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.

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