history-001bThe Club's history is a source of great pride. The person most responsible for the initial gathering of facts was Bernon S. Prentice, Club President from 1922-1938. In May of 1926, Mr. Prentice wrote the first history of our Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Club. The following italicized pages are excerpts from his commemorative booklet, "The History of the Seabright Lawn Tennis & Cricket Club, Jubilee Year 1926". Subsequent history has been added by J. Upshur Moorhead, President (1962-1976), and others.

THE DAWN OF TENNIS IN THE UNITED STATES

"Lawn tennis in this country started in the fall of 1875, when a tennis set was imported from England by the Staten Island Cricket & Tennis Club for installation on their grounds. (This Club was disbanded about 1920.) When this new apparatus reached the customs officials in the Port of New York, they did not know just how it should be classified, so it was admitted duty free! Only a few months after this, the residents of Seabright became interested in the game, and placed orders for equipment, which was delivered in the spring of 1877, and used on the courts of Messrs. Robert Rutherford, James W. Alexander and William W. Shippen. This was fifty years ago and marks the beginning of the Seabright Tennis Club. On July 25, 1878, the first formal meeting of the Seabright Tennis Club was held at the residence of Mr. Robert Rutherford, and a definite organization was decided upon.

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Interest in the game increased steadily, and other and better courts were built, till we find in 1880, that tennis activities were chiefly centered around the courts of Antonio and Alfonso deNavarro, situated on the northwest corner of Rumson Road and Bellevue Avenue. The Club met on alternate Saturdays during the season at the residence of Mr. William Shippen in Seabright for the transaction of any business, as well as the enjoyment of the sport. The first Club championship was played in August 1879 and was won by William Shippen. Miss Bessie Shippen won the ladies' singles. There were about fifteen entries in the men's event, and it was played on the Navarro courts. In 1880 the first mixed doubles championship was held and was won by Miss Anna Shippen and Mr. Frank L. Henry. In 1884 the first Invitation Tournament was held on the Navarro court, and was won by Joseph S. Clark of Philadelphia, Richard Conover being runner-up. In this match, Mr. Clark lost the first two sets at love, but won the last three, the play throughout being most exciting and brilliant. A photograph of the prize - a silver pitcher - is now among the pictures in the Club house.

THE SEABRIGHT LAWN TENNIS & CRICKET CLUB IS FORMED

During these years cricket was gaining in popularity, and in 1886 Messrs. George C. Kobbe and Herman Clarke proposed the formation of a joint tennis and cricket club to be known as the Seabright Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club, which would have its own Club house and grounds. The idea was endorsed, and money was collected to secure the land and build the building. Articles of Incorporation were drawn up which provided for "the practice of Lawn Tennis, of Cricket, and of Baseball, by the members of the Club, and the encouragement of the practice among others in the State of New Jersey." Mr. John L. Riker was elected President, Mr. George C. Kobbe, Secretary, Mr. Herman Clarke, Treasurer, and the incorporators, who were also the principal subscribers to the Club, were John L. Riker, Charles Macdonald, Robert L. Crawford, George Wood,William Shippen, Robert W. deForrest, Antonio F. deNavarro, George C. Kobbe, and Herman Clarke. The present site of the Club was selected as the location, and a modest Club house was built. The grounds were ready for use late in 1886 and, in 1887 the season was definitely opened, with three turf tennis courts and one cricket crease.

