A Day on the Links

Lyons 3

On Wednesday, August 7, 1929, Francis “Red” Lyons, a 17-year-old assistant pro at Drumlins Country Club in Syracuse, played 173 holes at the Skaneateles Country Club in an attempt to set a record for continuous play. Lyons and his caddy, Tom Kelly, began at 4:45 a.m. and finished at 7:15 p.m., playing the nine-hole course 18 times, with an extra hole for good measure. Late in the effort, the pair discarded the golf bag, carried just a few clubs, and ran from shot to shot. They took one 30-minute break at noon to eat, but otherwise kept moving, and played for just short of 15 hours. The Syracuse Journal account noted that Lyons averaged 84 strokes per round.

* * *

Photo by Eddie Griffin; Kelly on the left, Lyons on the right.

Captain Nash De Cost

 

Nash De Cost

Captain Nash De Cost (1783-1858) was a ship-master who came to Skaneateles in 1830. He served on the Vestry of St. James’ church and was said to be as much a part of the village scene as the church steeple itself.

Nash De Cost was born in 1783 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and went to sea on a whaling ship at a young age. By 1803, at the age of 20, he was already a sea captain. The seas were perilous in many ways; he once outran a French ship of war after a pursuit that lasted 48 hours, and on another occasion had to guide his ship safely to port after losing the mainmast in a gale.

In June of 1809, he took the Euphrates to Madiera, thence to the East Indies, and returned to New York more than a year later, in September of 1810, with $500,000 in goods from Calcutta.

In the 1820s, De Cost was sailing for the firm of Fish & Grinnell *, and settled on a more regular schedule, shepherding cargo, passengers and mail from New York to Liverpool and back again. Clement Cleveland Sawtell, in Captain Nash De Cost and The Liverpool Packets (1955), gives us a glimpse of his life:

“By the time the sailing date rolled round, usually the 8th of the month for the Grinnell packets, the bales of cotton were safely stowed and the crew shipped, while the riggers had her fitted for sea and warped out to Staten Island to wait for the steamboat carrying Captain De Cost with his flock of passengers and mail pouches. And the more the merrier from the Captain’s point of view, for in those days all the letter money and part of the passenger money went to line the captain’s pocket…

“In the cabin were to be found all sorts: retiring ambassadors, naval officers bearing dispatches, Canadian army officers, writers, actors, scholars, globe tortters, cotton speculators, ship owners, agents, New York and Liverpool merchants and their wives and families. They came from all corners of the earth and went to all corners of the earth and trod the decks of the York in passage. Over this shifting group Captain De Cost presided at his table aboard ship and came to know many of them quite well, especially those who made a number of voyages with him.”

In good weather, the voyage to Liverpool could take 21 days, and 31 days to sail back. In the summer, the passengers enjoyed the deck; in the winter, they huddled in their cabins while the sailors above climbed the icy lines and sailed the ship through rain, sleet and snow.

Nash De Cost was respected by owners and loved among passengers, a gentleman with a reputation for an amiable disposition, excellent seamanship and safe arrivals. He retired in 1830, after his 47th birthday and 99 successful Atlantic crossings.

Two of his young children had died in the city, and so in retirement he looked to the country for a more healthful situation. He purchased a farm within sight of the water on the east side of Skaneateles Lake. His wife Betsey died at the age of 51 in 1837, and De Cost later married Hannah Coe, the widow of Chauncey Coe. He died in 1858, and The Sailor’s Magazine of March 1858 remembered him thusly:

“[He was] one of the most popular shipmasters in the ‘Swallow Tail’ line of Liverpool packets. Those who had occasion to cross the Atlantic at that period, will remember him as commander of the favorite packet ship ‘York.’ Previous to his connection with that ship, he severally commanded the ships ‘Euphrates,’ ‘Cortes,’ and ‘Averick’ in all of which he not only gave satisfaction to owners, but also to those who took passage with him… He was always a good friend of the sailor, and has often boasted that he never had occasion to flog a man who sailed with him, in the whole course of his life. He possessed a good heart and it was always in the ‘right place’ when appealed to by those in distress. He was a sincere Christian, and died in the hope of a glorious immortality.”

 De Cost Window

Capt. De Cost is remembered by a window at St. James’ church which portrays Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7).

* * *

* The shipping firm of Fish & Grinnell, whose senior partner was actually named Preserved Fish, was founded circa 1815. The co-founder was Joseph Grinnell of New Bedford. In 1825, Joseph’s brothers, Henry and Moses, joined the firm. Circa 1830, Robert Bowne Minturn also joined, and it became Grinnell, Minturn & Co.

Henry Grinnell had earlier (1822) married Sarah Minturn, Robert Minturn’s sister. In 1829, the couple had a son who they named Robert Minturn Grinnell, who late in life summered in Skaneateles and after his death was honored at St. James’ by an enlarged chancel and Tiffany window donated by his wife in 1901.

Book-One

His life is noted more fully in Skaneateles and St. James’, along with more than 100 others, available in the gift shop at the Creamery on Hannum Street or from the author; stop him on the street and make arrangements for personal delivery.

