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Fairfield County Hunt Club

Private year-round country club

Our History

The Fairfield County Hunt Club was organized in 1923. It began 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 was elected the first President of the Club 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 members.

1949 - 2000

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 one more court, the new building for pool and tennis and major refurbishment of the pool and the Clubhouse.

The Club celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1998, with a myriad of events scheduled throughout the year. 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.

Over the years, the Club’s Riding Program continued to grow and gained great renown. Emerson Burr, who ran the club’s riding program from 1945 to 2001, won the coveted United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and was immortalized in the “The Pony Book, The World of Emerson Burr.” During his 56 years at the Club, Emerson started countless riders, many of whom went on to earn top honors and begin careers as professional horsemen themselves.

2000-Present Day

The club continued facility improvements with extensive renovations on the Tennis and Pool facilities and Paddle Hut. However most notable was the renovation to the clubhouse, originally dating back to the founding of the club in 1923. In 2015, the clubhouse was fully renovated and a new Grill Room was added along with a wrap-around verandah, patio and outdoor fireplace.

In 2016, Polo returned to the club, with a revitalized Polo Committee offering lessons for members and hosting exhibition, charitable and United States Polo Association (“USPA”) events. The club’s annual event with the Gold Dragoons is a highlight of the summer, with tailgating and stomping the divots following a few chukars!

The June Horse Show continues to be a highlight of the club calendar and will celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 2024. Over the years, the Show has partnered with Save the Children (1999), Pegasus Therapeutic Riding (2000-2001) and the ASPCA & Brain Trauma Foundation (2002). Since 2002, the Show has been partnering with the EQUUS Foundation as a multi-year charity beneficiary.

The Club celebrated its 100th Anniversary year in 2023 with a series of quarterly special events; leading up to a 100th Anniversary Gala in December of 2023. The club was also featured in a special exhibition titled, “The Fairfield County Hunt Club: Celebrating 100 Years,” at the Fairfield Museum & History Center.