Ballard Field

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From baseball to thriving businesses, Ballard Field has seen its share of success and failures. It once sheltered two industries, an entertaining circus, and a field open to anyone who could throw a ball. The day that Marion acquired a name for itself in Indiana, Ballard Field was blossoming right alongside it.

Early Baseball Field

Ballard Field was believed to have been used as a baseball field before 1901 (Bureau hopes to make dream come true, Chronicle Tribune). Teams such as the Mathews Team, calling themselves the Giants, played at this vast field. Though most of the playing was at Goldtwhait Park, youths could come to Ballard Field to practice or have unofficial games. In those years, baseball was a major team sport with local fans that gathered to support local town amateur players in town revelry. On any given summer day, you were bound to come across at least two baseball games going on somewhere (Reminiscing, Chronicle Tribune).

Ballard Packaging Company (1901-1945)

Aerial view of Ballard Packing Co.
Jesse Ballard Sr. began construction on Ballard Field, known then as Sweetzer Field, in 1901 (Marion Public Library, Industry-Ballard Field File). The factory that was to be assembled would be a packing company that he would head for 50 years. In 1909, the face of industry that was growing rapidly in Marion hit Ballard Field with the birth of the Ballard Packing Company. On the first of January in that same year, it was finally established with a capital set at $50,000 (Marion, IN and Grant County Marion Directory. Vol. 1). The employees hired totaled out to be 114 people: 88 males, 18 females, and 8 office workers (Marion Chamber of Commerce).

Ballard Packaging Company was a meat packing company that killed sheep, hogs, cattle, and pigs (Field of Dreams, Chronicle Tribune). Jesse Ballard’s son remembers, “We butchered 600 to 700 hogs a week,” Jesse M. Ballard Jr. said. “The cooler would hold 125 to 130 hogs, but only in the afternoon. In the morning, it held about 15 head of cattle.”

Putting up the Big Top Tent, ca. 1930s
Ballard Jr. worked at the plant after he graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture. He married Ann in 1942 and balanced farming and working at the plant (Field of Dreams, Chronicle Tribune). “I got kind of skinny doing that,” he said grinning, “but we liked it.” “I remember going to the circus there together when we were first married. That was over 50 years ago,” Anne Ballard said (Field of Dreams, Chronicle Tribune).

Handlers riding elephants to Ballard Field, ca. 1930s)
“Half of the field was in the city and half of it wasn’t,” Jesse recalls. “The circus would put their shows up with their property sitting outside the city limits. They didn’t want to pay taxes on it. That is why the field was so popular.” Several times a year, the circus would come to town and set up on Ballard Field just a few yards away from the Packing Company. Unfortunately, the circuses shared the same fate of the plant and died off after World War II.

Closure and Sale

In 1945, the plant was sold to a company by the name of Evans (Marion Public Library Parks and Playgrounds file). The plant’s condition by that time had gotten so poor that a mere 80 people worked there by the time it officially closed. Ballard recalls how the government was just too much. “We got fed up with the government regulations,” Ballard said. “We had one woman who that’s all she did, was make government reports all day long. We were tired of it.”

Government reports coupled with the absence of a railroad spur to deliver coal needed for processing right to the plant’s back door, were two major factors in the termination of the company. After 50 years of business, Ballard Packing Company seized production and closed down.

Evans Dog and Cat Food Co. (1945-1956)

Evans Dog and Cat Food Company began manufacturing its product shortly after the Ballard Packing Company closed. The pet food factory was in production from 1945 until 1956. By this time, the old building was buckling and had already begun to show signs that its time had come and gone. Made mostly of wood, the building was rotting away and the roof had already caved in when the Evans’ were completely moved out. The building remained up until the 1960’s when it was torn and burned down (Marion Public Library Industries-Ballard Field file).

