In a drenching rain one afternoon in September, 1885, two men stood on the rear platform of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad’s Buffalo Express as it chugged noisily through the quiet woods beside the little Ramapo River. As the train rattled past the thirty-five milepost from Jersey City and began to grumble at the steeper grade, one of the two leaned far out and waved ahead to the conductor. “All right,” he shouted, “signal to stop-now!” With a squeal of brakes, the train slowed down, and the two men jumped off. An instant later, the train had picked up speed and vanished between the hills.
The two men were Pierre Lorillard and his friend Bruce Price, the architect. Turning up their collars, for they had neglected to bring raincoats, they clambered up the embankment above the tracks and trudged off through the mud. Before them rose a wild, heavily wooded hillside. Only a tiny brick schoolhouse and an orchard showed that mankind had ever been there. By the time the two men had reached an open wagon awaiting them on a dirt road, which straggled past this little building, they were soaked to the skin. “We will go up the old lumber trail to the lake,” ordered Mr. Lorillard. The driver of the wagon protested that the road was too rough. Shrugging, Mr. Lorillard took the reins himself. An hour later, after three miles of boulders and thickets through which the wagon barely squeezed, they reached the top of the winding ascent and halted on a ridge overlooking a lake. This would have been at the top of what is now Tower Hill Road. At the north end were some cleared fields and a hut. Pointing there, Mr. Lorillard said: “That is a good site for the clubhouse. Don’t you think so? And we can have a row of cottages between there and here.”
Such was the beginning of The Tuxedo Club. Two weeks later, Bruce Price had an army of men on the spot, and eight months after that, so swift was the work, the clubhouse was ready for its opening on May 30, 1886. In the 125 years from that day to this, more history has been made at Tuxedo than in all the previous centuries. For until Pierre Lorillard conceived the idea of the club, the Tuxedo region had been a backwater whose history meandered quietly through the years with only an occasional event to give it color.
Tuxedo was an uninhabited wilderness between two great Indian nations, the Algonquin to the east and south, and the Six Nations to the north and west. Every year warriors from each nation would slink away into the mountains between them to hunt the elk, deer, bear and turkeys, which lived there in large numbers. Today, only two traces of the Indians remain, the smoke stains their fires left on the rocks in secluded ravines, and the name they gave the lake - Ptucksepo. The first white settlers attempted to convert this into such Anglicisms as Duck Sider or Duck Cedar, but eventually the Indian name won out, as Tuxedo.
During the Revolution, the Tuxedo region produced no more exciting event than a temporary invasion by a minor gang of freebooters under one Claudius Smith. Their hideout remains in the form of a cave over the East Village in Harriman State Park. It is said that George Washington marched through Tuxedo Park on what was called “The Corduroy Road,” which was located where the big and little Wee-Wah lakes were created. Continental Road was named for this event. Soon after the war was over, however, there was a hum of activity as men began to develop the iron mines, which had been discovered locally in the mid-1700s. For years there had been small mines under the ownership of the Stirling Iron Company. For a time commerce thrived, and by 1813 the town of Augusta Falls had 500 inhabitants and was turning out about 200 tons of bar iron yearly. But the boom died away, and by 1845 the region had fallen into disrepair and desolation. The coming of the railroad in 1846 gave it its only new trade, largely in cutting timber for the wood-burning engines. By 1858 only 40 people lived in the area.
The Lorillard family had been interested in the Tuxedo locality since 1814, when Peter Lorillard I foreclosed a mortgage on part of the territory. Three generations later, in 1867, the enlarged tract passed into the hands of the seven children of Peter Lorillard III. The oldest son, Pierre Lorillard, visited the rocky, tumbled hills and conceived the idea of utilizing them for sport. In 1884-5 he set to work buying up the shares held by his brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, his original plan had expanded in his mind from a rough club to a community. By the time he and Bruce Price journeyed to Tuxedo together to start operations, Pierre Lorillard had envisioned Tuxedo practically as it stands today.
