The Needham Sportsman’s Club of Yesteryear
by Ray CapobiancoOn occasion, while talking to other members the conversation turns to, How old is the Club? Has it always been located at its present site? And one thing leads to another. Well, it seems I do have some of this information and have been asked to try and fill in the blanks, so to speak.
We must first set the record straight; I’m not the longest standing member. That honor goes to Rollie Johnson, past president and member since the mid 1950s. We have talked many times and he has agreed to collaborate on a future article from that era. Well then where do I fit in this picture?
A little background...
I have fished since the age of 8, although I didn’t start fly fishing until I was in high school. It was at that time (1948/1949) a couple of friends and I asked the Newton High School principle allow us to form a hunting/fishing club. We were given permission on one condition: finding a faculty adviser. One prospective advisor was ideal; he lived to hunt and fish, and, as it turned out, was a member of this club. However, he was over-committed and had to refuse. He recommended another teacher, who turned out to be an avid fly fisherman and tier, and eagerly accepted the role.
Meanwhile, our original choice of faculty advisor approached me offering to sponsor me as a junior member at the club. You have to understand, at that time this club was much like the exclusive golf clubs of today. You had to be sponsored by at least two members in good standing and the trout pond was limited to 100 with a waiting list. The man that sponsored me was former Boston Braves third baseman Warren Huston, then head football coach and subsequently the athletic director of Newton High School. My second was Bob Procter the father of one our present members (Bob Jr.) Bob Sr. was one of the early presidents (1938); Warren followed in 1952. Both men felt it was crucial that junior members be actively recruited at every opportunity. In 1949, six junior members were enrolled; fortunately we were not included in the trout pond quota.
The Club of Old
Prior to 1949, the Club fished the ponds at the old Walker-Gordon Dairy farm, just off Central Avenue, Needham in what is now known as Charles River Village. The ponds are still there. The one closest to the road was stocked with trout; the furthest, although not stocked, had a good population of bass and pickerel.
The Board of Directors met to address all club matters, reporting actions taken at the monthly meeting. It was a pro-active organization, promoting fly fishing, teaching fly tying, active with the Boy Scouts, sponsoring the MDFW State Conservation Camp, promoters of clean water long before it became fashionable, advocating fly-fishing-only on some state streams, and the recipient of several state awards. But it must be remembered, there was no Little League, soccer or football (except high school) and television was just coming on the scene.
The membership during those years was a fairly powerful body not only in its conservation efforts at the local and state level but as members of the community. The members cut across all levels of the spectrum from corporate executives to hard working laborers. Similar to the club make-up of today, the members then took a much greater interest in club activities. It was not unusual to get 25-30 volunteers on pond clean-up day or other club activities.
The McIntosh family, with 2 or 3 club members, was an old Needham family dating back to the 1700’s. One owned the land on the hill behind the present club, the pond (more about that later) and much of the land west on Great Plain Ave. Another owned the gas station (that is still there) including a small attached sporting goods store. Ken Webb was editor of the Needham Chronicle. Cal O’Brien was VP of New England T&T, and also fishing editor of the old Boston Post. Bill Sullivan’s uncle Adam Strchan was a charter member (20+ yrs). Bill, who many of you may know, is a past president now living on the Cape. Archie Friswell, Mfg. Mgr. for Farrington Inc. and one of my mentors served a term as president and more than 15 yrs. as treasurer. However the majority of members were like most of us: tradesmen, house painters, teachers, engineers, etc. The common bond was the love of fly fishing.
There was no club-house in those days; monthly meetings were held at the Needham Country Club until 1951, after which they moved to the Needham Village Club. A meeting consisted of the customary business and committee reports, a rented film (fishing/hunting related) and small raffle of quality items. On occasion there would be a guest speaker (Paul Kukonen, etc) or a presentation by a member with slides from a recent trip. An annual banquet was held in February or March, which included election of officers and a fundraising raffle. The ever-important raffle of rods, reels, flies, etc. brought in several hundred dollars. Bob Procter (past president and raffle chairman for 15-20 yrs) got a dealer’s discount from a local sporting goods store that made all the raffles very profitable.
A conservation project the club had taken on many years earlier finally came to a close in 1951. I guess it would be questionable today by PETA standards: each year the club raised 50-60 pheasant in an old chicken coop on the McIntosh property; they were then stocked locally on land open to public hunting. A small number were held over until spring for club-sponsored field trials. Although more than a few members hunted, most of these birds lived to a ripe old age.
A large contingent of the club were gun enthusiasts, mostly target (pistol) vs. hunting. An agreement was worked out with the Randolph Rod and Gun Club where-by our members had shooting privileges on its ranges. Although I did shoot there a few times I cannot remember the arrangement. A few of our members, myself included, also belonged to the Nehoiden Sportsman Club located on Central Avenue around the corner from our present club). It had a trap range but was primarily a hunting club; they thought fly fishermen were elitists.
The beginning of turbulent times
1949 was a turning point for the club. The members were informed that they could no longer use the current ponds, as the dairy was closing and the property being sold. This loss was well documented in the monthly newsletter along with the efforts of a committee assigned the task to find a new site.
Next installment: the club finds a new pond >>