Frank DeHaas Robison - Pioneer in Street Railway Lines

193 Bratenahl Road
Frank DeHaas Robison
Frank DeHaas Robison

The Robison brothers, Frank and Stanley, had a keen interest in professional baseball. In 1887, they organized the Forest City Baseball Club in the American Association and started a baseball team in Cleveland, dubbed the “Spiders” because of its lean players.  The Spiders were a powerhouse team from 1891 through 1896, marking a time of success and glory in Cleveland baseball history.

In 1897, Frank Robison merged with Marcus A. Hanna’s Woodland Avenue and West Side Street Railway to form the Cleveland City Railway Company. In the transaction, Robison lost his railway stock when his broker John J. Shipherd, of the firm Charles Potter & Co., fraudulently sold the stock and kept the proceeds. In a court settlement, Robison acquired a substantial interest in the new railway company.

In 1899, the brothers built American Association Park on their Payne Avenue cable line at East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue to increase ridership and baseball attendance. The name of the park changed to National League Park.

That same year, the Robison brothers purchased the National League St. Louis Browns baseball club out of bankruptcy. They kept the Spiders, which was a blatant conflict of interest. They grew increasingly disappointed with Cleveland fans for not supporting their Cleveland baseball club. The Spiders finished in last place and the team.

Believing the more densely populated St. Louis would draw sizable crowds, The brothers transferred most of the Cleveland stars to St. Louis, including future Hall of Famer Denten True (Cy) Young and his outstanding catcher, Chief Zimmer. They also shifted a large number of Cleveland home games to the road.

Stripped of their best talent, the Spiders' first 16 home games drew an average of 199 fans per game. Due to these meager attendance figures, the other National League teams refused to come to League Park, as their cut of the revenue from ticket sales didn’t cover their hotel and travel expenses. The Spiders only played 42 home games during the season, with only 6,088 fans attending in 1899, for a pathetic average of a mere 145 spectators per game in League Park. They were perhaps the worst professional baseball team of all time. The final record for that year was 20 wins and 134 losses. The Spider and the team dropped from the National League.

The brothers changed the color of the St. Louis uniform socks from brown to Cardinal red, and the new color gave quick rise to the name Cardinals.

Frank De Haas Robison was born on November 16, 1852, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent his boyhood in Dubuque, Iowa, where he and his brother developed their appreciation for the sport of baseball. He briefly attended Delaware University.

Robison married Sarah Carver (Sallie) Hathaway, formerly of Philadelphia, in 1875. They had three daughters: Marie born in 1878, who died of heart failure at age 21, Helene (Britton) born January 30, 1879, and Hortense, born in 1883, who died of pneumonia at age nine.

Following his wedding, Frank worked at his father’s business for several years; then, he joined his father-in-law Charles Hathaway. In 1877, they organized Hathaway & Robison to build a horse-drawn trolley system. Robison personally organized the Cleveland City Cable Railway Company in 1889 and built twenty-four miles of cable lines on Payne and Superior Avenues. Eventually, Frank’s brother, Stanley, joined him in the enterprise.

Robison was a member of the Roadside and Union clubs plus organizing and building the Cleveland Athletic Club.

Frank Robison died from a stroke on September 25, 1908, at Villa Hedges. Frank’s brother, Stanley, continued as the Cardinals’ president. Stanley, a bachelor, died in 1911 and willed seventy-five percent of the ownership of the Cardinals ball club and ballpark to Frank’s daughter, Helene Britton, and twenty-five percent to Frank’s wife, Sarah.

Sarah Robison sold the cherished family home in 1915 to Sophia Taylor, who demolished the house to build a new home for herself. Sarah died four years later on May 28, 1919, and buried at Lake View Cemetery alongside Frank.