August Belmont and his relationship to The Suffolk Club

From: Richard Thomas
Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 3:44 PM
To: Van Lith, Marty; Deitz, John
Subject: August Belmont and his relationship to The Suffolk Club, a member?, an organizer?, an incorporator?

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Several different secondary sources say that August Belmont organized the Suffolk Club. The authors of Long Island Country Houses and their Architects, 1860-1940, (published 1997), say that the Suffolk Club was organized in New York City on April 6, 1858, by August Belmont “in concert with Walt Sherman, W. Butler Duncan, and others,” [p. 1823].

One secondary source, the New York Times of 24 Feb 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/24/nyregion/blocks-cedar-artifacts-worth-gold-hunting-decoys-outlived-their-usefulness.html?pagewanted=2, says August Belmont organized a Suffolk Club in Wyandanch, New York.

The various editions of Nick Karas’s book, Brook Trout mention August Belmont in connection with the Suffolk Club. (The first edition was published in 1997.)

In the latest edition, Brook Trout, Revised and Updated, published in 2003, he states,

These men were forerunners of the club organized by August Belmont in New York City in 1858. This group included John Van Buren, the president’s son, Peleg Hall, W. Butler Duncan, Walter Sherman, and Joseph Grafton. Webster was never a member of the club; he died in 1852. The Suffolk Club, as they were called, bought piecemeal, from 20 owners, a total of 1500 acres around the pond and the old mill. [p. 172]

There is no footnote that reveals where Karas got his list of names.

Nick Karas’s book is filled with errors, and, as is usually the case, many sentences combine a statement which is true with one that is false.

[For example, he says the South Haven Presbyterian Church was moved to Brookhaven hamlet “to make way for the highway.” The South Haven Presbyterian Church was moved to Brookhaven hamlet in December 1960, but the four-lane Sunrise Highway extension had nothing to do with why it was moved. The sentence is, at least, an improvement over the reason Karas gave for moving the church in his Sports Illustrated article on Webster and the Big Fish that was published prior to 1967: “Over the years the congregation dwindled to the point where the church was of little use.” The congregation still exists and is thriving.]

[The comment that “Webster was never a member of the club” is also misleading. The Suffolk Club surely existed informally, and with that name, long before it was incorporated. This is supported by the Club’s purchase of a pew in the South Haven Presbyterian Church. In 1840, the congregation decided to purchase back the pews and make them freely available to anyone who wished to worship in the meeting house, so the Suffolk Club almost certainly purchased its pew before that date.]

In Suffolk County, Long Island, in Early Photographs, 1867-1951, [Dover, 1984, p. 102], the authors write, “Groups of monied anglers bought up large blocs of land and built luxurious clubs, such as the Great South Bay Angler’s Club, the South Shore Rod and Reel Club, the East End Surf Club and August Belmont’s exclusive Suffolk Club in Bellport.”

Oddly, one of the most well-known clubs for “monied anglers,” the South Side Sportsmen’s Club, Oakdale, does not appear on the list. Surely Mr. William Vanderbilt and Bayard Cutting would qualify as “monied anglers.”

In 1889, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac lists these clubs (p. 38) as the largest and most prominent on Long Island: 1) Suffolk Club, Brookhaven; 2) Amagansett Club, 3) North Side Sportsmen’s Club; 4) Robin’s Island Club, Peconic Bay; 5) Rod and Reel Society; 6) Suffolk Sporting Club; 7) South Side Sportsmen’s Club, Oakdale; 8) Olympic Club, Bay Shore; 9) Hampton Club, Southampton; 10) Meadow Brook Hounds, Hempstead; and 11) Rockaway Hunt Club, Far Rockaway.

The Suffolk Club was certainly not one of the largest clubs on Long Island, since membership in the Club was limited to 15. So it must have been listed first because of its prominence.

An earlier secondary reference that links August Belmont with the Suffolk Club is in one of Helen Morrow Ewing’s “Brookhaven” columns published in the Long Island Advance on 22 Sep 1933. She writes:

Among the members [of the Suffolk Club], over a period of years, were August Belmont, George W. Wickersham, Frances [sic.] Augustus Schermerhorn, Commodore Robert Bourne, Joseph Grafton, William Meyer, Thomas Meyer, John Cadwalder [sic.], Charles Strong, Fred D. Tappan, John Campbell, Daniel B. Fearing, John Schuyler, Anson W. Hard, A. J. Smith, Henry Von L. Meyer, George Von L. Meyer, Dr. George Wheelock, and Evelyn Roosevelt.