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The first cricket match was played with the Staten Island Cricket & Tennis Club in 1885. Matches were also played with Richard Stevens' Cricket Club of Hoboken, the Longwood Cricket Club of Boston, which was founded in 1877 as a cricket club, the Merion Cricket Club of Philadelphia, the Orange Lawn Tennis & Cricket Club, and St. Paul's School. Mr. Herman Clarke was elected captain of the team, and the other players included E.H. Outerbridge, W. Shippen, J.W. Hoffman, R.S. Conover, A. LaMontagne, E.A. Stevens, E.A Crownshield, J. Butler and Charles Absolom.

history-003In 1886 an international match between an All United States Team, captained by Mr. George Wright of Boston, and an All Canada Team, was played on the Club grounds and won by the United States. In the following year the Seabright team, travelling in a private car, made a trip to Canada and as far west as Chicago, playing matches in Toronto, Port Hope, Peterboro, Hamilton, Detroit and Chicago. The team was fairly successful, winning four games and losing two, and was royally entertained everywhere it went. About this time the Club adopted the present colors of black, red and gold, the same as the Zingari Cricket Club, one of the most famous cricket clubs of England.

Cricket was the active sport of the Club in those days, and a ladies' cricket team was formed under the leadership of Mrs. Herman Clarke and they played a number of matches with more or less success. The cricket crease, at present used for our second tier of tennis courts, was considered one of the best in the country, the turf having been imported from England. On the cricket days, whether the team was playing an outside match or not, a cold luncheon was served by the ladies of the Club, and this became a great social function in the community. Archery was also indulged in with some interest, and the bull's eye target was adopted as the Club insignia. The interest in cricket continued until about 1890, when tennis became more popular and more courts were laid out.

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THE CLUB IS THE HEART OF THE SOCIAL SCENE IN RUMSON

Although the Club was founded mainly for athletic purposes, it soon became the center of the social life of the community. A stage was built in the Club house, and under the leadership of Mrs. Hilborne L. Roosevelt (Miss Kate Shippen) and Mr. Evart J. Wendell, amateur theatricals were held under the name of the Round Robin Club. These entertainments were very popular and eminently successful, and not a little money was raised for the local charities. Performances were given of "Sweethearts", "The Serenade", "Tom Cobb", "The Parvenu", and "Mrs. Jarley's Waxworks", and dances were also held at the Club regularly every week.

TURN OF THE CENTURY BRINGS TENNIS INTO THE FOREFRONT

Between 1885 and 1890 the Club was not so active, but in 1900 interest was revived by the active efforts of Samuel Riker, Jr., Samuel S. Auchincloss, Cecil Barret, Dr. Bayard Clark,Beekman Hoppin, and Henry M. Alexander with the support and encouragement of Mr. William A. Street and Col. John J. McCook. Under the leadership of these men, additional tennis courts were laid out, and many new members were elected. The congestion on the courts became so great that women were not permitted to play tennis on Sunday afternoons or after the arrival of the first afternoon boat from New York. In 1902 two squash courts were built connecting with the Club house, and proved so popular that within two years the money subscribed to build them was all paid back with interest to the subscribers, out of the fees charged for the use of the courts.

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About 1910 the fourth tier of courts was prepared and opened for play. During this period the responsibility for the care and growth of the turf was assumed actively by the Grounds Committee and the officers of the Club, and the Club is much indebted to Messrs. E. A. S. Clarke, George W. Carpenter, Gardiner H. Miller, and Harden L. Crawford for their unselfish interest and zeal. The excellent condition of the turf today is due in no small degree to the work of these men and their study of the art of growing turf.

When the Club house was built and the property purchased, the contributors received participating receipts for their subscriptions. About 1915 it was deemed advisable to redeem these receipts, and a holding company was organized, known as the Narrumson Realty Company, and its stock was exchanged for the outstanding participating receipts. The title of the club property was vested in this company, and it leased the land and Club house to the Club for a nominal sum. Later, in 1920, the trustees voted to issue not more than forty life memberships, to be obtained by the gift to the Club of not less than five shares of the Narrumson Realty Company stock or the subscription of two hundred fifty dollars, the money thus subscribed to be used in the purchase of the Narrumson Realty Co. stock at fifty dollars a share. As a result of this operation, the entire stock of Narrumson Realty Co. was acquired by the club, the company was dissolved, and the title to the property and building was vested in the Club itself.

