history of Rombout Hunt.
During 1925, three gentle- men from Poughkeepsie ─ Homer B. Gray, Everett Blake and Dwight R. Sedgwick ─ acquired a few foxhounds which they, and friends, hunted over their farms. There was no formal organization and the hounds were kenneled at Mr. Gray’s Greenvale Farms. It can be assumed that he was the principal functionary. Interest grew in hunting with these “Cedar Ridge Hounds” and in October 1929, a series of meetings was held to explore the formation of a more formal organization.
The considerable interest displayed culminated in the setting up of a formal organization at the Amarita Club in Poughkeepsie, NY on October 29, 1929 (the location of our Annual Meetings for several years). At this meeting, Mr. Homer B. Gray was elected Master and Huntsman, and the name Rombout Riding and Hunt Club, Inc. was adopted. The officers were: Mr. M. Glenn Folger, President; Mr. Elias Vail, Vice President; Miss Helen Kenyon, Secretary; and Mr. Donald Haggert, Treasurer. Persons who accepted membership invitations were voted in as Charter Members, of whom Richmond F. Meyer was still actively hunting as of 1978. The Club was soon on its way, duly incorporated, with a nine-member Board of Governors and forty-two members, a $15.00 annual charge for Senior membership and a serviceable set of By-Laws.
The name of the new club was taken from the first patent granted by the Crown in this area. Granted in 1685, a vast tract of land was given to Francis Rombout by George III. Two other names, Van Courtland and VerPlank, were also on the grant, but the area was known then and since as the Rombout Patent. This pre-dated the founding of Dutchess County. It included an area from south of Fishkill to north of LaGrange, and from the Hudson River to Pawling, and it was in this area that the one hunt country was originally located. The Master’s house and kennels were located at Greenvale Farms, New Hackensack Road, just north of Red Oaks Mills and south of Vassar College.
The goals of the Association, in keeping with the spirit and customs established by Homer B. Gray, MFH, were and still are to promote and encourage riding in and around Dutchess County, to foster an interest in horses and horsemanship, to create and improve bridle paths, to cultivate and foster an interest in equestrian pursuits, and to bring together into an association those persons interested in riding and hunting for their mutual benefit and pleasure.
The Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) is in charge of all organized foxhunting in the U.S. and Canada. It helps maintain the quality and traditions of foxhunting and settles any territorial disputes between hunts. It is the regulatory body, providing information and assistance to all hunts, and it is in charge of keeping the Stud Books on the various types of foxhounds. In 1929, newly formed Rombout asked the MFHA for “Registered Status,” which was granted, and subsequently, after two years of successful operation “Rombout Riding and Hunt Club, Inc.” was granted its “Recognized Status” in 1931.
During 1930, the first Annual Meeting was held in April, and the First Annual Horse Show in May. Two other principal committees were started, a “Field Committee to care for trails and jumps in the country…,” and a committee to assist Homer B. Gray in the care of the pack (which was then twelve hounds plus a new litter of puppies). The Club budget was just over $1,000 with fifteen persons riding during the week and twenty-five to twenty-six on weekends as an average. August plans included the pattern which Rombout continued throughout its history: work on the country and work with hounds, with continual emphasis upon good landowner relationships, and the running of events to help bring in money to balance the budget.
Rombout started its career as a hunt with a few hounds from the pack of the Millbrook Hunt. The first purchase of American Foxhounds to enrich the Rombout pack came in 1930 from the Moore County Hounds of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Later, hounds were obtained from Orange County and other Virginia hunts, and also from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
With an increase in the size of the pack, it soon became very apparent that, for the welfare and safety of the hounds, a new kennel should be built. The first kennels were in the hayloft over the heads of the horses at Gray’s Greenvale Farms, and the ladder up and down caused no small amount of confusion. Older hounds soon became very nimble at going in and out, but the puppies were uniformly balky.
By the second Annual Meeting, Rombout had a $2,600 budget, had opened trails across five thousand acres and had up to forty riders in the field out hunting. It must be pointed out that this was in April 1931, well into the Depression. Unfortunately, heavy hound losses occurred due to an outbreak of distemper and the decision was made to replace hound loss through breeding rather through purchase. This is still the Rombout policy today. The kennels and runs were started, and plans to raise money for the hound kitchen were underway.
