Former home of Negro League player and Hockessin resident James 'Nip' Winters receives a state historical marker
Hockessin’s latest historical marker brings plans that have been nearly 20 years in the making closer to reality.
On Wednesday, officials and community members came together to honor the memory of one of Hockessin’s famous sons – Negro League ballplayer Jesse “Nip” Winters, who lived off the corner of Evanston and Valley roads for over 30 years.
The historical marker, placed through the Delaware Public Archives, commemorates the former location of Winters’ house, and notes the span of his 14-year career in the now defunct Negro League.
The third such marker placed in Hockessin in 2015, the series of historic locales are part of a decades-long effort to create a local greenways pathway and solidify the concept of the “Hockessin Village.”
PLANS FOR HISTORIC TRAIL
The Winters home marker joins with roughly a dozen others, including nearby Tweed’s Tavern and the Chippey Chapel, that organizers hope will form a historic walkable trail, as part of the Delaware Greenways project.
The proposed Hockessin Heritage Greenway Network, sponsored by Delaware Greenways, would connect several historic sites in Hockessin with nearly three miles of trails and sidewalks.
Greenways board member John Iwasyk said that he’s worked on the project with fellow Greenways member and Hockessin resident Dick Saunders since the 90s.
“It’s really like seeing a dream come true,” Iwasyk said.
Hockessin Historical Society president Joe Lake said he’s worked with state officials for nearly two years to establish the marker, which now sits on the former Smith property that was purchased by the county and developed into the Delaware Rush soccer fields.
Winters played for over a dozen teams on the east coast, during a time when Lake said playing ball in the Negro League demanded severe personal sacrifice.
“The pay was poor. Travel between cities was by bus or open-window railroad coach. You played for whatever team needed you, or whatever team could afford to pay you,” Lake said. “And because of racial segregation, you were denied access to most hotels.”
Winters career ended at the age of 33; shortly after, the Washington DC native married Sarah Smith and they settled down in Hockessin on her family property.
Lake said that during his time in Hockessin, Winters worked for the Hockessin Supply Company, where Hockessin Corner now stands, until his death in 1971.
“It’s an honor for our community … to recognize such extraordinary talent,” Lake said.
Ron Whittington, an instructor at the University of Delaware and baseball recreationist, said that part of a course he teaches on the impact of sports on race and culture explores the nature of the Negro Leagues.
He also said that, because he died in the 70s, not many people are even aware of Nip.
“(Nip) died just a few years before Major League Baseball started to recognize Negro League players,” Whittington said. “If he had lived, when (Negro League player Judy Johnson) was inducted, I’m sure that Judy and others would have pushed for Nip to be included.”
Whittington said the 6 foot, 3 inch left hander was pictured at the first Negro League World Series in 1924 standing alongside Johnson, who was the sixth Negro League player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – when both men played for the Philadelphia Hilldales.
Whittington added that Winters was also considered one of the best left handed pitchers in the heyday of Negro League Baseball.
“He’s a person we really need to honor,” he said.
New Castle County Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, Third District, said that additions like the historic marker further the community’s goals of unifying the Hockessin area.
She added that when the land was purchased during her tenure with the state assembly, no one had any idea they were getting a piece of property that would one day be valued as historic.
“We are The Village – we know who our ancestors were, we know who our neighbors are,” she said.
Several area residents with a connection to Winters were on hand for Wednesday’s ceremony, including Wilmington resident Andrea McCord Carty, who helped round up some of the surviving Negro League players for a visit to the White House two years ago.
McCord-Carty said she was proud to see Winters being honored.
“I’ve always loved baseball – my sons played and I just took an interest,” she said.
Winters’ niece Lois Johnson said it was wonderful to see “Uncle Nip” getting his due recognition.
“I’ve helped with (other historic locations), but this was certainly special,” Johnson said.