To make that vision a reality, 1,800 men were imported and lodged in a small city of shanties built along regular streets with such names as “Fifth Avenue,” “Broadway,” and “Corso.” The mess-hall was called “Delmonico’s,” which was the fashionable New York City restaurant at that time, whose architect James Brown Lord was to live in Tuxedo Park. Working with only the primitive tools then available, the men from this camp in the next eight months succeeded in building thirty miles of graded dirt and macadam roads, a water and sewage system (the first complete one in the world), the Park gatehouse and police station, twenty-two cottages, two blocks of stores, the village stables, a new dam, an icehouse, a swimming tank and a hatchery. The clubhouse itself was a huge gray wooden building with wide porches. It was designed in the comfortable living style of the day, with spacious public rooms and complete facilities for entertainment as well as sport. The ballroom, which was quite large and round in shape, instantly became one of America’s most famous rooms. By May 30, 1886, it was ready for the opening celebration.
On the next day three special trains with 700 guests sped up from New York. The run was supposed to take an hour and a half, but the exuberant engineers made it in forty minutes, to the alarm of the passengers, many of whom were so frightened by the way the rickety old coaches careened on the narrow-gauge track that they refused to return until the engineers had promised to go at the slow normal rate. Despite their fears, they arrived safely at the Tuxedo station and were met by coaches
and wagons painted brightly in the club colors of yellow and green.
Under the stares of the countryfolk who had gathered from miles around, the party trotted merrily off on the trip to the Clubhouse. Beds of flowers lined the way, and every now and then gamekeepers adorned in green and yellow and wearing Tyrolese hats emerged self-consciously from the forest. Arrived at the Clubhouse, the visitors first went on a tour of exploration and then settled down to enjoy a garden party on the porches and the surrounding lawns. Some wandered away along the paths in search of deer, many went fishing, and a few boarded two special barges, each manned by crews in blue and white uniforms, for trips around the lake. In the evening, as the New York papers quaintly phrased it on the next day, “a hop was held.”
Thus auspiciously launched, Tuxedo speedily developed. Since its primary purpose, as stated in the first article of the club constitution, is “the protection, increase, and capture of all kinds of game and fish,” there were immediate efforts to remake it into the sporting paradise it had been in the days of the Indians. Coops for breeding pheasants were built, and a stock of birds purchased. But the experiment failed, largely because the pheasants would not remain in the dense woods about the club, but flew off in search of open country. A flock of turkeys was also turned loose in the Park and for a while remained. But eventually they too drifted away, and the hunters had to content themselves with the native partridge and woodcock, which to this day are still to be found in the woods about Tuxedo. Shortly thereafter, a pigeon shoot was established near the Wee-Wah Lake. Here were held monthly contests until 1894, when New York State passed a law forbidding the sport.
The fishing also came in for considerable development. When the Club opened, Tuxedo Lake swarmed with black bass, which had gradually accumulated through the long years when few persons fished for them. Nonetheless, the lake is not well adapted for spawning, being too steep sided and lacking in shoals and islands. Hence, when fishing became a daily practice, the bass rapidly became scarce. To supplement them, the hatchery in 1886 began its years of experiments with landlocked salmon, bass fry, steelhead and brook trout for the Tuxedo Lake, the Wee-Wah and the Warwick Brook. The lake is now stocked by the Club.
In the winter there was snowshoeing on nearby trails, a Cresta Run copied after the original in St. Moritz, ice boating, skating and curling on the lake. In recent years cross-country skiing has taken the place of snowshoeing, and the other winter sports, except for skating, have been replaced with court tennis, platform tennis, racquets and squash. For summer horse racing, a half-mile trotting track was built. The grounds were then used for the annual horse shows, dog shows and the Fourth of July celebration. It is currently being remade into a community park.
More permanent was the golf course, which a few bold spirits initiated in 1889. A six-hole course was laid out on what are now the Tuxedo Park School grounds. Lorillard had to send to Montreal to obtain the clubs with which to play, and on this newly opened golf course a driving competition was held, which was won by Dr. E.C. Rushmore. By 1892 the sport had become so popular that a nine-hole course was laid out near the old North Gate of the Park. The old caddie shack remains in ruins to this day. An eighteen-hole course was completed shortly thereafter, which straddled both sides of Route 17. The country's first interclub team match was a four-way contest held at Tuxedo in 1894. The teams were The Country Club (Brookline, MA), St. Andrew’s, Shinnecock and The Tuxedo Club. The trophy presented that year to The Country Club was donated to the U.S.G.A and is now the U.S.G.A.’s Senior Open trophy.
