2008-10-15 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Search for Sensation Resumes: Part 19 -The Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse in Babylon burned down 90 years ago this week—at 10 p.m., Oct. 14, 1918. Pinpointing the site isn't as precise, although my findings and a hunch hover over a suspicious mound by Southards Pond. Almost two years of searching, yet the exact location of the WKC mansion and the flagpole that marked the grave of Sensation, Westminster's trademark Pointer, lack the definitive proof I so desire.

By 1918, the clubhouse was two steps, (and 14 years) removed from Westminster members and dog breeding. WKC sold the 64 acres to James L. Ewell in 1904 when pigeon shoots became illegal in New York State. He raised Shetland ponies there, while at various times his family occupied either the clubhouse or the WKC superintendent's farmhouse. From 1915 until the fire, Ewell leased the majestic Victorian to Max MacLevy as a controversial health retreat and pig farm.

Sorry, it may seem as if you came in at the middle of a movie. To catch up on previous articles of our Westminster mystery, check out Beacon, Post or Record newspapers' "Pets" archives beginning with February, 2007. Most recently MacLevy's notoriety and the fire are detailed in the June 19 and 26 "Pets" online links.

Close up photo of former WKC clubhouse, circa 1910 Close up photo of former WKC clubhouse, circa 1910 Please stare at this Ewell family photo, circa 1910, as you read the following chart. It's the best existing closeup of the WKC clubhouse. If you are familiar with the area, see if can you visualize the 60-by-40 ft. structure at the spot I'm about to describe.

Now to debate the mystery mound as the clubhouse setting, placing it west of Southards Pond, sandwiched inside the horse and foot trails, between Gwynn and Pilcher Streets, here are four observations opposing my theory: 1) From 1887 on, the old maps with building symbols put clubhouse further west or north on the Westminster land. The 1902 and 1915 Hyde atlases, the only to label the clubhouse, position it about 200 feet north of my mound but equidistant west of the pond. 2) The few panorama photos of the clubhouse/ shooting house plus the Ewell close-ups suggest an expanse of flat land, possibly a front lawn, and a gravel road driveway. The present wooded locale is elevated and doesn't seem as spacious so near the pond. 3) It wasn't just a clubhouse; but instead a sporting complex. There must be enough room for the shooting house perpendicular to the clubhouse and a minimum of 90 feet across the front to lay out the underground pigeon shooting traps. After all this research, we are still not sure which way the clubhouse faced. We ponder the ambiguous water view clues in the old journals. I've used Monopoly type houses to orient the complex at various angles. My advisors doubt if the gunners aimed toward the pond. We know that local pot shots stood on Southards Lane to pick off stray birds. If only a Time Machine would just give me a quick glance, I'd scream: "Why didn't I think of pointing the clubhouse that way?" 4) Dr. Davis of Stony Brook University took ground penetrating radar readings around the mound. Nothing glaring screamed out at him.

Finally 4 arguments in support of my mound as the Hound Holy Grail: 1) There are amazing aerial photos from 1938, 1928 and 1918. All show intriguing smudges right at the mound-an open blur in '38; a clearing shaped like the clubhouse in '28; and something bright that suggests a standing compound with an elongated lawn facing toward Livingston in '18. No other area further west or north seems disturbed. All three show a Y-shaped path further west, perhaps connecting to the superintendent's farmhouse. 2) Longtimers describe a strange, clean sandpit during the 1950s right where the mound is now. Other Babylonians have said that later this spot became a dumping ground. No one from the Village, Town or State has supplied an alternative explanation for this arbitrary, wooded spot being cleared; leading to my conclusion that the clubhouse

fire burned the area and illegal littering started later. Dr. Davis found evidence of man-made disturbance here but it is difficult to distinguish the WKC foundation from cement or appliances discarded later. 3) Originally a 1700s farmhouse was at this site. It as the WKC temporary clubhouse; later their superintendent's lodging. The WKC moved it to the NW corner of the property in 1884 to make room for the new clubhouse (the one I'm looking for.) The farmhouse was flipped again across the street to its present spot- 358 Livingston, either after the 1918 fire, but more likely after a massive 1923 brush fire. Cutting to the chase, 1858 and 1873 maps, pre- WKC, put this old farmhouse in the southwest corner of Southards Pond, near the mound.

4) The mound has a gorgeous view of the pond; a low gully to the south for the shooting house; flat, extensive land to the north for the shooting grounds. I've heard of possible underground concrete that may have been the kennel floor SW of the mound as described in the journals. This spot is Babylon bucolic at its best.

What's next? There's always microfilm; other historical societies, maybe additional aerials at the Cradle of Aviation. Last week I examined the maps left at the Jeremiah Robbins realty. He sold the property for the WKC in 1904. There were no new clues. I'm waiting to peruse MacLevy's 1916 anti-tobacco book. He refers to the "Farm" aka the WKC clubhouse. It appears as if digging or perhaps hand-auguring is the only way to confirm a foundation. Earlier the Village offered the back hoe but I was hesitant to desecrate the site. Hopefully the offer still stands. We have to delve deep enough to uncover 90 years.

For Adoption: The cats at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset are tired of all this talk about dogs. "Panda" #823 is a handsome semilonghaired cat who came in with his equally elegant sister "Koala" #822. You can see them in a lobby exercise cage. There are many other fancy felines available. Dogs: "Bali" #690- a beige female Pit mix; "Teddy" #775- a Dalmatian/Spaniel.

Halloween Fundraiser: Visit Viewpoint Photography, 88 Green St. Huntington, on Oct. 31 from 11 am - 5 pm, and have your pet photographed with or without a costume on a special holiday set. No appt. needed. $20 fee -- 30% of the proceeds will benefit Last Hope Animal Rescue, Inc. Call 631-421-1238 or www.viewpointphotography. com.

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