Vacant Lot

After the field was cleared, the only thing left were two houses, one of them empty and a brick structure than had been left up from the Ballard Packing Company. Forgotten and left in the background, Ballard Field was left vacant for slightly more than 30 years. At some point in this period of time, Marion had established the borders of Ballard Field to be included in the Walkway of Lights, which Marion displays as soon as the Holiday Season arrives. Periodically, it was used as a sort of ‘track’ for the Marion cross country teams to practice and hold meets.

Walkway and Athletic Fields

In 1992, Marion’s mayor, Ron Mowery, was working on developing new plans for the enormous field. Grant County Convention and Visitors Bureau had a vision--a field of dreams, of sorts--for the 19 acres it purchased that November. For the next few years, the commission looked forward to hearing sounds of a bat striking hard against a softball or baseball, the soft thud of a foot hitting a soccer ball, or the scuffling of running shoes around a jogging trail in what is Ballard Field (Bureau hopes to make dream come true, Chronicle Tribune).

Purchase of Remaining Lots

Most of the lot was empty except for those two houses. Liz Wright, president of the commission, said the commission had looked at purchasing the property in 1989, along with the property that was once Plank Auto Parts. Wright said the previous owner of the property died during negotiations, so they just backed off There were complications with the estate and the two properties were divided and sold (Old Ballard Field target of city officials’ vision, Chronicle Tribune).

In May of 1992, the commission learned that the 19 acres was again back on the market. By November, they had closed the deal. One advantage of the wait: “We ended up purchasing the property for a lot less than what we originally would have been able to purchase it,” Wright said. (Old Ballard Field target of city officials’ vision, Chronicle Tribune).


By this time, two sketches had been made by architect Gerald Guy. Both sketches transformed the field into a recreation and sports area. One of the plans included a softball field, sports field, plaza with parking, garden displays, and a gazebo. The second plan included a junior sports field, three regulation fields designed for optional purposes, and parking. Both plans were set to incorporate an extension of the Mississinewa Riverwalk.


The commission was planning to negotiate a contract with the city to place the field under the guidance of the Marion Parks and Recreation Department which Mowery immediately agreed on. For a while, Mowery tried to bring back the circuses to Marion by speaking to Peru’s mayor about the idea. Unfortunately, the idea fell through. (Bureau hopes to make dream come true, Chronicle Tribune) However, in 1997, construction for the second plan including the junior sports field, three regulation fields for varying sports, and free parking were underway. The field wasn’t completely finished until 1998 and was open for play that following Autumn (Old Ballard Field target of city officials’ vision, Chronicle Tribune).

Ballard Field, Today

The freshly renovated Ballard Field is now mainly used by Marion Community Schools for soccer practices and when they have to host games. Moreover, it is used by various community athletic programs for games, practices, etc.--but again, mainly for soccer. Unfortunately, the Mississinewa Riverwalk has not yet been expanded to as far as Ballard Field, but commission still holds that expectation.

Who knew that these factories and sites once existed on the 19 acre lot of land on the east side of Marion along Indiana State Road 18? Ballard Packing Company was by far the largest in production. The land’s name itself was changed from Sweetzer Field to Ballard Field because of the high success this company--a dent has been left in Marion’s history. As in the past, Ballard Field will continue to play a productive role in Marion’s society.

Works Cited

  • Buffington, Fred “Reminiscing” Chronicle Tribune page not given 10 March 1999.
  • Cavender, Fred D. “Amazing Tales from Indiana” New York: Harcourt, 1995.
  • Kingery, Tammy ‘Pield of Dreams” Chronicle Tribune date unknown.
  • Kingery, Tammy “Bureau hopes to make dream come true” Chronicle Tribune page not given 23 December 1992.
  • Industry-Ballard Field file, Chronicle Tribune Marion Public Library.
  • Parks and Playgrounds file, Chronicle Tribune Marion Public Library.
  • Petersime, Alan, “Old Ballard Field target of city officials’ vision” Chronicle Tribune page not given 04 April 1997.


This article was written by Selina Boyer and submitted on December 19, 2001 for Mr. Lakes' and Mr. Munn's classes at Marion High School.