Grave Story: Clarence Saulpaugh (1859-1917)

Here lies Clarence Saulpaugh, an early minor-league business magnate who was the owner of the Minneapolis Millers in the late 19th Century. His family built and operated the Saulpaugh Hotel, a fancy and popular hotel in Mankato, Minn.

Clarence H. Saulpaugh was born on January 8, 1859 in Rock Island, Ill. His father Thomas was a contractor in Rock Island. According to the Blue Earth County Historical Society, the elder Saulpaugh first came to Minnesota for stone quarries. I couldn’t find what led him to become a hotelier, but the Saulpaugh Hotel was built in 1889 and was the finest hotel in the city. At four stories, it was the largest building in Southern Minnesota at the time. Clarence was put in charge of managing it. His mother and father died in 1892 and 1893, respectively, and after the inheritances were disbursed, Saulpaugh was said to be worth about $500,000

Saulpaugh married Roma Allen on October 28, 1893. According to the Fort Wayne Sentinel, she was a millionaire’s daughter. After just a few months of wedded bliss, he was sued by a former Saulpaugh Hotel housekeeper, Victoria Stein, for breach of contract. She sued him for $50,000, claiming that he had promised to marry her after his mother died but broke his agreement by marrying someone else. They allegedly met in 1888, and Stein divorced her husband to be with Saulpaugh. The resulting trial held in December 1894, was an ugly one and attracted nationwide attention. Stain’s reputation was attacked, Roma’s background was challenged, and Clarence’s embarrassing love letters to Stein were read publicly, addressing her as “Toots” and himself as “Pops.” In the end, Stein was awarded the sum of one dollar. Whatever the personal toll the trial and media kerfuffle took on them, Clarence and Roma’s marriage lasted until his death. They are said to be the models for Mr. and Mrs. Poppy in Mankato native Maud Hart Lovelace’s Besty-Tacy children’s books.

Saulpaugh Hotel. Source: Blue Earth County Historical Society

So, scandal aside, we can talk about baseball now. Saulpaugh was a baseball fan dating back several years and by 1897 he had become the treasurer of the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League. It was suggested by the papers that manager Walt Wilmot install Saulpaugh, who allegedly tipped the scales at 300 pounds, in the infield, as he would take up a lot of space.

The Minneapolis Millers, or at least a team in Minneapolis called the Millers, dated back to the mid-1880s. The team would become a mainstay of the American Association well into the 20th Century, up until the Twins came to town. Saulpaugh’s team is not that team. This team was a part of the Western League, which would become the American League in a few years’ time.

Source: The Saint Paul Globe, December 12, 1894.

The first reference I could find that tied Saulpaugh to the Millers was in April 1897, when he was arguing about St. Louis’ attempts to snatch pitcher Bill Hutchinson from their roster.

“It is a case of stealing in broad daylight,” he complained about the Cardinals’ attempts to sign away Hutchinson. “If there is no justice to be got out of the National league tribunal, we will see if the courts of this country will permit such high-handed stealing as this to be carried on without redress to the parties robbed.” Hutchinson did go on to pitch briefly with the Cardinals that season before finishing with a 14-24 record with the Millers.

As part of the Millers executive team, Saulpaugh gave his approval for the team to fire manager Wilmot and replace him with veteran ballplayer George “Doggie” Miller. The ownership team was shaken up with president John Goodnow had to retire from his position, due to being named the general consul to China. Saulpaugh and Marcus P. Hayne went to the meeting of the Western League owners on October 6, 1897 and emerged from it on October 8 as the sole owners of the Millers. Saulpaugh named former Washington Senators Gus Schmelz as manager.

Baseball changed when Western League turned into the American League in 1900 and started plotting to become a major league, on par with the NL. The Millers stayed with the AL in 1900 but were cut loose from the league prior to the 1901 season, as the league looked for new teams in larger cities to make its case as a “major league.” Saulpaugh, though, was insistent that Minneapolis would have a baseball league in 1901 and that he would not be pushed aside. He held the lease on Nicollet Park through July of 1901, after all. He also refused to give his rivals, the Saint Paul Saints, a chance to poach one of his players as their manager. When aging slugger Perry Werden asked about his release so he could go to the Saints, he was supposedly told by Saulpaugh, “You can go and take a soak in the lake.”

The Millers joined a reformed Western League in 1901, which included the Saints as well as teams from Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines and Denver. It did so without Clarence Saulpaugh, though. When the American League dropped Minneapolis, Saulpaugh had a franchise with no league. He also faced competition in the way of a new Minneapolis team, run by A.B. Beall, that was to be a part of the Western League. Saulpaugh realized that a lease to a ballpark isn’t worth when you don’t have teams to fill it, so he ended the brief Minneapolis baseball war and sold out to Beall. The Minneapolis Millers that Beall trotted out in 1901 bore no relation to the Millers of old.

The city did not rally behind this new version of the Millers. That August, Saulpaugh visited Detroit and told the Dereoit Free Press that attendance in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Kansas City had been disappointing and that the WL wouldn’t be a financial success (which I’m sure broke his heart). “Mr. Saulpaugh says he is through with baseball for good, and has no intention of breaking into the national game again,” the paper reported.

The Millers, under the helm of old manager Wilmot, played in the American Association in 1902, and that is the team that would stick for decades to come and feature the likes of Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Ray Dandridge. Saulpaugh, true to his word, was done with baseball. Besides, he had a new hobby. He bought an automobile in 1902 and decided to drive it back to Minneapolis. The 100-mile trip would take him about six hours, he boldly predicted. His first step was, of course, to buy a driving outfit and visor. The next step was to let the operator, provided by the car company, take the wheel until he decided to try his hand.

“The baseball man held the helm up Nicollet to Seventh street and gave the curb such a close rub on the turn that his operator grasped the rod himself and requested his companion to take the back seat,’ reported the Minneapolis Journal, at least partly in jest.

Saulpaugh and his automobile would be the subject of newspaper articles for several years to come in Minnesota, and by 1912 he was president of the Mankato Auto Club. He was said to have used his Cadillac to pull a stove out of a home that was wrecked by a tornado, so that the father of the family could rescue the money he had stored there for safekeeping.

Clarence Saulpaugh died in his apartment at the Saulpaugh Hotel on September 19, 1917. According to his obit, death resulted “from a complication of ailments with which he had suffered for several months past.” He was 58 years old. He is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. The Saulpaugh Hotel survived a kitchen fire and a runaway streetcar crashing through its lobby, but it eventually fell upon hard times. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the family management sold the company in 1913. It was bought a sold a few more times until it was eventually torn down in 1974. The one-time center of Mankato’s social scene is now the site of a Holiday Inn.

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