BALTIMORE – As Baltimore’s 1960 and 1961 Liberty Union High School baseball teams reunite from 2 – 4 p.m. Saturday for their 50th anniversary at the Baltimore Museum, and the Liberty Union Thurston Lady Lions high school softball team prepares for the Division III state semifinals, it seems like Baltimore, Ohio could be called “Baseball,” Ohio.
Well, guess what? It almost was. Baltimore residents and the former Twin City News recount the story of how Baltimore Village was less than 200 signatures away from being named for one of America’s favorite pastimes.
Step back more than 50 years ago when Baltimore, Ohio and Basil, Ohio were separately incorporated and Union Street marked the boundary between them. Around 1945, the powers that be decided both Basil and Baltimore villages could be operated more efficiently if they combined into one political entity. This was easier said than done considering the villagers were rivals.
Baltimore residents Jim Reed and George Stillwell said immigrants from Basel, Switzerland founded Basil, Ohio (and misspelled the incorporated title) and Germans settled adjacent Baltimore. The Swiss and the Germans historically disliked each other and only settled next door to each other because they were on the only major road through the area. “They decided if they merged one of the names chosen would not be Baltimore,” said Reed. Of course, Baltimore was chosen. “It got really ugly,” he said.
To illustrate the tension between the villages, Stillwell said at one time, the government appointed Baltimore resident Joel Hansberger as the Basil Post Office’s postmaster. Hansberger did all he could to close the post office. Stillwell said at another time the Baltimore Post Office was closed and “blown up.” In that time period, the postmaster was responsible for building a new post office.
Some suggested “Basilmore,” as an alternative name, but then Bob Hooey, sports editor for the Ohio State Journal, suggested in 1947 that Basil take the original Swiss spelling of its name and combine it with Baltimore to create “Baseball,” Ohio. He thought it would be a novelty that would bring positive attention to the village, like Santa Claus, Indiana; Christmas, Florida; or Valentine, Arizona.
“They had some big names wanting it to be named Baseball,” said Stillwell. George Trautman, president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues supported the name, as did Warren G. Giles, president of the Cincinnati Baseball Club, who promised all residents free tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game if the name were established.
Stillwell, an octogenarian, said plenty of residents supported the name and started gathering signatures. In fact, they gathered significantly more than half of the residents’ signatures. But, there was a catch. Judge Earl D. Parker, a visiting judge from Waverly, Ohio, ruled that by law they needed to collect more than three-fourths of the population’s signatures to enact the new name, and the collected 626 signatures fell less than 200 signatures shy of reaching the goal, and the name remained Baltimore.
Many people, including Stillwell, were very disappointed. “They have no history,” he said, of those who lived and died in Basil Village, including some soldiers who no longer have official records.
Reed said that following Parker’s decision, there was even a movement among residents of the former Basil Village to secede from Baltimore and re-establish Basil. Although that never happened, Stillwell vows never to allow Basil Village’s memory to fade. “Basil will live forever,” he said.