Looking Back on 125 Years of The Maidstone Club

By Emily J. Weitz | June 30, 2016 | Lifestyle Feature

The East End’s most celebrated (and sometimes controversial) club, The Maidstone Club, is going strong at 125!

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Cordelia Menges and her siblings spent their teens at the Maidstone Club in the ’50s and ’60s, and they’re all still members today. She even recalls when women were restricted from teeing off at certain times—men’s foursomes had priority.

Those days are gone, and today women have earned a fair share of time on the fairways, and couples or families hold most of the early morning tee times. However, with an expansive stretch of oceanfront, Maidstone is much more than a golf and tennis club. Yes, there are 23 tennis courts, two paddle tennis courts, 27 holes of golf, and a practice range, but there’s also a clubhouse restaurant and pub room, bars, and a beach snack bar. Wandering through the storied ballroom, out onto the veranda, and gazing out over the sweeping expanse of ocean, it’s easy to wonder about the people who spent their lives at this place, and imagine where their favorite corners were. Menges owns a cabana—they’re awarded by seniority—and one of her favorite things is sitting there with her children and grandchildren as the waves roll in. For another member, it’s teeing off with his grandson at 7:30 in the morning. Another loves sitting in the oaky library reading a book, and another treasures his coffee on the beach over the Sunday Times.

It all sounds so lovely, so civilized.

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Historical postcards showing the Maidstone Club’s pool and cabanas and a view of the circa-1940s clubhouse.

But for more than a century, the Maidstone Club has been a secret perched in the heart of East Hampton for outsiders to admire—or resent. This at-arm’s-length disposition has cultivated a rumor mill that necessitated some clarity. For instance, was Diana Ross truly excluded? Not according to those who were there. Apparently Diana Ross started dating a recently divorced member, Arne Naess, in 1985. He resigned his membership when he got divorced, and stopped coming to East Hampton entirely. According to the tabloids, the Maidstone wouldn’t let Ross in. But according to the Maidstone, she never applied.

And then there’s the rumor that Chevy Chase was a member until he made Caddyshack, after which he was promptly kicked out. Again, denied. Caddyshack was made in 1980, and Chase joined in 1989. He’s still a member to this day.

The reputation for conservatism, though, doesn’t come from nowhere. The very first president of the Maidstone Club, Dr. Everett Herrick, was known around town as a trusted physician and a man of deep principles. According to The Maidstone Club: The First 50 Years, a comprehensive history written by Averill Geus, “Dr. Herrick was a moving spirit in founding the Maidstone Club in 1891… He ruled with a rod of iron.” Among the seemingly innocuous pastimes that Dr. Herrick resisted were drinking, Sunday golf, and even afternoon tea. “He was, to put it mildly, ultraconservative,” wrote Samuel T. Skidmore, a member of the club under Dr. Herrick’s leadership. “He objected to having a telephone put in the club, and when I suggested that afternoon tea be served, he put his foot down hard. Our biggest fight came on the question of Sunday golf.”

As long as Dr. Herrick lived, alcohol was strictly prohibited at the Club, and after his passing in 1914, he decreed that if the club were to take the $7,500 left in his will, it would never serve alcohol. This lasted through Prohibition, when then-treasurer Clifford McCall lamented to a member that the club couldn’t put in a bar. After all, if there was no bar at Maidstone, members might be forced to pop into one of the “undesirable roadhouses that had sprung up like mushrooms during Prohibition.” The next day, McCall received a check for $7,500, the library received its legacy from Dr. Herrick, and, in 1934, the club finally applied for a license to serve liquor.

But conservatism isn’t the same as snobbery, and in fact, at its founding, the Maidstone Club saw itself as a coalition for the people. According to The East Hampton Star in August of 1891, 14 incorporators came together to purchase 18 acres overlooking Hook Pond, the ocean, and the dunes, from Henry D. Hedges for $14,000; 31 stockholders held 145 shares, at $100 per share. Annual dues were set at $15 per member with wife and children under 10. “The setup was simple,” wrote The Maidstone Club author Averill Geus. “Dues could be within reach of all, whether millionaires or impecunious artists.”

