Bowling - The Early Years

Bowling first came to Kokomo over 130 years ago. There were no automatic pinsetters, automatic ball returns or automatic scoring. Nothing was automatic. Who would have known that bowling would have grown into the sport it is today. More people bowl today than lived in the entire village back then.

Bowling in Kokomo actually dates back to the Civil War days, about 1863. Nat McCool placed a single alley on the south side of the square about where the Olympiad Pub was formerly located.

The next alley was constructed by Dick Shepherd in the early 1870’s on the north side of the square. This single alley was placed on an empty lot and a wood shed built over it for protection. It was located about where Sound of Music is today.

In 1876, J. C. Mattix built a similar structure on the west side of the square. It might be considered the first "respectable" tenpin establishment. This alley was one of the old narrow types that the bowler would straddle, rolling a wooden ball with both hands. The bowler would fall to his stomach in the process. Ouch! This style was certainly not as graceful, or athletic, as todays. The alley itself was about 30 inches wide and between 50 and 60 feet in length. With only this one alley in town, it often had to be reserved 24 hours in advance.

After the big Kokomo gas discovery in 1886, Mattix built a new building on the same site. Sometime later, another alley was added to the facility. These alleys were located about where the parking lot beside the NBD Bank is today.

All of these alleys were in operation before the forming of the American Bowling Congress (ABC). There were no uniform rules, alleys, pins or balls. In fact, ball manufacturers sold different size balls. The ABC was formed in 1895 which helped the sport of American Tenpins grow nationwide.

As the town grew, other alleys appeared and disappeared. Charlie Duke ran a set of alleys in the Old Opera House. There was an establishment on Main Street at one time. (See the accompanying map for early alley locations.)

In 1897, there were two respectable facilities on South Main Street with ninepin bowling alleys. Ninepin bowling came from Germany with the pins set up in a diamond configuration. One theory says that tenpin bowling originated when the tenth pin was added by enterprising New England proprietors when governments banned ninepins due to increased gambling.

Some of the early bowling might have been considered "back-room" saloon bowling in an environment of drinking and gambling. Bowling did not have a very good image at that time. It was not "proper" for women and children to participate. In these early days of bowling, it was definitely not a family sport. Many of the alleys were housed along with pool and billiard tables.


Competition Heats Up

I would say bowling shifted into second gear in Kokomo in 1908. Mattix operated his alleys until 1908 when he sold the two-lane Saratoga Alleys establishment to Otto (Emil) Kollmar. In earlier years, these lanes were called the West Side alleys. The Excelsior Alleys opened November 22, 1908, and competition for patrons was evident from the advertisements. The Saratoga facility had two alleys while the Excelsior establishment had four.

This is when league bowling got its start, probably because this was the first time 6 alleys were available in the city. In 1908, a six-team City League was formed at the Saratoga Alleys. Not everyone could participate in the league. You could only bowl on your company team. As evidence, future KBA secretary Harry O. Davis was barred from substituting on the L&M team since he did not work there.

Inter-city challenge matches also got their start and were regularly held. Some of the cities involved were Peru, Marion and Elwood. There was even a Wabash Valley League of which Kokomo was a part. The newspapers provided excellent coverage of the leagues and matches. Individual and team scores were printed in the next day's edition. In that time period, a 500 series was a good score.

Even the women started to participate. The Excelsior Alleys advertised special times for the ladies to bowl. The more daring and athletically inclined women bowled behind tightly drawn curtains. However, it would not be until the late 1920’s that women would participate in larger numbers.

The Excelsior Alleys became Menig’s Annex Alleys or Menig’s Excelsior Alleys in the fall of 1910. Two leagues were formed that season.

In the fall of 1911, after the completion of the new YMCA building, the YMCA alleys were opened. There were 3 lanes and they would later be managed by the aforementioned J. C. Mattix. There was a 4 team YMCA League that season. That year, Menig’s Excelsior Alleys had 2 leagues; the Commercial League and the Factory League.

In the fall of 1912, Menig must have sold the alleys as they were again called the Excelsior Alleys. In 1913, I could no longer find a reference to these lanes.

The Saratoga Alleys remained in operation through the 1914-1915 season but were not heard about again after 1916.

In the fall of 1915, George F. Menig installed 6 new lanes in the basement under his cigar store and pool/billiard parlor located at 108 E. Mulberry. At that time, it was one of the finest facilities in the state, but still would not compare to the large, comfortable and spacious bowling centers of today. Two leagues were organized that season; the Kommercial (later Commercial) League and the Industrial League.

With the new alleys, scores started to increase. Carl Maudlin shot a 732 series with a 279 game in a challenge match. He also shot a 289 game when practicing for his trip to the 1916 ABC Tournament.