By the time Rombout was “Recognized” by the MFHA in December 1931, it had fourteen couple (28) of entered (hunting) hounds and three couple (6) of puppies. The hounds were both American and Crossbred and the Master had started to use English stallion hounds, which increased the proportion of Crossbred. Two packs were run, one on a drag scent and the other on live fox. In 1936, Rombout seemed to have passed the devastating financial crisis of the Depression and was moving forward after seven years’ existence. “Capping Fees” for guests had been raised from $2.00 to $3.00. Five hundred sixty landowners were entertained at the Annual Landowners Party. Eight fully staffed committees were helping to run the many hunt activities, and even a car and tickets to Bermuda were raffled off to raise money. Homer Gray’s reputation for giving superb hunting sport was spreading, membership was growing and the pack numbered sixty hounds. Drag hunting was discontinued and the hounds only hunted live native foxes.
For the next five years, Rombout grew steadily. The budget slowly crept up to $12,000. By 1941, there were over one hundred hounds in the kennels, and they hunted three times a week. Stallion hounds from Essex and Millbrook were being used, and thus the percentage of American hounds in the kennels began to increase. Members who hunted were now required to pay a $50.00 subscription as well as membership dues. A horse for the Master with saddle and bridle could be, and was, purchased for $450.00. During 1938 and 1939, additional money was raised to open the “North Country,” the Pleasant Valley area, for hunting. This was a necessary replacement as a great deal of hunting country was lost when the Taconic State Parkway was extended to the north, forcing Rombout to give up hunting all country east of the parkway.
In 1935, Homer Gray decided that the piping on the Rombout Hunt collars should be changed from gold piping on royal blue (with which the club had started ) to light gray edging on the royal blue collar. The colors on the collar of hunting coats are distinctive and unique to each hunt.
By 1940, the guest list at the Landowners party had grown to an all-time high of 700, which resulted in double seating at the Grange Hall on Manchester Road, where the dinner was held. There were even larger fields, with many members and guests, and a lot of the country was now double-paneled. At one juncture, the FairfieldWestchester Hunt with hounds, staff and members came up for a full week’s hunting! Rombout hounds were, by now, consistently getting ribbons at the annual hound shows.
It was in 1942 when the full impact of World War II struck. The MFHA called upon all Hunt Clubs to “carry on in every way possible during the present crisis,” and Rombout did just that. The budget and the membership were cut by over 50%, and the kennels reduced to thirty-one hounds. Volunteers replaced paid staff whenever possible, but hunting continued on a curtailed basis. Thus, Rombout survived the war years and made a good showing.
In 1946, the club officially changed its name to Rombout Hunt, Inc. During the next few years, the hunt gradually worked its way back up to a larger membership, and with continually increasing expenses, up to a higher than prewar budget. The main effort in time, work and money was to reopen the country and put it and the pack of hounds back into condition. By 1951, Homer was reporting that hunting was better than ever, but this was the final year of hunting three times a week, twice a week in the old country, and once in the North Country. High expenses dictated that hounds be limited to fifty, and staff horses be kept to a minimum.
The end of an era came with the death of Homer B. Gray, MFH, November 28, 1952. The MFHA Resolution of 1/30/53 said in part: “Single handed he founded in 1928 and built to its present high standard, the hunt, over whose destiny he presided for nearly a quarter of a century … Hunting has lost one of its most beloved and colorful members … Through his great personality and undying enthusiasm, he brought the sport of foxhunting to many persons, young and old … He hunted all over America and a number of times in England and Ireland.” It said of him, “To meet Homer was to trust him completely; to know him for a few days was to love him forever … He was an outstanding judge of horses, a brilliant huntsman, a houndsman and a gentleman.” Fortunately, under the guidance of Richmond L. Meyer, former joint Master with Homer, Rombout Hunt continued. Hounds were hunted for the next two years by another joint Master, Malcolm Grahame.
However, money problems soon beset the Club and the problem of what to do next was brought to a head finally in early May of 1954, with the decision of the Gray family to sell Greenvale Farms. Ever since the war, there had been a great influx of housing and commercial development in the area south of Poughkeepsie. The warm reception granted the hunt by its many landowners and friends in the towns of Pleasant Valley and Clinton made a move to this area more desirable, for it was here that the open quality of the countryside would provide the best sport for the foreseeable future.
Thus it was that in late May of 1954, Richmond Meyer, William Kay and Stirling Tompkins established the Clinton Hollow Holding Company which bought the 165-acre Epstein Farm on Hollow Road, Town of Clinton, and leased it to Rombout for the use of the hunt. With the help of the members, the dairy barn was fenced and converted to a kennel, the small barn redone to hold horses, and the house and cottage made ready to use as rental properties. In August, hounds were moved into their new quarters and a “kennel warming” was held to introduce all friends, members and neighbors to the newly refurbished buildings.