Although the names of all the players at the first match cannot be ascertained, Tuxedo was represented by:
E.C. Rushmore, Alfred Seton, Edward C. Kent, and Walker B. Smith.
Lawn tennis and boating have always been very popular. Our tennis courts were among America's first. Since the opening of the Club, there have been four successive special classes of sailboats for racing on the lake. Canoes have in recent years largely been supplanted by electric launches, although there has been a recent resurgence of a fleet of Adirondack guide boats. Boating on the lake provides one of the more attractive features of the summer life at Tuxedo.
Another sport in which Tuxedo pioneered was court tennis. Due chiefly to the energy of T. Suffern Tailer and his friend the Hon. Cecil Baring, a court was built and opened on December 30, 1899. The building was one of architectural firm Warren and Wetmore's first commissions. Mr. Lloyd Warren had been an early member of the Club. The first match played was between Messrs. Tailer and Baring, with Tailer the victor at 2-0. Shortly thereafter, Baring left the country with Mrs. Tailer, and they settled on an island in Ireland, building yet another court tennis court. Mrs. Tailer was a daughter of Pierre Lorillard. Later the same day, Eustace Miles, amateur champion of England, played Tom Pettit, the famous professional, who owed half 30 for a bisque. Miles won, 3-0, but lost a return match held a few weeks later.
On February 12, 1902, the racquets court was opened with a match between Clarence H. Mackay and Milton S. Barger, representing New York, against H.M. Brooks and George I. Scott, representing Philadelphia. New York won, 4-0. In April of the same year Charles E. Sands defeated O.S. Campbell to win the first Tennis Gold Racquet Championship. Two years later saw the first racquets competition for the Gold Racquet Championship, with Barger defeating Sands, who played under the name of “E. Edwards”. In 1905, Sands won the Tennis Gold Racquet Championship by defeating Jay Gould, 3-1. Tuxedo is the only community in the world which can boast the combination of court tennis, lawn tennis, racquets, squash and platform tennis courts. Many young men and women who first learned to play the games here have become outstanding players.
In other directions than sport, Tuxedo was making history, too. The first Autumn Ball was held in October, 1886, and was covered by all of the New York society pages. This would remain the case for the next 75 years, when generations of American girls thought of the Ball as the most important place to make their debuts. The tradition ended in the 1970's as an annual event, but several Autumn Balls have been held at the Club sporadically since.
A Google search of Tuxedo will reveal more than sixteen million references. This would be a direct consequence of the dinner jacket, known around the world as a Tuxedo. The short-tailed dinner jacket as we know it today was first introduced to America by a member of The Tuxedo Club. There are differing reports of how this event occurred, but the account by Mr. Grenville Kane, founding member of The Tuxedo Club as told to J. Earle Stevens in 1929 appears to be the most authentic. In the summer of 1886, Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter and his lovely wife, Cora, while on a visit to England, were invited by the Prince of Wales to join him at Sandringham, his country estate, for the weekend. Prior to going, Mr. Potter asked the Prince what he should wear for dinner. The Prince replied that he had adopted a short jacket in the place of a tailcoat for dinner in the country and that if Mr. Potter went to his tailor in London, he could get a similar jacket made. Mr. Potter did as the Prince suggested. When he returned to America, Mr.Potter’s friends at The Tuxedo Club were not only impressed by the account of his visit to Sandringham but also found the jacket Mr. Potter brought back more appropriate than tails for informal dinners, and so they had it copied by their own tailors. It then became the custom for members of the Club to wear this attire to informal dinners in Tuxedo Park. One evening, a group of members wore their new dinner jackets to a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s. Their jackets attracted the attention of other diners who, upon enquiry were told “oh, that is what they wear for dinner up at Tuxedo.” And so, from that day forth, the name Tuxedo was forever associated with this style of formal wear.
During World War I, not only was there no Autumn Ball, but the Main Clubhouse was closed and demolished and the activities transferred to the Winter Clubhouse, which had been used in colder months as it was smaller and fitted with steam heat. Members quickly came to the conclusion that the Winter Clubhouse was too small for year-round use, and so in 1926 construction was started on the second Main Clubhouse, which was opened in the spring of 1928. Designed by John Russell Pope, its long lines were in striking contrast to the square wooden building it replaced. Built in the style of English country houses, it had open terraces instead of porches and a large new pool instead of the old swimming tank. When the new clubhouse was completed, the Winter Clubhouse was torn down, as Pope’s building had been constructed for year-round use.