Of course, in 1933, the Suffolk Club no longer existed.

August Belmont had his own trout fishing pond, so it seems odd that he would need to go somewhere else to fish. His “great stock farm” of 900 acres was located near Babylon. He called it “The Nursery.”

New York Times, 06 Jun 1878

Many of the guests paid a visit to the splendid private trout pond which stretches in front of the house. It covers 50 acres, and has two island in it. It is fed by a brook four miles long. An attempt was recently made to clean the pond, and in transferring the fish the majority of them died; so that it will have to be restocked.

Nineteenth century newspaper articles and books sometimes list a few of the members of the Suffolk Club. The total number of members was quite small, fourteen or so.

August Belmont does appears in two early articles or lists of people who visited the Suffolk Club or who were members of it.

The first is this cryptic article that appeared in an article entitled “Long Island’s Trout Ponds” in the New York Times on 28 Jul 1872:

At Fire Place there is the long-famous pond known as Mr. Samuel Carman’s. It covers about forty acres, and is valued at $20,000. There is, in conjunction with this pond, a very fine clubhouse, which is used by the New-York Associations, and occasionally by Mr. August Belmont.
At Bellport there is a pond, known as Osborne’s, covering fifteen acres, and valued at $15,000.
At Islip there is a well-known pond, which is used by the South-side Club, and a second pond has only lately been finished. The main pond covers thirty acres, and the other about four acres. Both are very find, and are valued at $100,000.
. . . At Patchogue is what has long been known as Swan Creek Pond–a large and very beautiful body of water, which covers twenty acres, and is valued at $20,000. The water is excellent, and the privileged sportsmen who have thrown their fly in it, consider it the “handsomest stream on the South-side.”
. . . Babylon is noted for its several private ponds, which are owned by men of presumed extraordinary wealth. Here, in connection with his residence and somewhat famous stables, Mr. August Belmont, the banker, has a very fine small pond, valued at $9,000. Mr. Royal Phelps of New-York, has one on his place, which is valued at $8,000. Both gentlemen have find lodges on their grounds, and also notably attractive improvements.

Contemporaneous sources include these individuals:
Suffolk Club Members (or who fished there)
June 1875
1. Joseph Grafton
2. James N. Platt, partner in the law firm of Platt & Bowers, died 16 Jun 1894

May 1877
1. John M. Bowers, partner in the law firm of Platt & Bowers, died Mar 1918

April 1, 1880 (the following had gone to Yaphank to be present at the opening of the Suffolk Club [for that season])
1. August Belmont
2. Fred Schuchardt
3. Henry Fearing
4. George Fearing
5. Henry Meyer
6. Thomas Meyer
7. Peter Townsend

April 2, 1882. Fourteen total members.
1. Capt. Joseph Grafton, President
2. Henry Fearing
3. James Platt
4. John Campbell
5. Peleg Hall
6. J. L. Cadwalader
7. Thomas Meyer (Suffolk Club also mentioned in letter from nephew in April 1905)
8. Peter Townsend.

March 31, 1894 (The NY Times confuses the location of the Suffolk Club with the baseball club of the same name in Huntington.)
1. C. H. Horsman
2. Charles E. Strong
3. John Cadwalader
4. H. Fearing

Aug and Nov 1901.
1. Frederick Augustus Schermerhorn, died 20 March 1919. (“He never married although his tastes were distinctly domestic.”)

April 1905
1. Thomas Meyer (in George von Lengerke Meyer: His Life and Public Service, p. 145.)
Also, in 1908, Augustus Haviland was the attorney for the Suffolk Club. (The Suffolk Club was one of the “objectors” to New York City’s application to take water from Suffolk County.)

There was a very exclusive Wyandanch Club on the Nissequoque (the Willow ponds) near Smithtown. However, it seems to have adopted that name after 1892.

