Looking Back at Laidley Field
Charleston’s East End has been home to Laidley Field since 1919. James Madison Laidley was a lawyer and salt maker who served in the Virginia Legislature. One of his ten children, son George Laidley, became an educator and superintendent of schools in Charleston. Laidley Field was named in his honor.
The original field had wooden bleachers that rose 12 feet high with ten rows of seating. Sections of seating could be moved as needed by a team of horses. The first football game was played there on November 8, 1919, featuring WVU and a tiny school, Centre College of Kentucky. From 1895 through 1949, WVU played a game almost annually in Charleston. The WVU-Centre matchup was a day-long event. The WVU band paraded through the streets of the city, ending on the field. At half-time, the band played, and the fans gathered on the field in a snake dance while the band played ‘Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.’
The game drew a record crowd of over 5,000 fans. Centre College, with a student enrollment of only 203 students, made a mark for themselves that day by defeating WVU 14-6. Incredibly, Centre College went on to finish in the top 5 teams in the nation that year, alongside Harvard, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M.
On November 10, 1923, tragedy befell Laidley Field. WVU was playing Washington and Lee, and with 960 fans in one section of the south stands, the spectators had several seconds of warning sounds of wood cracking and splintering before the wooden stands collapsed to the ground. Sixty persons were injured, and 25 of those were rushed to area hospitals. A fence to the field was laid down to allow ambulances and other vehicles pressed into transport service access to the injured. After a pause, the game resumed even as the wounded were tended to on the sidelines. The most severe injuries were broken bones.
October of 1924 saw the dedication of new concrete stands in the stadium. The new stands increased the crowd capacity to 14,000. Many people with no inclination to attend a sporting event have been to Laidley Field. From 1947 until the present, the field has been the home to the Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival. Sponsored by the Charleston Daily Mail, and now the Gazette-Mail, the festival draws thousands of fans every fall to see area bands, majorette corps, and twirlers perform.
In 1979, the facility was rebuilt. Owned by the Board of Education, it was home to many area high school and junior high school sports teams. In 2003, due to dwindling funds for the upkeep of the stadium, the Board entered into a joint venture with the University of Charleston. The university invested over $1.5 million to replace turf, add a skybox and locker room, and make other improvements. In return, they received field access for their sports and naming rights. Now called the University of Charleston/Laidley Field, it is an 18,500-capacity stadium.
In addition to UC sporting events, the stadium hosts state track and field championship, multiple high school playoff games, the Majorette and Band Festival, and other activities.
Many notable athletes have played at Laidley Field over the years. These include Frank Criniti (Notre Dame), Dennis Harrah (Miami FL and the L.A. Rams), Billy Williams (Kentucky), and others.
Next month, Looking Back remembers
Stonewall Jackson High School.
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Squires’ new book Look Back at Charleston is a compilation of 24 essays and color photos from her column and is available on Amazon. Visit www.mlynne.com.
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