2010-09-29 / Columnists

The search for Westminster’s Sensation Continues

Sensation Continues

With the Babylon/West Islip connection, the Wagstaffs, a prominent West Islip family, were the link behind Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) setting up “shop” at Babylon in 1880, and were the reason the fledgling kennel club relocated their clubhouse and kennels from New Jersey to our neck of the woods.

Westminster stayed in Babylon until 1904. Then the club moved back to New Jersey because shoots of pigeons released from underground traps were declared illegal in New York. Thankfully, New Jersey passed the same ban a few months later. Soon after, Westminster gave up on the ideas of pigeon shooting grounds and cooperatively owned kennels. Meanwhile, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show remains the second oldest continuous sporting event in the U.S., one year younger than the Kentucky Derby.

Before Westminster’s arrival, the wealthy Wagstaff clan already settled on a large tract of land spanning both sides of Montauk Highway (then South Country Road) in West Islip. In 1827, Dr. Alfred Wagstaff Sr. purchased the Bergen farm alongside a pond and built his summer estate - Tahlulah - which means “running waters”. (Once an elegant Italian mansion visited by Presidents Cleveland and Taft, the home was torn down in 1935. TheWest Islip Library grounds are there now.) At one time, Wagstaff land stretched from the pond to Howells Road, making Alfred Sr. the largest L.I. landowner until the Vanderbilts arrived. Two streets in West Islip-Wagstaff and Tahlulahare reminders today.

At left, Wagstaff grave at Babylon Rural. Below 1902 map showing location of Westminster and Wagstaff property in Babylon” At left, Wagstaff grave at Babylon Rural. Below 1902 map showing location of Westminster and Wagstaff property in Babylon” Thedoctor’s property passed to his two sons: the more famous - Alfred Jr. - a Civil War Colonel, State Senator, board member on the Brooklyn Bridge Committee and honorary ASPCA president, and his sibling - Cornelius DuBois Wagstaff – one of the 18 WKC charter members. Cornelius owned Tahlulah Kennels where he bred field dogs. During the first WKC show of 1877 he exhibited an Irish Water Spaniel and Irish Setter while his daughter Mary also entered her Pug at the Garden.

Since Westminster wanted a sportsmen club close to NYC where many members and guests resided, CD Wagstaff found 64 lovely acres in Babylon near Southards Pond. Westminster leased and then purchased the land. Besides being a home for the nearly 200 field/show dogs, the parcel would host the club’s publicized pigeon shoots. The new WKC getaway would be a convenient ride by train. The LIRR even set up special express service for select WKC shoots.

CD Wagstaff himself bought the land bordering the WKC acres on the north (near present day Sunrise Highway and N. Babylon Cemetery). I find no evidence that he put a structure there, but rather think he wanted a buffer to secure WKC privacy plus protect WKC kennels at the north edge of the tract.

CD Wagstaff was from a moneyed class, as were most WKC members. Describing the grand opening lunch at the existing farmhouse/clubhouse in the 3 April 1880 Chicago Field, Wagstaff expresses his desire to keep the “common folk” away from club festivities. Under the pen name “Tahlulah” he writes: “The site selected by the club as a permanent locations is one of the finest on the county…..The roads to the west and the south keep away any nuisances in the shape of small tenements…and is a distance of only six minutes drive from the Babylon depot and one hour from New York.”

When WKC came to Babylon, this 18th C. farmhouse served as their original clubhouse. It has been moved twice - first to become the superintendent’s lodging, and later after a fire to where it stands today on Livingston Avenue. CD Wagstaff drew up the plans and served on the building committee for the new $8,000 WKC clubhouse. This Queen Anne Victorian had about a dozen bedrooms and a dining room that could seat 50. If I knew precisely where Wagstaff put the new clubhouse, I would definitively know where Sensation, Westminster’s mascot Pointer, is buried.

Outside of tasks for WKC, CD Wagstaff, unlike his brother Alfred Jr., didn’t appear to hold any “real jobs”. He enjoyed a life of privilege. Society pages are filled with notes of his family on extended trips abroad, attending fancy receptions with other patricians, and even mention of a guest getting a speeding ticket. “Cocks Law” was an early speeding ordinance. On Aug. 15, 1902 the Brooklyn Eagle reported that a Mrs. Lucy L. Howe of Manhattan, a summer resident, accompanied by Mrs. C. DuBois Wagstaff was arrested for violating Cocks Law while driving at a high rate of speed on West Main Street in Babylon. Mrs. Howe denied that the auto could go that fast, but promptly paid her $5 fine.

Today I visited Babylon Rural Cemetery to recheck the dates on Wagstaff’s grave. His tombstone is the large Celtic cross one sees when entering from Deer Park Avenue. CD Wagstaff, the man who brought Westminster to Babylon, lived from 1845-1919, and his wife Amy Colt Wagstaff from 1858-1934. Their two children merely have initial markers, but on this trip I noticed something else. There is one additional grave in the family plot- “Lucy Lapham Howe- 1865 to 1943” who just happens to be the speed demon summer guest.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Two shelter dogs displayed exemplary behavior at the Buddy Cares Fair last Saturday. They loved everyone. “Sugar” # 93242 a blue Pit was the model breed ambassador even though she entered the shelter last April after having another of multiple litters. Her ears look like they were cropped with a pocket knife. Upon spaying her, the vet found a scar and fishing line of some sort in her chest. Despite previous awful treatment, Sugar is a very agreeable gal. “Katie”#93562 is a young Terrier found at KMart. Thispetite pup was Ms. Congeniality. These dogs deserve wonderful homes. Cats: “No Name”- cinnamon C-7; “Snuggle”- gray C-10- both declawed.

Female Dogs: sweet Jack Russell and Boston Terrier with a tail- in Puppy Room; long timers-“Lydia, Brownie, Star, Jinni, Asia”. Male Dogs: “Blue” #93487 Shep mix; Clumber Spaniel mix #93531.

**Free Rabies Vaccine and Heartworm Testing Clinic hosted by Last Hope Animal Rescue- Sun. Oct. 10th from 11 am to 3 pm at Pampered Paws, 325 Union Blvd., Holbrook. Yes, the clinic is really free. See www.lasthopeanimalrescue. org or call 516-223-6673.

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