The warmly beautiful autumnal golfing scene shown on the opposite page represents the resurrection of a dream. The players pursuing their leaf-strewn way along this brand-new $1 million golf course can remember when the dream was a nightmare. Less than a decade ago they watched their community, which for three-quarters of a century had stood for exclusivity, for wealth and social intercourse on society's highest level, stumble down until it was called society's "ghost resort." But in the last few years the community, as exemplified by the magnificent new course of championship caliber, is striving once again to revitalize in modern context all that is connoted by the famous name, Tuxedo Park.
The strange history of this extraordinary place began one rainy day in 1885 when the Erie and Western's Buffalo express slowed down near a stretch of the Ramapo River some 40 miles north of New York City. Two men dropped off and set out into a wilderness of heavily wooded hills, working up the river until they reached the shores of a lake which the Indians of the Six Nations had called Ptuck-sepo—The Home of the Bear—a name eventually anglicized to Duck Cedar and finally Tuxedo.
The two men were Bruce Price, an architect, and Pierre Lorillard III, whose family had sunk part of their immense snuff and tobacco fortune into real estate—one of the larger tracts being some 600,000 acres in the Ramapo Hills. Lorillard's dream was to turn part of the Ramapo acreage into a small and rigidly exclusive colony of cottages and facilities for sports lovers. Within a year Lorillard's idea was reality: a labor force of 1,800 men worked through a particularly severe winter and in eight months had constructed an eight-foot fence around 7,000 acres, a dam, fish hatcheries, 30 miles of dirt and macadam roads, a sewage and water system, two blocks of stores and stables, a gatehouse, a clubhouse, 22 turreted "cottages," four lawn tennis courts, a boathouse, a swimming pool and a bowling alley—at a total cost to Mr. Lorillard of $1.5 million.
The first article of Lorillard's constitution for his newborn colony announced that it would be called The Tuxedo Club, "established for the protection, increase and capture of all kinds of game and fish, and for the promotion of social intercourse among its members."
Though the colony found no dearth of eager members, Lorillard's idea of a game preserve was doomed from the start. Only about 4,000 acres of land lay within the park fence, an area of rocky, wooded hills suitable for copperheads, woodpeckers, jays, a few ruffed grouse, an occasional woodcock or quail. Game introduced to the preserve either moved out over the fence in disgust or became infected with what one park resident referred to as "the social spirit of a Kansas barnyard." It seemed, finally, that only the lake with its fine bass fishing would provide sport. But within 10 years of the opening of the park the hooking and landing of a bass was a rare event. Pollution and overfishing were suspected at first, but eventually the blame centered on the European carp introduced to the lake in the 1890s under the mistaken impression they were of value as a game fish. The carp breeds in awesome numbers and puts on weight rapidly—a dumpy, drab fish with a tiny turned-down mouth which vacuums along lake bottoms and not only deprives more worthy fish of food resources but also sucks up eggs from the spawning beds of the bass and other game fish.
The Tuxedo fishermen tried raising bass fry in two cement pools. Feeding them, however, was an insurmountable problem, and finally the young bass turned cannibal and polished each other off.
The two cement pools then received a new batch of visitors—landlocked salmon. But the lake itself did not contain the proper food resources, and the salmon narrowed out into a long thin fish that had no more fight than a waterlogged rag. Smelt were introduced—100,000 of them—in an attempt to fatten up the salmon, but in mysterious circumstances, which by that time the Tuxedo community must have learned to take in stride, the smelt all but disappeared. Only two mature smelt have ever been seen since: one lying on the shore and the other lodged in the intake pipe of the hatchery.
Considering the unsuccessful attempts to realize Lorillard's dream of a sporting paradise, it comes as no surprise that the members of the community finally concentrated on the "social intercourse" called for in Lorillard's constitution. In the fall of 1885 the first Autumn Ball was held—still one of the most important dates on the calendars of New York debutantes. The sensation of that first ball was the appearance of Griswold Lorillard, son of the founder, in the tailless dinner jacket to which the resort has since given its name.
Tuxedo kept its status as the most exclusive community in the East until finally the changing times, particularly the '29 crash, turned it into a ghost community of boarded-up houses and weed-choked gardens. When it was announced that the passage of the New York State Thruway would deprive Tuxedo of its golf course, it seemed Lorillard's dream was finished. One of the oldest in the country, the course was revered by the resort: the tales of James L. Breese, one of the early residents, who would pluck out his glass eye and throw it on the ground in a fit of rage when he missed his shot; the reminiscences about the millionaire George F. Baker, who continued to toil slowly across the course through his 85th birthday, refusing to let other players through, always on the lookout for wooden tees, his face a mask of despair when he found them broken; and the memory of Buck Buchanan, an engineer on the Erie railroad who blew his whistle whenever he saw a member poised for a careful putt.
But faced with adversity, Tuxedo in the last few years has responded with the avidity of the workmen who put together Lorillard's paradise 73 years ago. Its beautiful new golf course was completed last year; its members include a new generation of Tuxedoites whose incomes are nearer the $20,000 level and who live in converted stables and small new dwellings sanctioned by Tuxedo in its drive to revitalize the community.