1923 - 1949
The Fairfield County Hunt Club was organized in 1923. It had its beginning when Averill Harriman commissioned Mrs. Laura Gardin Fraser, of North Avenue, Westport, the famous sculptress, to design and execute a polo medal. To study her subject she borrowed polo mallets, mounted a horse and started knocking a polo ball around on her estate. This attracted local attention. Another artist, Oscar Howard, joined her. Soon games were organized, with two stone gateposts serving as goals. After a year the idea of a club, horse shows, polo and hunting were discussed with General and Mrs. C.I. DeBevoise, George Gair, Fred Bedford, Donald Perkins, Karl Dolge and Laurence M. Cornwall. Hunting started informally in 1923, formally in 1924, and the Hunt organized by Donald Perkins was recognized by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association in 1926. Polo was played first in Westport, later on the field opposite Charles Stillman's house on Hulls Farm Road, and horse shows were held on the Bedford estate.
The present property was purchased and George Gair elected first President in 1924. The Club at once prospered. The Horse Shows became nationally known three-day Class A Shows attracting the finest exhibitors in the East. The extensive horse show stabling system, the present show ring and stands and the Clubhouse were built, and the polo field was contributed by Henry A. Rudkin.
Then came the depression, and it seemed that the "horse" was doomed. Membership dropped rapidly, and the Club found itself facing a reorganization. At this same time, with foresight and generous financial backing, Smith Richardson, Fred Bedford and Fred Sturges put through, with the help of interested property owners, a reorganization and laid down sound plans on which the Club has gone forward. Instead of lowering membership standards, they were raised, and sound financial controls were introduced.
At the close of 1937, the New Year's Eve fire gutted the Clubhouse. The insurance was such that the Club could easily have paid all its obligations and quit with honor. Instead, it was decided to rebuild and carry on. Then came World War II and gas rationing.
A "Syndicate" headed by Charles Stillman, Roy Larsen, Chester LaRoche and Ira Warner was formed which advanced $10,000 to assure the Club could meet any deficit during the war. Ira Warner took over the Presidency, horse shows were continued and all services streamlined. Somehow people continued to ride, and although membership dropped to 70, the Club came out of the war in good shape, its place tested and proved.
The Syndicate money was not used until after the war when it was used for improvements in the Clubhouse and to retire some of the outstanding indebtedness. Meanwhile, regular restaurant service was instituted, and a new program widening the Club's usefulness was begun. The membership increased one hundred percent to over 140 — and it is steadily growing.
1949 - Present
Since Chet LaRoche's presidency in 1949, the Hunt Club has grown in terms of activities, facilities, membership and finances. The swimming pool was built in 1952, and in 1958 six tennis courts were installed along with Charles Stillman's gift of the Club's first paddle tennis court. In 1965, the first indoor ring was erected, permitting year-round riding activities. In 1969 and 1971, two additional paddle tennis courts were added.
In 1975, an ambitious building program was undertaken, including the second indoor ring, two more tennis courts, the paddle tennis-warming hut and two more courts, the new building for pool and tennis and major refurbishment of the pool and the Clubhouse.
In 1991, the Club initiated a Capital Improvements Program. The Clubhouse was renovated and redecorated; new energy-efficient windows and doors, central air-conditioning, radiators, furnace, and generator were installed: the kitchen area was updated, Barns 3,4,5 were improved; the baby pool was refurbished. Two paddle courts were rebuilt from the ground up and the other two were updated with new lighting. Other improvements included a new snack bar kitchen; a polo field irrigation system; fire alarm system in every FCHC structure, resurfaced roads and the placement of all utility conduits underground.
The Club's calendar is a full one. Notable events include major horse shows in June and August, the December Governors' Reception, and a number of tennis and paddle tennis tournaments. There are many other activities, which reflect the strong momentum of the Club and the diverse interest of its members.
The Club celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1998, with a myriad of events scheduled throughout the year. The festivities began on Saturday, May 30, with an equestrian event hosted by Emerson Burr and attended by local dignitaries, Club members and invited guests. The Fairfield County Hunt had always been a great tradition at the Hunt Club since its inception and it was exciting to have the hounds return to the polo field guided by the Master of the Hounds and accompanied by scarlet-jacketed huntsman and the Whippers-in. The event continued with a carriage driving demonstration, a pony demonstration and a jumping exhibition over the reconstructed historic “old course” around the perimeter of the polo field, each accompanied by an entertaining running commentary by Mr. Burr. The day concluded with a barbecue and entertainment. The weekend continued on Sunday with pool activities, a luncheon with Country/Western music and a “20’s” style tennis tournament complete with wooden racquets. An afternoon polo match featuring Club players followed by afternoon tea served on the Verandah gave the members a “moment in time” glimpse of Club history.
The 75th Anniversary Ball was held on June 13 – a magnificent black tie dinner dance featuring past presidents and other honorees who helped develop and maintain the traditions of the Club through the years. Memorabilia and photographs from the archives were displayed in the Clubhouse and provided members with either nostalgic memories or historic references. The celebration officially ended with the Hunt Ball, held November 14. When the Fairfield County Hounds officially moved to Newtown in the late ‘40s, some of the glamour and history went with them. The night of the Hunt Ball brought all that back to the Clubhouse as huntsmen and their ladies joined members in a gala to honor a unique institution that started with a group of men who got together to start a riding club.