Menig paid for Kokomo’s first ABC entry in Toledo in 1916. See the accompanying article for more information. Kokomo also participated in the State Tournament during the spring of 1916.


The Kokomo Bowling Association is Formed

In April of 1916, George Strout, one of the leading bowling enthusiasts in the city, received a letter from Ed H. Meyer, the Secretary of the Indianapolis Bowling Association. The purpose of the letter was to invite Kokomo to a meeting in Logansport to discuss joining the State Association and ABC while forming a city association of its own.

The Kokomo Bowling Association was formed shortly thereafter on August 17, 1916. George Strout of the Apperson Brothers was elected president; Carl Krebser of the Brass Works, vice-president; Harry O. Davis of the Conron McNeal Skate Factory, secretary and treasurer. The constitution and by-laws were developed and adopted on Friday, August 25, 1916.

Two leagues were organized under the newly created Kokomo Bowling Association. The ten-team Industrial League and the eight-team City League bowled at the Menig Alleys.

The City League was a handicap league. The Industrial League started out as a scratch league. Bowlers proudly represented their companies in competition against other local companies. The list of teams in the Industrial League is practically a Who’s Who of companies in Kokomo’s history as shown below.

- Apperson Brothers Automobile Company
- Globe Stove and Range Company (2 teams)
- Haynes Automobile Company
- Kokomo Brass Works
- Kokomo Electric Company
- Kokomo Sanitary Pottery
- Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company
- Kokomo Steel and Wire Company
- Superior Machine Tool Company 

These first two ABC-sanctioned leagues opened their bowling season on September 25, 1916. A new Kokomo sports era had begun. The foundation to support growth was in place although significant growth would not occur for about 20 years. Today, over 4000 bowlers participate in sanctioned leagues in Kokomo.

(The information about Kokomo bowling alleys before 1900 was derived from a Tribune article written by KBA Hall-of-Famer Bud Fridlin in 1935. In his article, Fridlin stated that Phil Mattix, brother of J. C. Mattix, was a pin boy in that first bowling establishment. I believe that J. C. Mattix provided much of this information first hand to Fridlin prior to Mattix’ death in 1937.)


Kokomo’s First ABC Tournament Entry

George F. Menig wanted to send a team to the 1916 ABC in Toledo to compete in the national tournament. He wanted to send the best team possible to represent Kokomo. Menig paid the $86 required to enter the team and cover city association dues since Kokomo did not yet have an association.

To find the best bowlers, Menig organized a 15-game qualifying tournament. Of the 28 men entered, only six would make the trip. The competition was fierce. Kokomo’s best bowlers came on top. Homer "Kilbuck" Wallam averaged 198 for the 15 games. Carl Maudlin averaged 196.

The six bowlers representing Kokomo that year were Homer Kilbuck, Carl Maudlin, Harry O. Davis, Claude Jones, Richard Harper and Roy Aikman.

This group did not perform as well as they had hoped. However, Kilbuck and Maudlin shot an excellent 1218 score in doubles and picked up about $60 in prize money. Davis shot a 585 in singles and also picked up some of the loot. Altogether, the team won about $125 in prize money. Not bad for a first time entry!


Kokomo Bowling Alley Locations

1 Unknown (Nat McCool) About 107 W Sycamore About 1863
2 Unknown (Dick Shepherd) About 106-108 W Walnut Early 1870’s
3 Unknown (J.C. Mattix) About 120 N Buckeye 1876 - 1896
  West Side Alleys 119-121 N Buckeye 1896 - 1908
  Saratoga Alleys 119-121 N Buckeye 1908 - 1916
4 Unknown (Charlie Duke) 11 S Buckeye About 1905
5 Unknown N Main (possibly 40 N Main) Unknown
6 Excelsior Alleys 108-112 W Mulberry 1908 - 1910
  Menig’s Annex Alleys or Menig’s Excelsior Alleys 108-112 W Mulberry 1910 - 1912
  Excelsior Alleys 108-112 W Mulberry 1912 - 1913
7 YMCA Alleys Corner of Walnut and Union 1911 - ??
8 Menig Alleys 108 E Mulberry 1915 - 1923
9 Recreation Alleys 315 1/2 N Buckeye 1922 - 1933
10 Recreation Alleys 325 N Main 1933 - 1945
11 Evans Bowling Academy 212 E Sycamore 1937 - 1954
  Sycamore Lanes 212 E Sycamore 1954 - 1969
12 Recreation Alleys 500 N Main 1945 - 1957
  The Bowling Center 500 N Main 1957 - 1969