The new boathouse was built in 1938 and was named after Edwin C. Kent, a renowned authority on fishing and the particulars of the Tuxedo Lake. Kent had been elected to the first class of members in November, 1885.
A serious fire in 1943 partially destroyed the clubhouse. Originating in an elevator shaft, the flames spread, according to the New York Herald Tribune, “with amazing rapidity…in a building that had been considered fireproof”. It was equally amazing, perhaps, that the few people in the structure at the time escaped injury or worse. Indeed, many Club members braved the flames to rescue priceless furnishings and works of art, and many a Park house gave up space to store them for the day when the clubhouse would be fully operative again. After the fire the clubhouse was rebuilt, but to only one-half of its original size.
During the 1945-46 period members returned from World War II and Club activities accelerated with minor curtailments. However, the Fish Hatchery was not revived and the skeet shooting at the Gun Club was discontinued. The Gun Club was closed down and the Wee-Wah Beach Club now occupies that site.
The planning and building of the New York Thruway marked the end of the golf course at the north end of the park. A new course had to be found. After extensive negotiations, wherein alternative sites were considered, a new and better golf course was built at the south end of town, approximately 2 miles from the end of the big lake, on the Morgan Hamilton Farm in Eagle Valley. On July 4, 1956 nine holes had been completed, a clubhouse built and play commenced. The following year the full 18 holes were in place. Robert Trent Jones, the golf course architect, took full advantage of the Hamilton Farm to give Tuxedo its challenging and scenic course.
The third rebuilding of the main club by architects Walker and Gillette, after the 1943 fire, proved to be satisfactory, despite the decrease in bedrooms and public areas (like Mr. Warren who built the Tennis House, Mr. Walker had been a club member, and lived at the top of Tower Hill Road. His family included the Kanes, founders of Tuxedo Park). The dining facilities soon proved inadequate, as the dining room and kitchen had been moved into the basement where they had dislodged the men’s bar and poolroom. In 1955 the member’s dining room was built, moving dining (and the kitchen) back upstairs where it had been before the fire. In 2006 the club undertook and completed it’s most ambitious renovation to date of the main clubhouse. The member’s dining room, kitchen, stone room, HVAC systems, employee living quarters and administrative staff areas were entirely re-built. In 1967 the lounge (now ballroom) was restored to its original dimensions, with the billiards room, which had been at its west end, moved back downstairs. At the same time, the men’s bar was opened to all members and their guests. Several of the Club’s paintings and pieces of furniture have recently been painstakingly restored, including the Todd mirrors, which were donated by the late Preston Davie, esq. It is reputed that in 1839 or 1840 Abraham Lincoln wooed Mary Todd in front of these mirrors, which were installed in the Preston home in Lexington, Kentucky. Mrs. Lincoln had been a companion to Gen. William Preston’s four daughters.
A new golf house, the Club’s fourth in its 112 years, was constructed in 1998. Designed by architect Robert Lamb Hart, it includes luxurious changing rooms, a large bar, dining areas and covered porches.
The tennis house was renovated for the 2002 Centennial Gold Racquets. A new hallway was constructed which enabled women to go directly to their changing area from the courts without having to go outside or across the upstairs viewing areas. Air conditioning was added for the first time, and the original heating system in the racquets court was replaced.
Two platform tennis courts were constructed by the new golf house in 1999, replacing the original courts which had been located to the east of the main clubhouse and which had been demolished in the mid 1970’s. Two additional platform tennis courts were added in January of 2006, followed by a "warming hut" completed in 2008.
The swimming pool area was completely renovated in 2001, and the pool itself renovated in 2011.
The Tuxedo Club today is stronger in terms of its membership and its facilities than ever before. With the improvements of roads and other communications, membership has expanded to Bergen County and New York City. The increase in members thus influenced the continued improvements of our buildings and grounds and greater participation in club life. Our golf course, boathouse, swimming pool, platform tennis courts, lawn tennis courts, court tennis court, racquets court, squash court, main clubhouse, tennis house and the golf house add up to the finest club facility in the world. No other place offers as many sports in such a beautiful setting. How fortunate we all are to be a part of the wonderful Tuxedo Club.