2014-07-23 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

A local historian, approaching her 90th birthday, once told me that everything and everyone relevant to the search for Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) in Babylon was in the cemetery. She passed away before I ever got to tell her how correct she was. Babylon Rural Cemetery is the final resting place for plenty of the principal players in my WKC quest.

Babylon Rural Cemetery (just north of Village stores on the west side of Deer Park Avenue) has over 2,300 graves. The oldest may be the two Dinge sisters who died in 1749 and 1753. Names on the headstones including Higbie, Udall and Walbridge read like a local map since early families became the namesakes of area streets.

Westminster Kennel Club had a clubhouse, kennels and 64 acres on the west side of Southards Pond from 1880 to 1904. “Sensation,” the WKC logo Pointer, was buried in front of that elusive clubhouse in 1887. Many people instrumental to WKC’s presence here or crucial to significant discoveries are buried near each other in Babylon Rural. Significant tombstones include:

C.D. Wagstaff grave at Babylon Rural Cemetery C.D. Wagstaff grave at Babylon Rural Cemetery *Grave of Daniel Hallock Downs (1842-1929) and his wife Sarah A.B. Downs (1850- 1938): WKC leased (1880) and then bought the property two years later from them. Mr. and Mrs. Downs had acquired the land and the 1700s farmhouse that later became the first WKC clubhouse and still stands as a home at 558 Livingston from A.S. Brown. An 1873 map shows D. Downs, and the original deed in Riverhead says that they were from Jamesburg, NJ which made finding their grave in Babylon a surprise. Brown (first name was Alexander according to Benjamin P. Fields’ Reminisces of Babylon, published in 1911 by James B. Cooper) was not buried here.

*Grave of James B. Southard (1835-1921): His family owned much of the land and pond east and south of the WKC property. WKC was allowed use of the pond. In 1891 a WKC Spaniel received a life-saving medal for rescuing a Terrier after he almost drowned when he jumped from a rowboat. Southard’s mill was at the SE corner of the pond, and their ice house used by WKC and the Village at the SW corner of the pond, both south of Alexander which was called Southards Lane then.

*Grave of Jeremiah Robbins (1863-1929): Realtor in 1904 when WKC sold the property to James L. Ewell. Robbins’ office was where the golf store is now in the Village. I visited his successor and went through old records from Robbins’ office, finding a few old maps but no documents from this sale.

*Grave of George S. Mott (1861-1926): The last Babylon WKC superintendent from 1892-1904 in charge of the kennels and pigeon shoots. He was also a well-known Pointer breeder. A full-page spread of his Pointers appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle. Mention of Mott in “Pets” piqued the interest of his greatgreat granddaughter Stephanie Conley who lives in Babylon. The column quest revealed her connection to the WKC and explained the mysterious, inherited 1900 Pointer field trial trophy plus old family photos with dogs. Stephanie may also be descended from the Downs family.

*Grave of Thomas Wood in 1902(1859-1922): He leased 404 acres in North Babylon with Mott to use with their own Pointers for field trials.

*Grave of James B. Cooper (1871-1940): Founder of the Babylon Leader newspaper which was published from 1910 through 1958 via his son James B. Cooper III. The elder Cooper praised the WKC’s past influence in Babylon, and provided interesting editorial clues including a remark that kennel manager James Mortimer would have a pack of WKC dogs following his wagon when he’d come into the Village to shop. I corresponded with his granddaughter Roberta in Georgia shortly before her father’s death in 2008 to see if her father had memories of the WKC era. She also went through her father’s library looking for clues.

*Grave of Richard Hamilton Torrey (1886-1964): His photos were the greatest “accidental” find in the WKC quest. While Town historian Tom Smith and Town archivist Mary Cascone were recording an oral history from resident Joy Torrey, she showed them her father in law’s photo album. Captain R. H. Torrey was commander of the 277th Aero Squadron during WWI, and two aerial shots taken from a bi-plane over Southards Pond in summer 1918 most likely show the former WKC clubhouse at its precise location several months before it burned down in October that same year.

*Grave of J. Sammis (can’t confirm) –may be Jonathan Sammis (1817-1888): In 1870, a “J. Sammis C.E.” drew the only map that WKC owns of the Babylon property. The survey follows the perimeter specs stated in the deed and shows a pear tree but no buildings. It would have been so helpful if the original clubhouse were noted.

*Grave of Cornelius DuBois Wagstaff (1845-1919): From a prominent West Islip family C.D. Wagstaff is the reason there was a WKC in Babylon. He owned Tahlulah Kennels and showed his dogs. As a charter WKC member, he chose the property for the future clubhouse by Southards Pond and designed the new Queen Anne Victorian clubhouse. He purchased but didn’t develop the land north of the WKC, 64 acres as a buffer for the kennels and because only invited guests came to the pigeon shoots and parties there.

Wagstaff’s Celtic cross headstone is easily recognized as you drive into Babylon Rural and is part of his wife’s Colt family plot. His brother - Civil War Colonel Alfred (not buried here) - had a mansion visited by Presidents Cleveland and Taft where the West Islip Library is now.

For Adoption at Babylon Animal Shelter (631- 631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Vic Tanny” 14-418 is a friendly Hound/Lab found frolicking at Hermann Griem Park in Wheatley Heights while “Bella” 14-407, a Boxer/Pit, is a little reserved, but warms up to sweetie quickly. “Lucky,” the Border Collie rescued from severe neglect, still needs a home.

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