The New York Times reported on the opening of the trout fishing season on 02 Apr 1882. About halfway through, the article reports on the Suffolk Club, saying:

The Suffolk Club, a very exclusive association, which has a membership of 14, owns a charming sylvan retreat at South Haven near Yaphank. The club-house is snugness itself, and the cellars and cuisine are praised by those who have been so fortunate as to be entertained as guests. It has two tree-embowered lakes in which the trout grow very large. The water is exceedingly pure and so full of nourishment for the Fontinalis that they are, to all intents wild trout as they are never fed. The current through the lake to the east is Carman’s River. It takes its source at Virgin Springs, on the pine forest plain, and after crossing the highway below the lakes broadens into a wide, lively, pleasant brook terminating in the Great South Bay two miles from the club-house. Recently the Suffolk Club obtained control of Carman’s River, and grand fashioning for estuary trout is looked for. The river will be improved and stocked, and will be in the near future the main attraction of the club. It is navigable from the Great South Bay for a long distance, partly under a thick growth of timber, and where the trees are it is cool in the hottest weather. The country is sparsely settled in the neighborhood and only one house is seen from the club-house to the mouth of Carman’s River. Capt. Joseph Grafton is President of the club, but be is now in Europe. The opening day was observed by Messrs. Henry Fearing, James Platt, John Campbell, Peleg Hall, J. L. Cadwallader, Thomas Meyer, and Peter Townsend. The members are not limited to any number of trout to be caught in one day. The amount of their “catch” is regulated by their consciences and their skill.

That same article then goes on to report on an estate at Sayville, then says about Mr. Belmont:
Mr. August Belmont will probably fish on his preserve near Islip. Some of his friends have been invited to go there.
An article published in the New York Times, 31 Mar 1894, mentions the South Side Club at Oakdale, the Wyandank Club, at Smithtown, (a Brooklyn organization, formerly, the Brooklyn Gun Club), and the Suffolk Club. It then mentions August Belmont, whom the reporter supposes will be fishing at his famous private preserve on his estate.

August Belmont Sr. was never a member of the South Side Sportsman’s Club either. His son, August Belmont Jr., was admitted as a member of the Southside Sportsman’s Club in May 1900.

The Southside Sportsman’s Club developed out of the property of Eliphalet ‘Litt’ Snedecor on the banks of the Connetquot River. He ran a tavern and inn there. George Lorillard (tobacco magnate), William K. Vanderbilt, and William Bayard Cutting fished at Snedecors and decided they wanted it for themselves. They purchased his property in 1866 and created the South Side Sportsman’s Club.


Over the years, they continued to purchase land along the river, eventually totaling 3,473 acres. Their main interest was hunting and fishing so they maintained the land and water for the protection and propagation of game, birds and fish. The Club established a trout hatchery in 1870. Although it has had two prior locations, its present location has been propagating fish successfully since 1890.

In 1963, the Club sold the property to New York State for $6.2 million. The Club leased back the property for an additional ten years. In August of 1973, the facility officially became a New York State Park

Frederick G. Bourne joined the South Side Sportsman’s Club in September 1890. See: http://books.google.com/books?id=NOA-AAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Next, I checked the New York State laws, hoping to find a charter for the Suffolk Club. I found that the New York State legislature had chartered many clubs and companies, including:
Suffolk Co. Steamboat Company – c. 90, 1839.
Suffolk Co. Society – c. 272, 1860.
Clever Fellows’ Club – c. 383, 1864.
Izaak Walton Fishing Club, De Ruyter, c. 184, 1864.
Southside Sportsman’s Club, Long Island, c. 346, 1866.
Cortland Co. Sportman’s Club – c. 675, 1866.
Sportsman’s Club, Kinderhook – c. 811, 1866.
Long Island Club – c. 156, 1871.
None of these appeared to me to be The Suffolk Club, but that was not the case. See next e-mail.

Richard Thomas
Note on Peter Townsend: Peter Townsend was born on the Sterling Iron tract, a huge iron deposit in Orange and Rockland Counties that runs down into New Jersey. The tract was owned by the Sterling Iron Works that had been founded by his grandfather. He was born on 13 May 1803 and later lived at 32 E. 23rd St. in Manhattan where he died on 26 Sep 1885. “Mr. Townsend had a striking figure. He was tall and powerful and weighed over 240 pounds.” according to the New York Sun, 27 Sep 1885.