Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

1889 Account of the Sport of Riding to Hounds by Members of the Country Club Located in Pelham

For a number of years in the 1880s, Pelham was the site of the "Country Club" -- the nation's second suburban country club founded for the recreational enjoyment of its members in a "country" setting. I have written much about the Steeple Chase races and the "base ball" games that took place at the Country Club.

For years, however, I have known that members of the Club maintained kennels on the ground and held grand horseback "hunts" throughout lower Westchester County. I have searched in vain, however, for detailed accounts of the hunts.

Finally I have located one such account from the October 13, 1889 issue of The New York Times. It is transcribed below, followed by a citation to its source.




Accustomed as it has been to no more exciting sport than a paper chase or a tennis tournament, the quiet little village of Rye was stirred to its centre yesterday afternoon by the appearance of a pack of hounds and a large number of horsemen in its streets. As the merry horn of the huntsman and the yelping of the dogs were thrown back in echoes from the white sides of the cottages, the entire population turned out to see what was the matter.

The cause of the unwonted [sic] disturbance was the advent of the Country Club hunt, which had come up from West Chester to give the fair ladies of Rye a treat in the way of chasing the elusive anise seed. Mr. Charles Pelham-Clinton, the master of the hunt, rode proudly down the main thoroughfare of the hamlet with the eager pack close at the heels of his charger, while close behind followed Major Cooley and Mr. Theodore Havemeyer, Jr., in the bottle-green coats of the Country Club, well mounted and courageous; the three Potter brothers, Howard, Edward C., and Robert; Mr. Jacob Cram, Mr. Clarence Sackett, Mr. C. G. La Farge, Mr. W. K. B. Emerson, Mr. Ramsay Turnbull, Mr. Wainwright, Mr. Arthur Turnbull, Mrs. Howard Potter, Mrs. E. C. Potter, the Misses Benedict of Greenwich, and a score of other ladies and gentlemen, all on horseback and all palpitating with suppressed excitement in anticipation of the invigorating sport of riding to hounds.

After these was a grand parade of vehicles from West Chester, Pelham Manor, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Greenwich, Cos Cob, and the immediate neighborhood of Rye. Everybody admitted that it was the finest turnout ever seen in that vicinity, and Rye was consequently very proud and very happy. In the various traps were many well-known fashionable people, including Mrs. Pelham-Clinton, Miss Jacob, Mrs. Catlin, Mrs. E. C. Benedict, the Misses Stephens, Mrs. De Ruyter, Mrs. Erving, and dozens of others.

Many of the ladies were driving and showed themselves to be adepts [sic] in the use of the whip. Moreover, they were arrayed in gala colors and were otherwise prepared for an afternoon of splendid fair-weather sport. There was not a thought of anything but blue skies and golden sunshine and therefore open-top vehicles predominated, and any close carriage of whatever description was occupied by farmers or common country folk, who were not the happy possessors of T-carts, jaunting cars, buckboards, or other kindred traps. An umbrella or a mackintosh would have been an insult to the weather god, and all such articles had been carefully left at home. The assumption was that so fair a promise as the morning gave could not be gainsaid by the afternoon, and in all the gay throng there was not one who had a suspicion of rain and mud.

From the rendezvous at the Rye railway station the brightly-dressed cavalcade moved slowly and imposingly through the village out into the picturesque country road leading to 'The Hermitage,' as the local outdoor club is called. When this pretty resort was reached the hounds were led into a neighboring field for the throw-off, and immediately thereafter the pack was baying full tilt on the scent of the drag.

The Country Club members dashed after them precipitately, taking every jump with Major Cooley gallantly leading the van. The riders from Rye were less experienced, but not less brave, and they followed with reckless daring. The ladies and a few of the more cautious men took to the road with the whirling carriages, and the chase was under full headway.

Across the green fields swept the yelping pack, swift as the wind, their heads erect, their tails stiff and straight, their red tongues lolling out, and their eyeballs rolling fiercely in the madness of the run.

Away down Wilton's Point they sped, then back again across the old Boston road over to Harrison, and off toward beautiful Mamoroneck [sic]. So swift was the pack that whip and spur had to be freely used on the good, game horses to keep up with the hounds.

As for the roads, they were filled with scurrying vehicles drawn by animals on a dead run and still lashed by their excited drivers.

'Isn't it glorious!' cried the ladies of Rye, and with ribbons streaming on the wind, with cheeks reddening, and eyes dancing in excitement, they stretched their white necks as they flew along the brown roads eager to see every jump and to lose no note of the inspiring music made by the vanishing pack.

The drag had been planned with admirable consideration for the pleasure of the road riders, and there were but few moments when some part of the chase could not be seen from the carriages. So great was the excitement that a huge black cloud rising in the west was not noticed until an ominous peal of thunder startled the gay crowd and caused it to look upward. Flashes of lightning were playing about the ragged edges of the overhanging mass, and suddenly there fell a patter of big, splashing raindrops that instantly diverted the attention of the ladies from the hunt to their handsome gowns and costly millinery.

They looked in vain for shelter and then, stopping suddenly, the most of them turned and incontinently fled for home. The effort was useless, for the rain had got [sic] too much of a start in the race, and, wholly unprotected as they were, it pelted them mercilessly. Off came their hats and bonnets to be stowed carefully under skirts and wagon seats, but the relentless rain kept coming down and drenched them through and through.

The bold hunters were in no better plight. The sudden and continuous shower made the going slippery and dangerous and destroyed the scent. There was but one thing to do. The dogs were called off, whipped in, and the entire company, which had left astonished little Rye with floating colors, light laughter, and exuberant spirits, rushed for cover dripping, bedraggled, and soaked to the skin.

Thus was the brilliant promise of the sunny midday fulfilled, and thus ended what was thought to have been the red-letter day in the gala almanac of Rye. A few of the ladies and gentlemen found some consolation in a tea at the Hermitage after they had exchanged their soaking garments for others that were dry and comfortable.

'Oh, it's a shame!' cried one of these with a suspicion of tears in her eyes. 'It was all so splendid, and to think it should end like this. A thunder shower in October -- just think of it! Such a thing could not have happened in any other place than Rye!'"

Source: Rye Laughed At The Hunt, N.Y. Times, Oct. 13, 1889, p. 2.

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