While conservatism may have persisted in its own modern incarnation, accessibility to the masses has not. Annual dues at Maidstone today are more than most people’s entire salaries, and getting in takes a lot more than money. Mainly, members say, that’s because of legacies. Kids grow up at the Maidstone and, unsurprisingly, they want to join as adults. Leadership has attempted to limit legacies to only half of new membership, but it’s difficult to exclude their own children.

But as much as the 1 percent built the Maidstone, so too did the artists. One of the founding members was Thomas Moran, the painter, who was also a magnet for other artists of the time. American Impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam often painted the Maidstone links, and painters Francis and Richard Newton were on the original charter of the club.

In the first half of the 20th century, the club suffered through two great fires (1901 and 1922). Each time, the building was quickly rebuilt, and the society culture thrived. The years of the second clubhouse were marked by weekly dances, and Mrs. E.J. Vaughan became a staple of the social scene. “Young people returning home to waiting-up mothers were always asked, ‘Did you say good night to Mrs. Vaughan?’” wrote Geus. “East Hampton, while simple in some ways, was formal to a degree unimaginable now.”

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Roger Bullard designed the third, and current, clubhouse; it opened in 1924. It stood strong through the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, which destroyed the grounds and the golf course, but left the clubhouse mostly intact. After World War II, East Hampton really started changing, as did the rest of Long Island (read: Levittown). Between 1950 and 1960, the unincorporated areas of East Hampton grew by more than 68 percent. Estates were being divided up and sold off as part of a trend that persists to this day.

Mrs. Lorenzo E. Woodhouse, who was a member of the Maidstone Club for over 50 years, was also known as the first lady of East Hampton. She created the Garden Club of East Hampton, and was a great benefactor of the village, helping to build the library and Guild Hall and to preserve the Clinton Academy. When The Fens, her 25-acre estate, was demolished unexpectedly in 1949, it left a gaping hole that Maidstone members and preservationists alike mourned. Wrote Geus, “The empty lot on Huntting Lane where her house once stood was evidence that the solidity of East Hampton’s social structure was beginning to crumble.”

The property was subdivided and sold, and former outbuildings became single-family homes. The East Hampton Star published a headline on September 30, 1954: “Budget Headaches for Town Board as East Hampton Grows. More People Here. More Public Work; More Planning Needed.”

“Early Maidstoners who had once provided a strong undercurrent of protective care for the village were no longer in the forefront of East Hampton’s public life,” wrote Geus. “The influence of those for whom East Hampton was a seasonal refuge waned as the generation committed to serve country, church, and community disappeared. East Hampton’s problems could no longer be solved by individual largess.”

Still, the Maidstone Club’s influential members, many of whom are in East Hampton 52 weeks (or weekends at least) of the year, contribute vastly to the town. Two Maidstone members founded East Hampton Health Care, which has worked to bring top-notch care to the town. The Wellness Foundation, established by member Doug Mercer, has introduced thousands of local residents and schoolchildren to the benefits of a plant-based diet. Member Andrew Steffan is chairman of the Nature Conservancy, and East Hampton Library, the Peconic Land Trust, and the Ladies Village Improvement Society all have boards stacked with Maidstone members.

Whether you’re in it or not, when the Maidstone Club marks 125 years, it’s a moment of pause for the whole town. What would the Hamptons be had there not been people with the will and, as important, the means to protect it? We may not all be allowed in the front door of the gala celebration, but we can still celebrate East Hampton’s wide stretches of sun-drenched beaches, inspired evenings at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, and the cozy corners of East Hampton library, in part because of the legacy Maidstone members have left. 50 Old Beach Lane, East Hampton, 324-0510

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Categories: Lifestyle Feature

PHOTOGRAPHY BY HERBERT GEHR/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES (WOODHOUSE); COURTESY OF THE EAST HAMPTON LIBRARY, LONG ISLAND COLLECTION/THE HARVEY GINSBURG POSTCARD COLLECTION (CLUBHOUSE POSTCARD); COURTESY OF THE EAST HAMPTON LIBRARY, LONG ISLAND COLLECTION/THE HARVEY GINSBURG POSTCARD COLLECTION (POOL POSTCARD)

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