History and heritage: When Montclair loved a horse show
By MIKE FARRELLY
For Montclair Local
“History & Heritage” is a series on Montclair history, written by representatives of the Montclair History Center and the Montclair Public Library. Mike Farrelly is a trustee of the Montclair History Center, and has been the official township historian, a volunteer position, since 2004.
This is part two of an article on Montclair and the horse.
THE REDCOATS ARE COMING
Part I of this article described a time when horses were the major form of transportation in Montclair. Almost everyone had a horse. Horses were ridden everywhere. They pulled carriages, hauled wagons full of all kinds of products and were even used for plowing. But people enjoyed their horses just as people enjoy their cars today, especially people who could afford working horses and horses for sport and competition.
The Montclair Equestrian Club was founded in 1876 at the estate of Charles Wilmer on Orange Road, in a house that is no longer standing. Among other things, the club organized fox hunts. Dozens of members would don red hunting outfits, mount their horses, and chase after the foxes (or rabbits) and fox hunting dogs for hours. The fox was not always killed. In the United States the convention was to call off the hunt when the fox “went to ground”, or hid in a hole somewhere. Many non-members and their families would tag along in buggies just for the fun of it. The club published a magazine, Hare and Hound, to report on its activities. In 1878, the club changed its name to the “Montclair Hunt,” and moved their horses and dogs to Edward Sadler’s farm on Grove Street. The farmhouse still exists. It was set quite a way back from Grove Street. It now has a Euclid Avenue address, number 10. They later changed their name to “The Essex County Hunt.”
By 1887, The Essex County Hunt had stopped hunting and reverted to being an equestrian riding club. Fox hunts were then organized at Roswell Manor, the home of George Inness Jr. who was the son of the famous painter George Inness. He was a painter just like his father. He married Julia Smith, the daughter of the wealthy publisher, Roswell Smith. Roswell gave them quite a bit of land as a wedding present. It fronted on Pine Street and Walnut Crescent. It extended all the way into Glen Ridge, so they had enough land to conduct fox hunts. Roswell also built them a grand house, which they named after him. Roswell Manor was later known as Wentworth Manor when the famous art collector, William Evans, lived there. In 1926 the Davella Mills Foundation gave the building to Mountainside Hospital. The hospital used it as a home for student nurses. In the 1940s, the building was torn down to make way for a larger more modern home for the nurses. The nursing school recently relocated to the old Hoffman LaRoche facility on the Nutley/Clifton border. In July of 2018 the “new” building was torn down so that a medical office center could be erected. Fox hunts stopped in this area in the early 20th century when there just wasn’t enough open field left.
BOWS AND RIBBONS
In the early part of the 20th Century, Montclair started putting on an annual horse show, the Montclair Horse Show, which achieved regional fame, covered by regional newspapers, like the New York Times. The horse show was an offshoot of the Montclair Riding Driving and Automobile Club. The first show was held in 1906 at the Montclair Athletic Club, which was located where the Montclair Kimberley Academy on Valley Road is now. There were approximately 24 classes of judging. The number varied from year to year. Judges decided which horse was the best in categories that ranged from ponies for children to jumpers; through horses for light loads to majestic draught horses that pulled heavy wagons full of lumber or coal for companies like Osborne and Marsellis.
Thousands would turn out for the annual event that was usually held in the Fall. The 1915 show was cancelled out of respect for the president of the show, Joseph M. Greenfield, who passed away suddenly. Greenfield had been one of the founders of the Riding and Automobile Club, later becoming president of the horse show. He and his wife, Edna, owned a pair of chestnut horses named Rose Brae Laddie and Rose Brae Lassie that often won best of class in the “harness” category. Rose Brae was the name of their mansion on Pleasant Avenue. They threw the best parties in town and everybody hoped for an invitation. Rose Brae became a nursing home and is now the Over the Rainbow Nursery School at 32 Pleasant Ave.
The show was discontinued until 1926, when it was revived as a benefit, sponsored by the Montclair Federation of War Veterans for WWI veterans. It continued at least until 1933 when representatives of the Kimberly School won the “Riding Cup”, the most valued prize. It may have gone on, but New York Times stopped covering it. It had certainly stopped by 1950 when the Kimberley Academy bought the Montclair Athletic Club field and built their Valley Road campus. Possibly people lost interest as horses became less and less important.
Today, of course, just about everyone in town has an automobile, sometimes two or three. There aren’t too many horses left. There was a horse named Rocky that lived at 129 Union St. until recently. Rocky has since passed away. People who want to go horseback riding now can go to the Essex Equestrian Center on Woodland Avenue in West Orange.