Early Bowling in Jamestown

The artifact from the collection of the Fenton History Center that is the subject of this Hometown History has been “rolling around Jamestown” for about 100 years, give or take. It came to the collection from the Tew Mansion. The Tew Mansion was built in 1881 and was the residence of George W. Tew for 14 years. Purchased in 1895 by the Jamestown Club, it served as the clubhouse for the Jamestown Club. The Jamestown Club was a men’s social club, founded by 13 young men in Jamestown in 1873. It was then referred to as the G.E.C. and what the initials stood for was a secret. Many years later a blurb in the newspaper column, Round about Town, reported that is stood for Gentlemen’s Entertainment Club. The club grew, was renamed the Jamestown Club, and eventually purchased the Tew Mansion for their clubhouse. They had been meeting in the second and third floors of the Sprague Block at the corner of Third and Main Streets.

At least by the late 1880s, bowling of the 10-pin variety had been introduced to this area. Among the members of the Jamestown club, the interest in bowling grew. The idea of having their own bowling alleys within their clubhouse was first discussed in 1906. The club approved the idea and plans were drawn up. Eventually the alleys were constructed in the basement of the clubhouse and were opened in March of 1907. One newspaper report wrote that there would be automatic pinsetters and that the equipment would be installed by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company of Buffalo. In addition, the club advertised for young boys, 14 years and older, to apply to be pinsetters at the alleys of the Jamestown Club. There were many bowling competitions between teams from the Jamestown Club and the Conewango Club, of Warren, Pennsylvania.

Just when this wooden bowling ball may have been used at the Jamestown club’s alleys is not known. We don’t know if they supplied balls for visitors or if everyone brought their own. Most likely balls were available for visitors. This assumption is based on the fact that when the alleys were opened on Friday, March 8, 1907, members and ladies enjoyed an informal reception where they were shown how to bowl and many, including the ladies, took the opportunity to try bowling. It was very much enjoyed by the ladies. Beginning in April of that year, every Monday afternoon became ladies’ day at the Jamestown club. They enjoyed cards, bowling, and refreshments. In November 1907, a newspaper article commented that many of the ladies were becoming “proficient players”.

For many years before this, bowling balls were made of wood. Specifically lignum vitae, a tree native to the Caribbean and South America. It is very heavy and very dense. The bowling ball in the Fenton’s collection has two finger holes as was the common practice at that time. By 1905, some bowling balls made from rubber were introduced to the bowling world. This type of composition became, and remained, the favored bowling ball through a few decades until the introduction of polyester/plastic bowling balls in the 1970s. This wooden bowling ball from the Tew Mansion/Jamestown Club connects us to early bowling in Jamestown and to the Jamestown Club.

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