CLUBHOUSE AND GROUNDS PURCHASED BY MEMBERS

history-267From time to time alterations have been made in the Club house, until in 1923 it was necessary to make extensive repairs and improvements. The interior of the house was completely done over, the roof entirely reshingled, and the upper balcony built. At the same time a board court was constructed for use during the winter months. These improvements were made possible by the generosity of the Club members, who subscribed liberally to a fund raised for the purpose. The Club has a record its members may well be proud of; a record becoming to the oldest tennis club in the country today, and this record is due to the spirit of cooperation which has always existed in the Club. Officers and members from the very beginning have worked in harmony with one end in view —the welfare of the Club, and an atmosphere of good sportsmanship and fair play has always prevailed. Additional honor has been brought to the club by the fact that its officers have, especially of late years, held responsible positions in the United States Lawn Tennis Association and have played no small part in the development of the sport in this country.

There are three features about the Club which should be emphasized perhaps above all others—the Invitation Tournament, the collection of pictures and tennis memorabilia, and its remarkable turf.

THE HISTORY OF THE SEABRIGHT INVITATION TOURNAMENT

history-049The first Invitation Tournament was held in 1884, and since 1894 the tournament has been held annually, so that the 1926 tournament will be the thirty-third consecutive Invitation Tournament. In 1917 and 1918, however, owing to the war, the regular Invitation Tournament was omitted, and special Patriotic Tournaments were held. The proceeds of these tournaments were used to purchase two ambulances for the Red Cross for service at the front, and the donor plates of these machines are now in the collection in the Club house.

Our Invitation Tournament is one of the most important tennis events in the country, and of late years the Davis Cup Selection Committee has attended this event to witness the play of candidates for the Davis Cup Team. The importance of this annual tournament has been due to the efforts of the present officers of the Club and the devoted service of the various committees of the Club. At first only men's events were held, but in 1920 it was decided to hold a women's tournament as well, and today the Invitation Tournament is made up of fivetournaments, men's singles and doubles, women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles, all running simultaneously and finished within the week. The entries number thirty-two in the men's and women's singles, at least sixteen teams in the men's and women's doubles, and about sixteen teams in the mixed doubles.

The first Challenge Cup, which had to be won twice in succession, was won by William A. Larned in 1902. The following year, 1903, the Achelis Cup, given by Mrs. Fritz Achelis, was first put into competition. To win this trophy outright, the tournament had to be won three years by the same man, it not being necessary for the winner to play through the tournament. The Achelis Cup was in play for fourteen years before it was finally won by R. Norris Williams, II in 1916. The names of some of the most famous players of the game are engraved on it, among them being Wright, Larned, Alexander, Little, and Clothier.

In 1917 the Seabright Bowls were put into competition, being subscribed to by members of the Club with contributions not exceeding ten dollars. To win this trophy outright, the winner must play through the tournament and win it three times. William M. Johnston won the first Singles Bowl in 1923, and the first Seabright Doubles bowls were won in 1925 byWilliam M. Johnston and Clarence J. Griffin. The Women's Bowl was put into competition in 1920, and the first Bowl was won by Mrs. Molla Bjurstedt Mallory in 1923.

EARLY TENNIS GREATS GRACE THE SEABRIGHT COURTS

history-229The greatest singles players and the most famous doubles teams in the history of the game in this country or any other have played on our courts. They include Henry W. Slocum, Richard Stevens, O.S. Campbell, Robet D. Wrenn, Malcolm D. Whitman, William A. Larned, Beals C. Wright, Holcombe Ward, Fred B. Alexander, Raymond D. Little, William J. Clothier, N.W. Niles, M.H. Long, R. Norris Williams II, Maurice E. McLoughlin, Karl H. Behr, William M. Johnston, R.L. Murray, Anthony F. Wilding, William T. Tilden II, Watson M. Washburn, H. Kinsey and Vincent Richards. The doubles teams include Sears and Slocum, Sears and Dwight, the Huntingtons, the Dohertys, Hovey and Hobart, Chase and Wrenn, McLoughlin and Bundy, Little and Touchard,Ward and Davis, the Wrenn brothers, Ward and Wright, Hackett and Alexander, Johnston and Griffin,Williams and Washburn, Patterson and O'Hara-Wood, and the Kinsey brothers. Among the women players, Mrs. Marion Zinderstein Jessup, Mrs. Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, Miss Mary Browne, Mrs. Thomas C. Bundy, Miss Goss, Miss Helen Wills, Miss Elizabeth Ryan, Miss McKane, Mrs. Covell and Mrs. Beamish have competed.

