded, valley enthusiasts organized the “Trolley League,” featuring towns on the electric railway – Boise, Nampa, and Caldwell. Two semi-pro teams represented Boise, one of them sponsored by the Sweet-Teller Hardware Company.

Boise baseball essentially shut down during World War I, and was slow to revive. Finally, Sweet and other Boiseans completed a fairly successful fund drive to revive a semi-pro league (Idaho Statesman, April 22, 1921). But they struggled through the subsequent farm-state depression, and then the Great Depression. Not until 1939 would the city have a permanent minor league connection.

Sweet moved out of Boise, probably after he re-married in 1924 (he had been widowed during the summer of 1918). He lived later in Elmore County, where his wife taught school, and passed away in 1954.
References: [French], [Hawley]
Arthur A. Hart, Boise Baseball: the First 125 years, Historic Idaho Inc. (1994).
“Idaho Association Relaunched,” Hardware Review, Vol. 28, No. 12, Trade Review Company, Chicago (March 1922).

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you for this....
    ...from a distant family member.