Portrait of Nash De Cost by Charles Loring Elliott, 1845. Photo of the De Cost window by Lauren Mills Wojtalewski.

The Count, Countess & Contessina

In September of 1972, Skaneateles hosted jet-setting royalty. Count and Countess Pier Arrigo Braschi and their daughter Francesca, of San Marino, Rome and New York, came here via Newport, where they had just attended a reception for Jacqueline Onassis. The Skaneateles Press noted, “They had visited Skaneateles sixteen years ago and wanted to show their daughter ‘the most beautiful village in the United States.’”

While in the village, the family stayed at the Sherwood Inn and were entertained at lunch at the Skaneateles Country Club by Miss Lynn Abrams.

The Braschi family is descended from 12th-century Italian nobility; the family tree includes Giovanni Braschi, who as Pope Pius VI reigned from 1775 to 1799. In addition to being a Count, Pier Braschi is San Marino’s longtime ambassador to Colombia (the native land of his wife, Nubia) and active in philanthropy. More importantly, the Count was once photographed by the legendary Slim Aarons.

Count

Count Pier Arrigo Braschi in the Piazza della Liberta, San Marino, circa 1984

Coon Chase

Coon Chase Ad

There are some Skaneateles amusements we are unlikely to see again. One would be horse racing on the frozen lake, such as the three races held in February of 1902, one for green (novice) horses, one for 2:35 horses (those able to run a mile in less than 2:35), and one “free-for-all.”

The horse races that day were accompanied by a fox chase, in which local dogs followed a scent trail left by a fox dragged over a course, probably unwillingly, with the winner being the first dog to cross the finish line at the end of the trail. The fleetest dog’s owner took home $3. That particular fox chase, however, was small potatoes when compared to the Coon Chase of 1940.

A coon chase differs from the fox chase in that the reluctant scent-bearer is a raccoon, and rather than a finish line, the raccoon is encouraged to climb a tree at the end of the trail where the winning dog will “bark him up.” The fans, already knowing where the tree will be, gather beforehand to see the finish and applaud the winners.

In 1939, Solvay promoter Mike Piano organized a 1940 New Year’s Day of ten (10) chases to be held over a six-mile course; he promised more than 100 dogs, some coming from as far away as Maine and Florida. The starter was George Chapman of Marcellus. The course was laid out to finish at Freddie’s Inn on the edge of the village, where the expected throng of spectators could surely find shelter and refreshment.

Freddie’s Inn was not always Freddie’s Inn. It was built in 1811-12 by Nathaniel Eells who moved to Marcellus (now Skaneateles) in 1804, and bought land from Jedidiah Sanger and Charles Pardee. His house and tavern, on what is now the southeast corner of Onondaga and East Streets, was known variously as Eells’ Tavern or the Somerset House. Noble Coe purchased the tavern soon after it was completed. He later formed a partnership with a Mr. Marsh, under the name of Coe & Marsh, and they also leased the Sherwood tavern west of the bridge; they kept both for many years.

The Eells tavern structure is today a private residence, but in 1940 it was owned and recently redecorated by Fred Elliott who came here from Baldwinsville where he had run a tavern for 20 years. And in 1940, Freddie’s Inn, at the top of the Onondaga Street hill, was on the edge of open country.

The weather, unfortunately, conspired against the organizers. Snow, cold and the scents of other animals are all hindrances to a coon chase. A wayward rabbit crossing the prepared scent trail can send an undiscerning dog off into the woods, and lost dogs have to be found, on foot, by their owners. Heavy snow on New Year’s Eve put a damper on the Coon Chase; only 50 dogs were entered, instead of the promised 100, perhaps because their owners did not relish looking for them in deep snow. The newspaper didn’t even report the names of the winners. But 500 people were drawn to Skaneateles for the event and one can imagine Freddie’s Inn doing a good business in hot toddies.

Leave This Man Alone

In January of 1923, Mary Weeks, a resident of Skaneateles and a member of the parish of St. James’, wrote to her Aunt Jennie:

“This is the first Sunday for our new Rector. His name is Donald Stuart. He is quite young, has an attractive wife and two small children. He made a fine record in the war. His family is settled in the little rectory and we are hoping everything will go smoothly. Our trouble in a small town is that we have too much time to find out what our neighbors are doing and talk about it. Also we seem to think when we hire a minister that we must tell him when and what to do. I hope we will have sense enough to leave this man alone, and give him credit for knowing enough to make his own plans without the help of the brothers & sisters in the church.”

The Rev. Stuart served at St. James’ until 1926; I have written about him before, but am grateful to Rena R. Corey of Mrs. Hudson’s/Fine Books and Paper in Cold Spring, N.Y., for sharing this personal glimpse with me. She has more than 100 letters from Mary Weeks, and should you be interested in purchasing them you can email her at mrshudsons@optimum.net, or write to: Mrs Hudson’s, P.O. Box 6, Cold Spring, NY 10516.