History, Tradition & Conservation
First printed for the North Salem Historical Society in 1991. Reprinted in parts with permission from Mary Jane Kuehn.
Animals have played an important part in the history of North Salem. There have been cattle, circus animals, and horses contributing to the livelihood of folks in our town. From its first settling in the early 1700’s, North Salem has been primarily an agrarian town. A period of growth with the advent of the railroad in Purdy’s and Croton Falls in 1847 saw the building of grist, paper, cider, and sawmills as well as other small industries. In the late 1880's with the moving of Purdy’s and the building of the Titicus Reservoir, factories and mills declined and cattle and dairying were the main industry. Later, as farms and dairying began to decline and with the moving of the Golden’s Bridge Hounds in 1940 to the kennels of R. Laurence Parish at Rock Ridge Farm on Baxter Road, the horse population began to increase and horses became the major industry in North Salem. The exact horse population is not known but there are a number of active boarding and training stables and many horses stabled at private homes. There are two tack shops and for a few years, there was a feed and grain store. The farming aspect was retained when fields were planted and hayed for sale to horse owners.
Golden’s Bridge Hounds was founded in 1924 by famed hotelman, John McEntee Bowman, who registered a tract of land between Golden’s Bridge and Brewster in his own name (”Mr. Bowman’s Hounds) with the Master of Foxhounds Association of America. A few years later the name was changed to “Golden’s Bridge Hounds” and was incorporated in 1936. To establish this hunt territory, the landowners had to be persuaded to allow hunters to cross their land. The Golden’s Bridge Hounds “country” was bounded by Cross River on the south, Katonah and Somers on the West, Pawling on the North, and going somewhat into Ridgefield and Danbury on the East. At one point in its history, Golden’s Bridge Hounds hunting country extended as far south as Manhattan and the Bronx. Bowman was overseeing the building of the West Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel in 1926 when the hunt was officially recognized. In the winter of 1927, Bowman took his hunt staff and hounds to Florida and kept them in condition by hunting wildcat in the Everglades. He shared his first years as Master with Joseph Wilshire who often arrived at the meet from his home in Greenwich via his vintage stagecoach, “Master’s List”.
In speaking of hounds, there are certain ways of referring to them. Hounds are hounds, not dogs, and are counted in couples - e.g. 20 1/2 couples equals 41 hounds. A hound never “barks”, he “opens”, “gives tongue” or “speaks” Hounds have been bred for centuries for various types of hunting. We know they were bred for stag hunting in France and these hounds were probably imported to England after William the Conqueror arrived in 1066. These were probably the foundation stock of hounds as they are known today in foxhunting.
Today, Golden’s Bridge Hounds hunts a renowned pack of Penn-Marydel hounds. The colonists brought their hunting hounds with them from England. But in American fashion, outdoorsmen in eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware selectively bred to create their own perfect hound for scenting and chasing quarry -- usually fox -- across the tri-state area's farmlands and dense woods. The PMD is known for its deep voice and tenacity in following a scent line. And there’s nothing like listening to PMD “music” as the hounds track a fox or coyote over hill and dale!
The hounds training and informal season begins in Mid-August. The formal opening Meet is held on the first Saturday of October at the “old race track” on Baxter Road where fox and hounds are blessed by a member of the local clergy. It is traditional for the Masters to host the Opening Meet “breakfast” and other members host breakfasts throughout the hunting season. Hounds are hunted twice a week on Saturday and Tuesday through March, weather permitting, as well as Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and other holidays. Golden’s Bridge Hounds membership generally runs about seventy-five families. Honorary whippers-in help control the hounds in the field. Children from age five, as well as men and women well into their seventies, enjoy the sport.
Special Junior Days are held for children at which time they are chosen to ride up front with the Master and Huntsman. The sport of foxhunting has a venerable history and tradition. It is said that George Washington was the first Master of Foxhounds in America. The dress, language, and code of behavior as known in the United States today was mostly developed in England and Ireland. However, each hunt chooses its own dress and colors. Colors are awarded at the discretion of the Master to those who have shown keen interest in hunting. Someone who is a good rider and has good manners in the hunt field, knows the hunt country, and supports the activities of the hunt will be awarded colors, usually after several years. Golden’s Bridge Hounds’ traditional dress for men who have received their “colors” is a scarlet coat with black velvet collar and silver buttons with the GBH insignia, canary waistcoat with silver buttons, white stock, white breeches, black boots with brown tops and hunting top hat. The staff wears the same except they wear a hunting cap. The scarlet coats are sometimes called “pinks” because a Mr. Pink of London was noted for fashioning riding attire in the 19th century. Ladies with “colors” wear black coats with scarlet collar and black buttons with GBH insignia, white stock, canary waistcoat with silver buttons, buff breeches, black boots, and black hunter bowler. Other members wear plain black jackets, white stock, buff breeches, canary waistcoat, black boots, and hunting bowler.
The Masters are in charge of the hunt and decide where hounds will meet. The Huntsman controls the hounds by signals indicating where he wishes them to draw for a fox and encouraging them to work together as a pack. The Huntsman is assisted by the Whippers-in in controlling the hounds. Hunting etiquette requires that care be taken by the “field” to avoid damage to a landowner’s property.
The hounds chase fox and coyote. The fox leads all on a merry chase. Hounds are bred to hunt with their noses and the fox often leads them in circles, going through water, up and then back down stone walls or following deer tracks. Coyote tend to rely on their speed to elude the hounds and many a horse and riders have been left out of breath after a long chase of the coyote. The excitement is in the ride itself - the color, watching hounds work, perhaps viewing the quarry, listening to the music of the hounds, and the hunting horn. To quote Austine Hearst - “We are not hunters. We are only spectators.”
The Hunt has contributed much to North Salem. The Masters purchased land and donated it for perpetual conservation. Golden's Bridge Hounds maintained the trails for over fifty years and in 1970, the Masters created the North Salem Bridle Trails Association which was organized and incorporated. The original executive committee was Mrs. Regina Fox, Dr. Jere Lord, Mr. Daniel Mckeon, Mr. Sam Savitt, and Mr. William Zimmerman. The activities of this association benefit all horse people in the area by establishing and maintaining cross country lanes and trails. It encourages proper care and respect of the land and helps assure that riders will continue to enjoy a well-cared-for network of trails. A goal is to preserve the rural atmosphere and the unique beauty of our community. The Open Land on Baxter Road with its lovely rolling terrain, the ancient oak tree, pond, and handsome stone walls was made possible by the generosity of members of the hunt in order to maintain this beautiful property for all to enjoy.
On January 27th, 1980, the Trustees of the North Salem Open Land Foundation adopted a “Plan and Program” for the 114-acre parcel donated to the Foundation by “The Baxter Road Group”. This group consisted of Hearst, McKeon, van Kuhn, Colley, Stanton, and Fox. The deed covering this property was recorded on December 31, 1979, in the Division of Land Records, Westchester County, New York. This “Plan and Program” specified that the land is used for environmental and conservation purposes as an undeveloped area open to the public. Protection of plant and animal life should be undertaken and school groups invited to study the ecological systems of the land. The sport of foxhunting has retained its popularity for centuries and in the North Salem area for almost seventy years. Its appeal is the tradition and history, the camaraderie, the joy and the challenge of being astride a horse on an early morning ride regardless of wind or weather. Many stories and poems have been written and many pictures painted about foxhunting. The members of the Hunt feel blessed that with the proximity to Manhattan, “we can enjoy a good day’s sport with an outstanding pack of foxhounds, chasing the elusive Mr. Reynard”.