News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

June 21, 2014

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Roller polo popular in early 1900s Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute has long enjoyed a reputation as a sportsman’s paradise, and this was no more evident than in the early part of the 20th century, when the city got its first roller polo franchise.

Along with teams from Lafayette, Danville, Kokomo and Fort Wayne among others, Terre Haute’s first roller polo team played in the Central League, which was formed in Indianapolis.

Roller polo gained national recognition in the 1870s when wealthy socialites bemoaned the passing of the polo season. They found the new rage of indoor roller skating, an acceptable alternative to the outdoors.

Roller polo was played with a red hard-rubber ball, where competing teams would vie with hockey-like sticks to get the ball in the opponent’s goal. With the rise of indoor skating arenas, roller polo’s popularity spread throughout the East Coast and into the Midwest, and found its way into Terre Haute by 1904.

Played at the Terre Haute Coliseum, which was at the present site of  Hulman Center at Eighth and Cherry streets, roller polo proved to be a wildly popular spectator sport.

The Coliseum was built by Ross Bronson, a local businessman, who also owned Bronson Sulphur Springs Sanitarium. The Coliseum proved to be such a nice facility that it hosted the Central League’s inaugural playoffs.

While the sport’s popularity did not last long in Terre Haute, the Coliseum proved to be very popular as a burlesque and vaudeville house until its untimely demise on Nov. 8, 1909, when a fire broke out. While roller polo made a brief resurgence in the 1930s, it was unable to recapture the popularity it had once experienced.

Visit the Vigo County Historical Society for more information and to see the Coliseum pictured as it once stood.

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