2007-08-15 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Several months after the trail went cold, I picked up the scent again searching for the historic Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Clubhouse in Babylon Village. The precise location, if verified, will also mark the 1887 gravesite of "Sensation"- legendary WKC Pointer and official emblem of the world's most famous dog show. Smithsonian aerial maps followed by a former Babylonian's call from Maryland are starting to make the mysterious sandpit near Southard's Pond seem more plausible as the site.

To review briefly, between 1882-1904 Westminster owned a 64-acre sportsman's club west of Southards Pond. Many hunting and show dogs (including Sensation) stayed in the "state of the art" kennels behind an elaborate clubhouse overlooking the pond. These champions romped in our woods. When Sensation died in June 1887, he was buried alongside other well-bred Pointers in front of the clubhouse under a flagpole with a figure of a Pointer on top, forever pointing into the wind.

Sadly, no one knows where this WKC Clubhouse was. The 64-acres are wellcharted but the building whereabouts are ambiguous for several reasons. When the property was leased in 1880, a rundown 1700s farmhouse stood at the same unknown spot. The farmhouse, temporary WKC headquarters, now a lovely home at 358 Livingston, was moved twice. The new clubhouse, erected where the farmhouse first stood, burned down sometime after WKC left in 1904. My hunch is that the fire was around 1925. (For detailed background, photos and maps about my Babylon Westminster search, please read these archived online 2007 Beacon pet columns- 2/8; 3/15/; 4/11.)

The 4/11 article analyzed three sites suggested by readers: an odd sandpit near the pond off Gwynn St.; half way down Pilcher St. in the development; and a satellite map imprint by the N. Babylon Cemetery. Each was supported by at least one of the old maps recently found. New information eliminates the last theory, Google Earth. Here's why:

The 1938 aerial maps-Rich Groh, engineer at the Town's Department of Environmental Control, acquired a set of large, black and white photo aerial maps of Babylon Village from the Smithsonian about 10 years ago. They live in a drawer at the Phelps Annex and I have visitation rights. These shots were taken about 13 years after the clubhouse fire. I don't know how long it would take before new trees would obscure the view from above. The Pilcher development didn't go in until 1955, but shows varied vegetation in 1938 so it is still in the running as a clubhouse locale.

The sandpit appears more promising. It may be wishful thinking because the spot is bucolic and accessible, but the pit is so clear on the aerial map, and a white square just west of the horse trail could possibly be one of the concrete floor kennels. (They were supposed to be in view some distance behind the clubhouse dining room.) A faint path seems to connect Livingston to the sandpit and then continues down to the pond.

The aerial map has a scale of 1 inch = to 400 feet which happens to be the same scale as WKC's 1870 Sammis property survey map (shown here-so exact that it cites specific pine and pear trees as markers yet mentions no structures). I made a clear acetate template of the old survey and laid it over the 1938 aerial map. The northern WKC boundary doesn't extend up to the present day northern edge of Southards. On the aerial map, the Google Earth spot by the cemetery is densely wooded. Nothing seems etched into the earth. More important, it's outside of the WKC acreage as seen on the old survey.

The Call from a Former Babylon Boy Scout: Don Whalen of Maryland contacted me after reading the 4/11 piece proposing the 3 spots. He lived in Babylon Village from 1938 to 1951, growing up on Strong on the east side of the pond. Around 1947 he camped on the "weird" sandpit with the Boy Scouts and also played BB guns there. He said the area was covered with white sand, not beach sand, and pebbles, and was elevated with a great view of the pond. Just like Linda Pugliesi who grew up on William, he could visualize the 40 by 60 ft. clubhouse there and remembers no dumped debris or cement as it has now. Don also mentioned that the pond stopped at Pilcher; beyond were marshlands. Presently the pond extends more than a block further north. He also made deliveries for Babylon Pharmacy and recalls the streets west of Southards like Park Way existed, but only as dirt roads.

What does all this mean?: Nothing definite, but the arbitrary placement of a sandpit, removed from the entrance to the pond suggests that this clearing might be the clubhouse fire ruins. After the WKC property sold to Ewell, it changed hands again and became a health club for a short time. The spot is lovely now, minimally treed as compared to the rest of the woods. There is enough room for the WKC Clubhouse, and at least 30 flat yards to the right for the pigeon shooting grounds. I am not sure there's enough space for shooting house to the left because that land drops off now. Would elevation or the outline of the pond be different 100 years ago? I'm also concerned about the proximity to the pond. It seems too close. The old photos show a wide carriage road or driveway. Right now the forest is too overgrown to poke around for a foundation or remnants of the wine cellar or flagpole. That will have to wait until fall… Wish I was in touch with the Stony Brook archaeologists who took me on a dig in Lloyd Harbor years ago. I could use their expertise.

Coming Soon: Visitors to the Babylon Westminster clubhouse in 1886-88 describe the kennels and the illustrious dogs that lived here.

Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset has some unique looking pets for adoption this week. "Luke" #671 is a cute, black Wire-haired Dachshund mix. He shows how lovable he is out of the cage. This gorgeous blue-eyed Siamese mix cat #692 became homeless when her owner died. See more photos on the shelter's Petfinder site.

•Dogs: "Bud" #706- a chubby yellow Lab mix; "Gus" #208- big Shep mix who loves the kiddie pool; "Dutchess" #676- pretty Shepherd/Malinois.

•Cats: "Hermione" #550- an affectionate calico/tabby; lots of tiny kittens.

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