James Wallace Conant (August 10, 1862 - March 14, 1906) was an amusement manager who later became the manager of the Schenley Park Casino, as well as the first manager of the Duquesne Gardens, the first indoor ice rinks in the city of Pittsburgh. Conant is credited with bringing the sport of ice hockey to Pittsburgh, since the indoor ice rinks lured many Canadian players to the city. Over time several of the Canadian players were actually paid to play hockey first at the Casino, and later at the Gardens. He was also the founder of the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League, the first hockey league to openly hire and trade players.
Conant was born in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1862. At the age of 15 he moved with his mother to Pittsburgh. Upon arriving in the Steel City, he took a job as a steward on a river steamer, out of a love for the rivers. Throughout his twenties he worked in theater houses, located in the city's Hill District, a few downtown night clubs, and as a coordinator for a barge company with docks along the Mon Wharf.
Schenley Park CasinoEdit
At the age of 36, Conant's reputation in the amusements industry caught the attention of Christopher Magee, a political boss in Pittsburgh. Conant persuaded Magee that the city's proposed multi-purpose facility, the new Schenely Park Casino, could included an artificial ice rink. The idea of an artificial ice rink, allowed for the construction of the Casino to go forward. During this time, interest in ice hockey grew in Pittsburgh. Hockey exhibitions were scheduled for Friday nights after the public ice skating session. Many Canadians players flocked to Pittsburgh to use the artificial ice. The ice surface provided the Canadian players two months of play before they returned home to play in outdoor leagues back home. It was at this time that several players were openly paid to play in Pittsburgh.
However 19 months after it's opening, the Casino burned to the ground. The cause of the blaze was determined to come from an ammonia pipe in the icemaking department. The pipe began began leaking and the gas mixed with grease and created an explosion resulting in a fire that consumed the equipment room in the rear of the Casino and spread to the ladies’ dressing room. The fire not only destroyed the Casino, it also left Conant without a job.
Coanant spent the next three winters in New York City. There he used his knowledge of artificial ice surfaces to manage the New York Ice Palace. However he returned to Pittsburgh every summer to work at Kennywood Park as a catering manager. He also ran a refreshment stand in the summers at Schenley Park on the site of old Casino.
Meanwhile the Christopher Magee received the political and financial support to open a new multi-purpose facility in Pittsburgh, the Duquesne Gardens. Magee then chose Conant to manage the Gardens, a job he held from 1899 until 1903. It was during this time, that Conant formally established the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League.
Conant then managed the Farmer's Bank Building, but that job only lasted nine months, after which he worked as a manager of a restaurant until September 1905. Conant had hoped to move his wife and mother to either Boston or New York and began exploring business opportunities in those cities. He left for a business trip to the Northeast in March 3, 1906. On March 14, Conant died under mysterious circumstances at the Navarra Hotel in New York.
Controversey soon surrounded his death, since two versions of death were published the day after. While the morning newspapers said it was sudden and natural, the afternoon papers suggested Alcoholism and infidelity, were the cause of his death. He checked into hotel under the name of "J.C. Wallace" with two women ("wife" and "friend of wife"). However his wife, Margaret, was in Pittsburgh when she notified of his death by a Pittsburgh doctor who was said to be traveling with Conant in New York. The doctor signed the death certificate listing cause of death as "heart attack." A New York doctor later disputed the account of Conant's doctor stating, "I am not at all convinced that this man died of natural causes." Robbery and murder were also hinted. The Pittsburg Gazette reported the body was moved to the Navarra and that some dispute took place in New York. His personal belongs, including $600 and a diamond stickpin, were missing.
He was buried at Allegheny Cemetery on St. Patrick's Day.
- Steel City Legends: James Wallace Conant: 1862-1906
- Steel City Legends: Schenley Park Casino: 1895-1896
- New York Times Obituary: James Wallace Conant, March 16, 1906
|Western Pennsylvania Hockey League|
|Teams||Pittsburgh Athletic Club • Pittsburgh Bankers • Pittsburgh Duquesne • Pittsburgh Keystones • Pittsburgh Lyceum • Pittsburgh Pirates • Pittsburgh Victorias|
|Stadia||Duquesne Gardens • Schenley Park Casino • Winter Garden at Exposition Hall|
|Seasons||1896–97 • 1898–99 • 1899–1900 • 1901 • 1902 • 1903 • 1904 • 1908 •1909|
|Lore||James Wallace Conant • International Professional Hockey League • Pittsburgh Professionals|
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