The Seabright Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club have also entertained in its Invitational Tournament members of the Davis Cup Teams of Spain, France, England, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Japan and Hawaii. These teams include the names of such famous players as Doherty, Lowe, Parke, Borotra, Gobert, Cochet, Brookes, Wilding, Patterson, Anderson, Alonso, Kumagae, Shimizu, and Norton. All the leading college players have also competed on our courts, including teams from Oxford and Cambridge. A unique feature of the Seabright Tournament is that the players are the guests of the members of the Club or the Club itself during the week.

The Seabright Invitation Tournament ended in 1950 when the membership decided it was just too much work. (see attached article in archives).

THE PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION

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Another feature of the club which we may well be proud of is the collection of photographs and memorabilia on view in the Club house. As far as I know, it is the most complete one of its kind in the country. At this time there are three hundred and thirty-eight pictures in the Club house. These include photographs of all the prominent players, men and women, who have competed on our courts. We have also the old tennis racquet won by Miss Anna Shippen and Frank L. Henry in 1880, which was the first prize offered by the Club in mixed doubles. There is also the cricket bat used by GeorgeWright of the Longwood Cricket team when they played a match with our Club in 1887.

Our collection in itself is indeed not only a record of the Club's growth, but of tennis in this country. It has been my privilege to assemble and present this collection to the Club, and as many of these pictures cannot be duplicated today, I have had photographs made of them all, and the negatives deposited with the Club's Secretary for safekeeping. We hope this collection will always be kept up and made even more complete in the years to come.

TENNIS INTO THE MODERN ERA

history-065After World War II, tennis activity picked up quickly and in 1947, because of greatly increased interest in ladies and junior events, Mr. Bernon S. Prentice gave the Club an adjoining strip of land to the east upon which six clay courts were installed. With the exception of the old board court, these clay courts were the first non-grass playing surfaces in the history of the Club. In 1960, the fourth tier of grass courts was converted to six fast drying Teniko courts making it possible to start play earlier in the Spring and to continue play until the first frost. During the middle sixties, the clay courts were converted to Teniko and three new Teniko courts were added giving the Club fifteen Teniko and twelve grass courts.

In the late sixties, after a good deal of discussion, the membership of the Club overwhelmingly voted to keep and to improve the grass courts, and a five year program was started to accomplish this. About this time a neighboring tract of 1' acres became available and was purchased by the Club. A carriage house on the new property was converted for the use of the superintendent, Mr. Fred Allan and his family, and three more grass courts were added.

PLATFORM TENNIS ARRIVES AT THE CLUB

After much debate and many meetings, Platform Tennis came to the Club with the construction of the first court in late 1962, financed by membership subscriptions. Before long, the sport became so popular that second, third and fourth courts were constructed, all of which are lighted for night play, together with an attractive "warming hut" for spectating and relaxing. By 1975, some 175 members were playing Platform Tennis and the Club had active men's and ladies' teams competing with the best of the other clubs in the State. The Club ranks among its membership state and national champions and has come to be known for its strength in Platform Tennis.

CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION

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In 1976, the Club celebrated its 100th year as one of the oldest tennis clubs in the country. In honor of its Centennial and the 50th anniversary of the Prentice Cup matches, a gala black tie dinner dance was held under a large tent at the Club on Saturday, August 7. Lyn Callen and Pops Keator were co-chairmen. Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Avory, and Sir Brian Burnett, Honorary Members, were guests from Wimbledon.

