“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” So begins F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Rich Boy.”
And in turn-of-the century Suffolk County, one of the ways in which that difference was apparent was the ability of New York’s very rich to create a singular fantasy of rural life in the form of hunt clubs dedicated to the pursuit of waterfowl. Mostly privately owned and operated, these playgrounds were accessible only to the wealthy and well-connected.
Local residents could therefore only imagine the luxurious leisure activities that took place both inside the private clubhouses and outside, among hundreds of surrounding acres — unless of course those locals were hired as staff, guides or gamekeepers. Until relatively recently, that is. Much of that once private acreage is now open to the public in the form of state or county parks, where, for the most part, their rich histories go undetected by today’s visitors.
Richard Martin, Suffolk County Historic Services director, explains that the county had a strong interest in acquiring such land because of surrounding waterways.
“It has always been a priority to preserve the headwaters,” he said.
In Flanders, Hubbard County Park is home to two former hunt clubs — Black Duck Lodge and the Flanders Club, both of which were acquired in 1971.
Mr. Martin describes Black Duck Lodge as colonial revival in style.
“Financier E.F. Hutton extended the original building in the 1920s and it functioned for many years as a private hunt club strictly for friends of Mr. Hutton,” said Mr. Martin.
The Flanders Club was built in the first decade of the 20th century and is traditional Long Island farmhouse in style, complete with front porch.
“We are currently restoring it,” said Mr. Martin. “This was more of a secondary building near to the water. The interiors are very nice, especially the public spaces. There’s an elaborate brick fireplace in what you might call a great room used for socializing and meetings.”
The county has acquired three lodges over the years, including Suffolk Lodge in Southaven County Park, purchased in 1967.
But the hunt club is not defunct, by any means, says Dick Richardson, past president of the Pattersquash Gun Club in Bellport, an organization that has operated since 1922.
Originally organized by a group of Bellport men, the club currently has 60 members and is open to Brookhaven Town residents. In Mr. Richardson’s opinion, the truly exclusive clubs went out of business because they were individually owned, whereas the Pattersquash club is owned by Brookhaven “and we’ve been leasing the shooting rights since 1922.”
Mr. Richardson thinks, too, that development has had a significant impact on hunting in general, leading to a gradual decline in the numbers interested in the sport and consequently the demise of many of the private clubs.
Craig Kessler was conservation manager with the Flanders-based nonprofit Ducks Unlimited, which advocates for the protection of waterfowl and wetlands, until his retirement last year. Mr. Kessler is an avid hunter himself, and his work involved wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
What he’s observed over the years, he said, is the paradox involved in development versus hunting on Long Island. While he concedes that development has played a part in the decline of hunting, he believes it is in fact the hunters who may have averted even more congestion on the island by opting to sell their properties to the state or county.
“The Long Island community should feel quite indebted to hunters instead of persecuting them,” he said. “All of those properties — and I’m talking about across Suffolk and Nassau counties — are state or county parks. There’s probably around 20,000 acres that could have been sold to developers but these sportsmen wanted to perpetuate that open space. Think what would have happened if a Levitt or a Trump had gotten hold of it. It’s a great legacy.”
‘Private Places/Public Spaces’
Suffolk County’s Elite Hunt Clubs
and Regional Decoys
Can’t get enough hunt club history? Stop by Suffolk County Historical Society at 300 West Main Street in Riverhead, where the organization is running an exhibit on Suffolk County’s elite hunt clubs in the form of photographs, hunting club artifacts and — of course — Long Island duck decoys. Together with the exhibition, the museum’s entry display cases will feature Dick Richardson’s installation on the Pattersquash Gun Club. The museum is also sponsoring a weekly series of lectures on Thursday nights during July and August that will cover hunt club histories and environmental issues, and a silent auction of contemporary and period decoys on Aug. 18.
Call 727-2881 or visit suffolkcountyhistoricalsociety.org.