ENGLISH SETTER CLUB OF AMERICA, INC. | BRIEF HISTORY
A Brief History of the English Setter Club of America
By Edmund R. Gager - President ESCA 1985 - 1992
The English Setter Club of America has been described in Bird Dog journals and Sporting Dog magazines as the greatest one course trial in America, and now after one hundred years, the club is still held in the highest esteem. The English Setter Club was started in 1906 by a group of Philadelphia sportsmen, headed by George C. Thomas of Chestnut Hill, PA, and Frank Reily of Meford, NJ, who maintained an office in Philadelphia for his glass company. Their first specialty dog show was held in Horticulture Hall in Philadelphia on April 17, 1907, and the first field trial for members on April 11, 1908, on the Thomas estate in Chestnut Hill, PA. In 1910, several members favored the development of field competition rather than purely bench shows. In 1911, the trials were moved to more spacious grounds near Glassboro, NJ, and it was a one-day event. Starting in 1912, the trials were held in the Medford, NJ area on the farm of Dr. Edwards Haines, a local physician and Club member. By then the trials consumed two full days.
Prior to 1914, trials were limited to members and English Setters only. However, by 1914 field trials were gaining in popularity and the pressure to open trials to the public became acute, so the members acquiesced and the 1914 program consisted of a Members Derby, Members All-Age, Open All-Age, and Open Derby. Also, this was the first year Pointers were permitted to compete.
About the year 1915, the club leased a farm owned by Daniel Wilkins of Medford, and the trials were held on these grounds under this lease agreement until 1918 when Frank Reily, in his own name, acquired the farm which is the present English Setter Club grounds. During this same year, Gustav Pabst of Milwaukee, WI, a club member and owner of the Pabst Brewing Company, donated a beautiful sterling silver cup to be won three times for permanent possession. Called the Blue Ribbon Cup it had a purse of $1500.00, a huge sum in those days. By the 1920s, $1000.00 purses were common at the club, and the number of professional handlers coming to Medford each year rapidly increased.
In 1922 member classes were finally opened to pointing dogs of all breeds. Also, in the early 20s the club built a large boarding kennel and adjacent pet cemetery. The kennel helped the club become financially stable for several decades until it was destroyed by fire around the year 1990. The pet cemetery or memorial park, as it has been called, is the final resting place for several well known dogs. When Beau Essig, the Hall of Fame setter died, his owner Virgil P. Hawse of Stauton, VA, sent his body by train to Medford for burial. It is said that he was buried in a lined casket and attended by several mourners.
The 1920s were also described as the greatest years of progress for the club. Even during World Wars I and II and the depression of the 1930s, the club continued to attract a large number of entries. In fact, the greatest number of starters ever recorded in any trial at the club occurred was in the darkest years of the second World War in 1943, when there were 163 starters in the spring trial.
During the first 30 years of the club's existence, it gained national notoriety. Many famous personalities enjoyed watching the trials from the little glass clubhouse on the hill, most notably Ty Cobb and Cy Perkins, both Baseball Hall of Fame players, and actors Randolph Scott and Gene Autry. Clark Gable's Cameo's Red Rocket won a national springer spaniel championship at the club in the late 50s.
In 1938, the club celebrated the burning of the mortgage. The event tool place at twilight, following the completion of the last brace of the spring trial. A great fire was kindled on the lawn in front of the clubhouse, the mortgage was destroyed, and a festive evening was enjoyed by all.
The 1930s and 40s were the times when the club conducted dog and horse auctions during the spring trials in the old barn, which was demolished in 1986 to make way for a new horse barn built in 1987. Many English Setter members have had tremendous impact on field trials as we know them today. The amateur Field Trial Clubs of America was organized in 1917, and the parent body consisted of two English Setter Club members, Harry D. Kirkover and Frank Reily. Later members of this body and also club members were Dr. Frank H. Lahey of Boston, MA, of the world famous Lahey Clinic, Dr. Harold Longsdorf, W. Lee White, and George Rogers. Dr. Longsdorf, owner of Lawless Boy and National Champion Warhoop Jake (elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1961); was personally responsible for many AFTCA rules which exist to this day. The list of famous field trial personalities and famous dogs to come to Medford would read like a Who's Who of Field Trials in America. Several of our members have won the National Championship, and many are enshrined in the Field Trial Hall of Fame.
The first decline in membership and entries was seen in the 1950s and 60s as many other field trial clubs came into existence. However, the club persevered and weathered this decline into the 70s when field trial grounds were at a premium. Unlike most clubs, the English Setter Club owns the club grounds and, therefore, the club bounced back. Under the leadership and guidance of John Rosenburg, who tirelessly spearheaded several initiatives such as horse shows, dog and horse seminars, as well as trap shoots, the club soon regained its former prominence.
In the summer of 1981, the club celebrated Conservation and Recreation Day to commemorate our 75th anniversary. Over 800 people came and enjoyed the beautiful day. The activities included the New Jersey Dog of the year awards and a Tennessee walking horse demonstration provided by former club president, Wade Absher. Delmar Smith (elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 1998) from OK gave a seminar on dog training and quail propagation. Governor James Florio attended and congratulated the club on its 75th anniversary. Several past members provided attendees with some anecdotal history of the club.
In the long and storied history of the English Setter Club, the list of benefactors would be a huge one to say the least. However, one member, Mr. Paul Pollock of Medford, New Jersey, with his exceedingly generous gift to the club in 2005, enabled the club to add over one hundred acres to our holdings. The members will be forever grateful for Mr. Pollock's graciousness.
Today, after one hundred years, the English Setter Club of America is alive and well. We enjoy a full membership and anxiously look forward to our next one hundred years.