In the last 25 years, there has been a tremendous growth in tennis interest at the Club—long before the present tennis boom started among the general public. Team matches between the club and others have been on the increase, particularly with the Ladies and Juniors, and the Men's team match with Rockaway Hunting Club is now the oldest in America, dating from 1916. Besides the annual Club championships, invitation member-guest tournaments are held by both men and ladies and once every four years, matches for the Prentice Cup between teams from Yale-Harvard and Oxford-Cambridge are held on our superb grass courts, generally acknowledged to be among the finest in the nation.

As the Club begins its second hundred years, we are confident that tennis will continue to provide an enjoyable way to spend a pleasant time with friends at a congenial place.

SEABRIGHT LAWN TENNIS & CRICKET CLUB LISTED ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

In the summer of 1991, on July 9, the Club was honored by being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the nation's official list of cultural resources significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering or culture. Listing on the National Register also provides some measure of protection from public takings of property by Federal, state or local governments without a review process.

RESEARCH REVEALS CLUBHOUSE DESIGNED BY FAMOUS ARCHITECT

history-290-clubhzAs a result of increased interest by the Board of Governors in the Club's historic role in the development of the game of tennis, a serious research effort was conducted to discover more about its earliest origins. This project was complicated by the fact that the Club's minutes books only go back to 1903. However, John L. Riker, great-grandson of Seabright's first president, John L. Riker (1886-1890), found among his family papers an original invitation to the official opening of the Club on July 5, 1886. (There were fireworks and dancing!) He presented it to the Club where it can be seen on the Club house wall today. A pen and ink drawing on the invitation shows the Club as it was originally built, a handsome example of the then fashionable Shingle Style of architecture which flourished on the Jersey Shore in the late 19th century. This was convincing evidence that a "name" architect was responsible for the overall design.By a stroke of extreme good fortune, the original drawings and specifications done by the architectural firm of Renwick, Russell and Aspinwall of New York were found to have survived in the Archives of Monmouth County. James Renwick (1818-1895) was at his death recognized as one of the foremost architects in the United States. He was responsible for the design of St. Patrick's Cathedral and Grace Church in New York, and the Smithsonian and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D. C. Our Club house, though altered from the original Renwick design, has survived as one of the earliest tennis clubs and as a rare example of the casino-Club house, a type of building which functioned as a gathering place for social activities and recreation.

A NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK

history-300-clubhzThe Club house today still preserves so well the feeling of another era, of the importance of tradition and its proud links with its past history, seen so visibly on its walls in its unique collection of photographs and memorabilia. This evidence, combined with the Club's long and prominent role in the development of the sport of tennis, has led to a further, important honor. In December 1992, the Club was notified by the Secretary of the Interior, Manual Lujan, that it had been named a National Historic Landmark. This is the nation's highest designation for buildings or sites which "possess national significance in commemorating the history of our country." Thus Seabright joins only three other famous tennis clubs as a National Historic Landmark; the Newport Casino in Rhode Island, the Merion Cricket Club and Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia. The Board of Governors celebrated this event by inviting the membership, past presidents of the Club and local dignitaries to a Reception on July 31, 1993 at which our plaque, presented by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was unveiled by Bayard D. Stout of "Gruesome Foursome" fame and Clare Neilson, daughter of Bernon Prentice, president of the Club (1922-1938), before a large and enthusiastic crowd.

It was a remarkable tribute to a remarkable club and the loyal support which it has inspired down through the years.

Without the dedicated efforts of club historian Mary Lou Strong SLTCC would not have been recognized by the Department of Interior or been able to restore and archive the historically significant collection of photographs in our clubhouse. Mary Lou Strong has been instrumental in preserving our club and the history of the sport of Tennis.

 

 

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