For the next 10 years, Rombout progressed under the leadership of Dick Meyer and Bill Kay, who hunted hounds. Hounds were slowly brought back to excellent quality, and once again Rombout successfully attended hound shows. The reports once again started coming in that Rombout had the best sport and the most fun. In 1955, a new way to raise money was inaugurated, and Rombout put on its first Hunter Pace event, an instant success! The farm acreage was put into the soil bank, and 60,000 evergreens were planted as a source of future income.
In 1957, Rombout finally gave up hunting fragmented country and terminated all meets in the old builtup South Country, concentrating all their efforts in the northern area, where hunting has taken place ever since. In 1958, the Annual Landowners entertainment moved from the Grange Hall in the month of November to a summertime Landowners Picnic outside, and has stayed that way ever since, due to its popularity. In 1959, the Executive Committee of the MFHA officially “approved the transfer (of land) from the Millbrook Hunt of that part of their recorded hunting country which lies west of the Taconic Parkway.” This area, near Salt Point, had been unofficially lent to Rombout in Homer’s day, and the continuation of this permission kept up annually by Dick Meyer ever since then, until the final approval for change was granted ─ a span of nearly 15 years. This was also the year that a lean and trim Hunt Club operated successfully on a budget of $112, the gross income in 1952 (7 years previously), and still showed superb sport with 48 hounds, the lowest number since the war.
1960 was the last year of spectacular sport, for in 1961 the drought started and lasted in varying degrees for six years. Scenting was very poor, foxes moved out to another part of the world and the Conservation Department frequently closed the woods due to the extreme fire hazard. These problems were universal, not just our own. Throughout this period, hounds kept trying and an occasional moist spell would bring good sport. The shows, paces, hunt balls, hunter trials and other fundraising events kept spirits up and the club solvent until regular rains finally came again, dramatically improving the hunting.
In 1964, Rombout was in a position to engage a professional huntsman, as MFH Bill Kay no longer wished to hunt hounds. The big house on the kennel property was refurbished as a huntsman’s home by the volunteer labor of the members. Harry Price hunted hounds and his wife was a whipper-in. He also was a great help painting kennels, building jumps and opening new country.
In 1967, the Board of Governors decided the hunt could use a clubhouse, and the members converted the small cottage on the kennel property into a modest clubhouse. It is very similar in size, indeed, to Homer’s tiny cottage that hung suspended over the Wappingers Creek, and in which so many members had such a lot of fun. A separate committee was formed to finance the new clubhouse and the Rombout Trail Rides and Rummage Sale/Auction came into being.
Herbert (“Herbie”) Morris came to Rombout Hunt as the new huntsman in 1968, and a new year of hound training and working to open more country began. By now, the pack had consisted completely of American hounds for some time. Following Herbie’s arrival, the hunt also added a small percentage of Penn-Marydels. For the most part, Rombout used stallion hounds from Essex, Millbrook, and Rolling Rock. Once again, Rombout attended the Hound Shows. In 1973, Rombout Dixie was named Grand Champion Foxhound at the Virginia show. That lovely lady won two other Championships during the next three years for Rombout Hunt.
In 1972, the seven adjacent hunts established a Hunter Pace Series, increasing their number to eight hunts in 1979. The riders in the various paces accrue points for themselves and for their own hunts. At the end of the season, a trophy is given to the high point individual and hunt club. Rombout members won the individual trophy a number of times, and the club championship and reserve championship six different years.
Late in 1974, at an all-member meeting, the decision was made to build a new kennel, as the old barn was in very poor shape and had actually been condemned. To facilitate matters, the Davis family bought out the Clinton Hollow Holding Company, paid off the stockholders, and leased 10 acres of the property and all the buildings to Rombout Hunt on a long-term basis. The kennel construction was the club’s own design, and was an all-out effort. Rombout replaced the old, dilapidated barn with a clean, modern, cement block structure, surrounded by chain-link runs. The hounds were ecstatic, the members nearly burst with pride, and the “kennel warming” took place in November 1975. The fame of Rombout’s high-quality operation has spread far and wide, and is now in print in the MFHA book on kennel design.
