Westerleigh Tennis Club Beginnings

    The club's beginnings are rooted in the area we now know as Westerleigh. More specifically, Westerleigh was born from the Temperance movement and the land acquired which became National Prohibition Park. (See National Prohibition Park picture below) Fifteen acres of land originally owned by John Vanderbilt, were sold by his daughter, Sarah to Christopher S. Williams and William H. Boole. Williams and Boole donated the property to The National Prohibition Party, a Temperance movement party that transformed the land into a summer retreat.
   In the early years, circa 1887, a "camp ground" was promoted as a place for families to come, rent a tent, escape the hectic industrial world and enjoy the bucolic, pastoral grounds with lectures and entertainment. By the 1890's the park association acquired up to 170 acres and switched its focus to a residential land development by the Temperance Movement as a place to live a Christian private family life with education and self-improvement. As the residential ownership increased, further improvements were established to support the growing community and the ideals of the Temperance philosophy.
    Improvements such as the Westerleigh Collegiate Institute were built. It was a school with grades from kindergarten to college and was located in the middle of College Avenue near New York Place. Also built was University Temple, a 4,000 seat auditorium located at the foot of The Boulevard on Clinton B Fiske Avenue. Here, lectures, political speeches, art, poetry science and entertainment were regularly offered. A 500 guest hotel called The Park Hotel, located on the Boulevard adjacent to University Temple, was built to accommodate as many as 200,000 to 300,000 yearly visitors to the park. These park amenities were the backbone of the community’s attraction.
    In 1903 the college and the auditorium were both burnt down within weeks of each other and interest in the park fell rapidly. The Park Hotel was torn down and sold to the City of New York where Public School 30 was built in 1905 to accommodate the loss of educational facilities for the growing Westerleigh population. In 1907 the movement donated a three acre parcel of land to the City of New York with the understanding that it would always be used as a recreational area. That land parcel is the current site of Westerleigh Park.
   In the late 1800's, The National Prohibition Campground Association built the camp ground complete with ball fields, bowling alleys, stables and tennis courts. Our club, the Westerleigh Tennis Club, found its beginning not in the formation of Prohibition Park, but in its demise caused by the fires of 1903. In 1910, the founding fathers of the club endeavored to form a tennis club and purchased land to accommodate tennis courts. Theses 11 founding fathers lived in the Westerleigh area and must have learned to play tennis on the courts of Prohibition Park. Due to the park’s downfall and ultimately the sale of all parcels of land, they must have found themselves without tennis courts. They were probably Prohibitionists themselves.

                                                                                                     The Grounds Before
   What did the grounds look like prior to the club's purchase of the land? A 1907 New York City topographical survey of the grounds shows a mostly undeveloped area. That survey can be found among the current records of the club. If one stood on the deck of the club house and looked out over the courts, one would have seen an open field with a few scattered trees that gently sloped down from the southeast to the northwest. Looking out to the Northeast, one would have seen a wire fence with a house on the other side owned by the Purvis family fronting Jewett Ave. Take note of the name Purvis as we will revisit that name later.
   If one walked across the courts toward Jewett Avenue you would have encountered the same wire fence now running up Jewett Avenue. Cross over the fence and step onto a side walk that bordered Jewett Avenue. It was then was a cobble stone street complete with curbs, gutters and a former trolley rail track running up the center. Across the street, two plots south of Kinsley Avenue, was the only home on that block. That home still stands. Walk up to the corner of Jewett and College Avenues and look east. That was College Avenue then, an improved cobble stone street with a few scattered homes on either side. Diagonally across, you can see the still existing Emanuel Union Church.
    Walk down Indiana Avenue, now called College Avenue, a dirt road ending at a wooded area; across the street is the end of Wardwell, Fiske and Willard Avenues. Walk into what is now our club's parking lot, step inside our gate, stop and look to your immediate right where court one is now. You would have seen an outhouse standing at the top of court one. Just beyond that, you could have seen three sheds clustered together about 20 feet by 12 feet in dimension. Now walk over and stand on our deck again. Look toward the gate at the end of North Avenue and you would have been looking at the back of four structures labeled "Garages."
    Starting just outside our gate and fence, looking from right to left, you would see three garages approximately 10 feet wide with varying depths of 15 feet to 20 feet. Further to the left, you would have seen a larger garage 40 feet wide, two stories high with an outside stairway at the far end. At the bottom of the stairway was a platform and an adjacent structure, 9 feet by 12 feet. Further out, in front of the garages, was the continuation of that wire fence, completely surrounding the then owner’s property. Beyond the wire fence was a dirt road, unnamed, running from Indiana Avenue north to the current Burnside Avenue where there was a former coal fired electric plant that electrified the trolley cars. The trolley system was built by the Prohibition Park Association to move park visitors from the Port Richmond Staten Island Railroad station and the Bergen Ferry at the foot of the now Port Richmond Ave.
    The Trolley system was discontinued in the fall of 1895 due to financial difficulties. So, what were the garages all about? This writer’s guess is prior to, and after the trolley system, the garages and fenced in field were used to house the horses and coaches that taxied park visitors to and from the Port Richmond Staten Island Railroad station and the Bergen Ferry. Prohibition Park had some 200,000 to 300,000 visitors per year at its peak, with 60 thousand visitors the first year alone.

