Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tennis Chamption - Howard Taylor

Although St. Clements (now a banquet and conference center) is situated in Portland just west of Cobalt, its builder and original owner, Howard Taylor and thereafter his daughter Prudence Palmer and their families, solidly identified with the Middle Haddam and Cobalt areas of Chatham - not Conway, Gildersleve or Portland - tracing their ties back to 1721 when great grandfather John settled in Chatham. St. Clements' construction commenced in 1902 by Howard and Gertrude Taylor on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River in a design reminiscent of European castles overlooking the Danube or Rhine.
Howard matriculated to Harvard University after preparing at St. Paul's School, graduating in 1885. At Harvard, Howard was a member of the Cricket Club and varsity Tennis Team. While at Harvard, Howard Taylor captured the NCAA singles and doubles tennis championship in 1883.
Over the decade of the 1880s, Howard played in the U.S. Nationals which began its tournament in 1881 at the Newport Casino on Bellevue Avenue, a stones throw away from the famous Newport cottages such as the Breakers, Marble House, or the Elms built by the Vanderbilt's, Astor's and other wealthy elite of the late 19th century.
Known today at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament played in Flushing Meadows, New York, this tennis equivalent of the Master's in golf, the World Series in baseball or the Super Bowl in football, is currently holding court ready to crown new champions. Taylor competed in the U.S. Nationals, being defeated in 1884 in the Men's Singles by Richard Sears and in 1888 by Henry Slocum. In 1886, Taylor and Godfrey Brinley were defeated in the U.S. National Men's Doubles by Richard Sears and Dr. James Dwight and also in 1887 when Taylor teamed up with Henry Slocum. But in 1889, Taylor and Slocum defeated Valentine hall and Oliver Campbell for the National Men's Doubles title.
A gentleman's sport, professional tennis players, like golfers, did not begin to flourish until 50 years hence with a total break from amateur champion not occurring until the 1950s.
Taylor, who never abandoned his love for the game, had courts constructed on the grounds of St. Clements, where he hosted a number of friends, colleagues and celebrities.
I thank my daughter, Nicole F. Markham, Curator of Collections at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport for suggesting this topic to me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The End of Summer - Baseball Brothers

Although not officially summer's end, Labor Day puts an indelible impression of it coming demised and heralds the end of another baseball season. Previously writing about East Hampton baseball brother acts, the Bransfield boys - Hal, Jake, Ed and Bill - were not an exclusive club. Ozzie and Gabe Frontel, a twosome played for the Belltown Bombers and joined brother John and Joe in the town's factory / clerk league. Before the age of TV, computers, video games, and all our modern distractions, getting out to play baseball or do other activities such as swim in Lake Pocotopaug was the norm and many played in the factory league as practice for the Middlesex County League. Other brothers included Gerald and Tom Wall and brother-in-law Vinnie "Swede" Nelson and the Wylie's - Sam and Willie. In 1937, Tom Wall, Managed and played center field for a team that started slow but finished with a winning record despite the fact that Manager Wall was sidelined in August with appendicitis.

Tom Wall was Dennis Wall's dad. Dennis is now the Democratic candidate for Zoning Board of Appeals. What else would he be. Dennis's grandfather James was a Democrat elected as a Selectman for several terms in the 1940s and 1950s. Gerald, better known by his nickname "Butch," was the Manager and head bartender for O'Neill's Tavern when Bill was politicking in Hartford as State Representative up until the time he was elected Lt. Governor in 1978.

And baseball, like the flowers, blooms in the spring. In the second game of 1938, on May 16th, "Don Mack opened the game on the mound for the locals and lasted until the beginning of the seventh inning, when he was yanked by Manager dick Ferrari and was relieved by Gabriel Frontel, a young left-hander who finished the game in good style," making his debut that Sunday afternoon.

Gabe, husband of Christine, who is my mother Pauline's sister, are still going strong, celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this year.