In 1977, Rombout’s beloved Master Richmond F. Meyer celebrated his 50th consecutive Opening Meet ─ two years with Cedar Ridge and 48 with Rombout! He had watched over the progress of Rombout since its inception, and did a lion’s share of work for the dub, filling every position with distinction, from MFH to President, Treasurer, Membership Chairman, and Event Chairman, as well as hunting the hounds. When it was his wish to retire as an active MFH in 1973, the membership elected him “Honorary Master for Life,” the only one so honored in the history of the club. In all honesty, without Dick Meyer, there would be no Rombout today. He attended each and every opening meet, up until 1992 and continued to actively follow all the Rombout events during his retirement, from Board Meetings to Opening Meets to hound shows. His death in January of 1994 was a great sadness to the hunt. Rombout indeed lost an irreplaceable friend. A passionate supporter of the hounds and all the finest traditions of foxhunting, he will always be missed.
In the Spring of 1979, Herbert Morris resigned to return to Virginia. In June, Rombout was fortunate to obtain the services of a huntsman from Glasgow, Scotland, Vincent Tartaglia. Following Vincent’s arrival with his family, extensive remodeling and refurbishing was done on the huntsman’s house. The hunt also obtained its “Rombout Blue” hound van. Rombout ended its first 50 years in superb condition: new kennels, refurbished outbuildings, a good pack of hounds and an enthusiastic new huntsman. In October 1979, Rombout celebrated its 50th Opening Meet in grand style with a lively party and commemorative booklet.
In 1980, Rombout paid off its last loan and the new kennels truly belonged to the hunt. During the 80s, Rombout Hunt enjoyed an incredible number of consecutive seasons with brilliant sport. The hounds were superb, foxes plentiful, and its country well cared for by Vincent, and two part-time trail crews. The hunt enjoyed trail rides in its own country and at the Sleepy Hollow Club in Tarrytown, and had a brief fling at running a Combined Training Event.
In 1982, the clubhouse had a complete, and much needed, interior renovation. The Landowners Picnic at Horton’s Lake had become so successful that nametags became a necessity. The Rummage Sale and Auction had its 15th birthday and the club was financially in grand shape. There was a strong member interest in hound shows and throughout the 1980s, Rombout’s entries did more than their fair share of winning. Blue ribbon winners, champions, and excellent hunting hounds, their names sing out an honor roll: Tackle, Sportsman, Raffle, Warranty, Flyer, Fable, Dixie II, Valiant, and above all, Bridget.
Rombout’s hound breeding program included hounds from such famous hunts as Bull Run, Middleburg, Potomac, and Goldens Bridge. The kennels were superbly managed under Vincent, hound health and welfare outstanding. The club kept 50 to 60 hounds and hunted twice a week. 1983 saw the start of the junior foxhunting seminars organized by John Craven. That year, and again in 1984, Rombout hosted the Adjacent Hunts Puppy Show with outstanding success. This was also the year the hunt started an official “second flight” in the hunting field. This was also the era when Rombout’s budget edged up over $100,000.
Throughout the 1980s, it became increasingly apparent that farmlands in Dutchess County were disappearing. Taxes were increasing, labor costs spiraling, and there was unprecedented pressure from real estate sales encroaching on the lands. Apple orchards and dairy farms did not pay; land development and housing did. Rombout’s hunting country was shrinking rapidly. In 1984, the masters and huntsman started a series of discussions about branching out. All available alternatives were examined before reaching the decision to go north into Columbia County where land was still predominantly used for farming. At that time, Jim Cannavino started the long, tedious procedure of shepherding our request for new country through proper MFHA channels. This process took two years and many meetings. It was not until June of 1986 that Rombout obtained its official approval. All that summer, Vincent, Jim, and Sheila Melville worked extremely hard so that by hunting season, Rombout had nearly 8,000 acres of farmers’ permissions. Establishing new country takes time. That first year, Rombout had four hunts in its new country.
By 1997, the hunt had over 12,000 acres of permissions and was scheduling about one third of its meets up north. The existing country, formerly known as North Country, is now known as South Country, and Columbia County is now known as the North Country. In addition to opening and maintaining our registered North Country, Rombout signed a five-year lease with the Millbrook Hunt, giving us permission to hunt their registered territory in Columbia County. That lease was recently renewed.
As with all things based upon nature, there are ups and downs. In 1987, a freak snowstorm deposited 19 inches of heavy, wet snow in early October while leaves were still on the trees. The land was a disaster area: phone lines and power went out, roads became impassable, astronomical tree damage occurred, and the hunt shut down. Member response was outstanding, resulting in a collective effort officially termed, “Operation Snowflake.” Led by a trail crew and staff, chainsaws, and “cut and drag away” teams, members worked seven days a week to finally enable Rombout to have an “abbreviated” Opening Meet. Trail clearing continued all season, while some trails were cleared three and four times as every storm caused weakened and injured trees to crash. For years, the 1987 storm damage continued to hamper Rombout’s trail clearing. This added expense, plus the extra work involved in opening two hunt countries, had necessitated a surcharge being placed in addition to regular subscriptions. By 1990, in every effort to cut costs in this area, Vincent assumed full responsibility for opening country and building jumps, with one full-time helper and a newly purchased tractor, thus eliminating the part-time trail crew.