                                                                          Westerleigh Tennis Club Historic Documents

    Currently the club is in possession of many documents that give us a close-up view of the motivation, actions and outcomes of some of the decisions the Board Members enacted going back to 1910. One of the most important documents, dated January 22, 1910 and signed by the eleven original founding fathers, is a document of commitment to form a corporation, purchase bearer bonds, raise capital, secure property and become members in a club they chose to call the Westerleigh Tennis Club. Signed by each member, noting that their addresses showed that they lived in the immediate Westerleigh neighborhood. This is the earliest document showing the birth of an idea.
    The Founding Fathers;
    J Philips 272 Fiske Ave                  West  New Brighton Staten Island
    E.L Andrews 291 St Johns Ave        "          "          "               "          "
    James Whitford 188 College Ave    "          "          "               "          "
    J.B Dorman 788 Jewett Ave            "          "          "                "         "
    J Sterling Drake 244 deems Ave     "          "          "                "         "
    Albert M Tallman  No Address Given
    Rudolph Merrill 220 Deems Ave     "         "          "                "          "
    Bertrum Cutler 256 Wardwell Ave  "         "          "                "          "
    Samuel Richardson 656 Jewett Ave "        "          "                "          "
    Henry A Murphy 68 Waters Ave       "        "          "                "          "
    Davis Carpenter 254 Fiske Ave          "        "          "                "          "
    A second letter was drafted on Mar. 9th 1910 to include the names Gustov & Balling Jr.
    This document was essentially created to form the basis of a non-profit corporation. The certificate of incorporation was drafted by hand on March 31, 1910, signed by Justice William J Kelly of the NY Supreme Court, and recorded as filed on April 4, 1910.(See Cert of Incorporation Below)

    The First Meeting of Westerleigh Tennis Club April 2, 1910 - held at 200 College Avenue     Present were; Attenbury, Balling Cutler, and Murphy.
   By subscription the following were elected to the first Board of Directors;
   Samuel M. Richardson- President
   Davis Carpenter -Vice President
   J Francis Attenbury- Secretary
   J Francis Attenbury- Treasurer
Order of Business: Membership was limited to twenty members including family. Full membership included a purchased bond in the amount of $100.00 that was transferable. Annual dues were to be $20.00. The Board may provide for the admission of "Associate Members" without voting rights. Mr. J Sterling Drake announces he had procured from Mr. J Francis and Marie E Sill, an option to purchase property on Indiana Avenue, now College Avenue.
(See Land Purchase PDF below) A debenture was authorized to issue twenty $100.00 bonds bearing interest at 6%. On April 15, 1910 a contract was procured to purchase the land for $1,700.00.

    Second Meeting of Board of Directors - April 6th 1910
   Order of Business: Bank account was set up at Port Richmond National Bank. First grounds committee approved and chaired by Cutler & Dorman. A contract was entered into to open the grounds with Mr. Williams at a cost of $190.00.

Board Meeting - May 4th 1910
    Order of Business: Mr. James Whitford, the architect who designed the club house, was appointed chairman of a special committee to report on ways and means for the construction of a club house. Expenditures show $267.00 for labor and $167.06 for materials indicating court play must have taken place by summer of 1910. (See Clubhouse contract Below ) (See Club expenses Below)

Board Meeting - May 16th 1910
   Order of Business: The first Grounds Keeper was hired, Mr. Kopf, at a cost not to exceed $25.00 per season. The Board authorizes the purchase of supplies for the three courts including posts, netting, and a wire fence and to arrange for installation of same. First ground rules established, notably to include;
                Courts were to be used only for lawn tennis. No shoes with heals or spikes shall be worn, When members are waiting, one set is to be played, doubles takes priority, and court #3 shall be reserved for use by the ladies or mixed doubles on Saturday and holidays.

                                                                                                               In Summary:

    Two men, Christopher S. Williams and William H. Boole, purchased land and donated it to the National Prohibition movement with its philosophy of healthy and clean living, especially exercise. Due to the fires in 1903 that ended the prohibitionist movement in the neighborhood, the residents found themselves without courts to play tennis.
    If those two men, Christopher S. Williams and William H Boole, had not bought and donated the land to the prohibitionist movement, the Westerleigh area as we know it and the Westerleigh Tennis Club might never have existed. And we can thank those eleven residents of the neighborhood who later purchased the land, and created the Westerleigh Tennis Club, for the great friendships and tennis enjoyment, which have developed to this day. We simply would not know each other today.
                                                                                                                                                                                         Greg Argila

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Westerleigh Tennis Club