In 1988/89, the interior of the huntsman’s house was upgraded, and after 15 years, major maintenance and the painting of all outbuildings put Rombout in great shape for its 60th anniversary. The club hosted the Adjacent Hunts Puppy Show again in 1989, and celebrated its 20th consecutive year of showing in the major hound shows. Our bitch, Bridget, compiled a first-ever championship in both major shows. This was also the year Rombout saw the last of its Rummage Sale/Auction, though trail rides, paces and hunt balls remained successful, and started a new Family Day event, later also discontinued.
For several years, Rombout’s foxes were harassed by mange and increasing pressure from our local coyote population. The hounds were keen but the quarry was not plentiful. However, the situation was resolved with healthier foxes seen and coyotes leading the hounds on tremendous chases. As quarry populations have shifted, Rombout now hunts fox and coyote approximately equally and the hunt staff now carry radios to aid in possible emergency situations due to the long coyote runs and highway dangers.
The years from 1992 to 1997 saw several major changes in the Rombout Hunt. With continually rising expenses, Rombout’s budget became impossible to handle, partially as a result of the massive IBM “downsizing” and the resulting slump in the local economy. In August 1993, the Masters and Board of Governors, with membership approval, changed the traditional government of Rombout from an elected Board of Governors to a Trusteeship. Subscription rates were lowered to encourage an increase in membership, and the Trustees met the budget deficit. The decision was reached to employ this system for a period of five years, at which time the management of the hunt would return to the previous system, assuming the club was financially stable. The Trustee form of government served Rombout well for those five years. Its original objective was to keep dues and subscriptions at an attractive level, thereby attracting new members, and in that it was successful. We felt it equally important to focus our attention on the quality of our sport, condition of hounds, function of the facilities, and increase the active opening of new country. In 1998, the Trustees committed to continue their support for an additional five years and that support continues today.
During the 1990s, Rombout carried approximately 60 to 65 hounds in its kennels. The hounds hunted well for Huntsman Vincent Tartaglia, and in the spring of 1997 won incredible honors at the three hound shows, including Champion Dog, Champion Bitch, Pack Class and Grand Reserve Champion of the entire American Division. Shown by Vincent and Suzie Cannavino MPH, Rombout was invincible. The great success we experienced in the 1997 hound shows continued and even increased in 1998 and 1999. Rombout Hounds were pinned in bitch and dog divisions, and collected an impressive number of silver trophies. Rombout Ranger triumphed as Grand Champion of the entire American Division in 1998 at Virginia. Rombout’s hounds are now acknowledged to be one of the top three American Fox Hound packs in the United States. A brilliant hunting pack that can also do well in the shows is the tremendous accomplishment of our huntsman, Vincent Tartaglia.
In the fall of 1996, Rombout had the honor of co-hosting the fall meeting of the Masters of Foxhounds Association. This was the first time Rombout had hosted this meeting, and it was a great opportunity to show off its hounds and country to a most select audience. In 1997, Homer B. Gray was one of 15 to be inducted into the Huntsman’s Hall of Fame, a newly established room in the Morven Park Museum of Hounds & Hunting, located in Leesburg, Virginia. Rombout member Mary Swanson (Homer’s niece) and her daughter were present at the Induction Ceremony ─ another very great honor for the Rombout Hunt.
In 2001, again aware of continued development pressures in the region where Rombout has its South Country, the Trustees commenced the process of applying for the assignment of new territory, this time west over the Hudson in Ulster County. In this year, also, Huntsman Vincent Tartaglia returned to Rombout after a one-year absence. Rombout hosted its first horse show in many years and donated the proceeds to the Volunteer Fire Departments of East Clinton and West Clinton. Though it will not be known for some time whether the MFHA will ultimately approve Rombout’s application for the Ulster territory, in 2002 for the first time, the spring trail ride was held at Anjes Farm in Ulster. Rombout remains, however, committed to the care of the land and trails of its South Country and continues to open new land in its North Country. Sport in both is excellent and, at certain times of the year, foxes seem to peer out from behind every tree!
~ by Elizabeth C. Davis, ex-MPH
Updated by Leslie E. Shigaki