The Scotch Plains, N.J. club was the first African-American-owned country club in the United States. Sylvia Hicks, a longtime member of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee, said the federal application process was a detailed, 2 ½ year effort, which the pandemic slowed down. The approved application was accepted for listing on both the state register and national register. “We could not be more pleased,” says Scotch Plains Mayor Josh Losardo.
The National Park Service has granted the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, the first African-American-owned country club in the United States, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, tapinto.net reported.
The listing further solidifies Shady Rest, located in Scotch Plains, N.J., as a national landmark worthy of preservation because of it significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture, tapinto.net reported.
“We could not be more pleased,” said Scotch Plains Mayor Josh Losardo. “For a number of years, the volunteers of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee, chaired by Tom Donatelli, have been steadily working toward achieving this important designation. The listing will further ensure that Shady Rest will remain an American landmark for perpetuity, enjoyed for generations, protected from development and a living reminder of a dark era in this nation, when African-Americans faced segregation.”
Donatelli said the committee will now aggressively seek government grants for restoration, noting the cost of upkeep had been the sole responsibility of the township, through the Recreation Commission. “We plan to apply for as much outside funding as we can,” he said. “This national listing is a great opportunity for us to further care for the building, funding the ongoing renovations that will be needed.”
Sylvia Hicks, a longtime member of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee, said the federal application process was a detailed, 2 ½ year effort, which the pandemic slowed down, tapinto.net reported.
“Offices were closed. No one was answering the phone,” Hicks said. “I’m a patient woman, but I knew when all was said and done that God has got this. And he did. I’m just ecstatic. I’m over the moon.”
Barton Ross, the architect hired in 2013 to rehabilitate the 282-year-old clubhouse, submitted the application on behalf of the non-profit committee in July 2020, providing a detailed explanation of Shady Rest’s history, as well as photographs of the clubhouse and golf course, to the U.S. Department of Interior. The approved application was accepted for listing on both the state register and national register.
Over the past year, there has been a concentrated effort in Scotch Plains to celebrate the history of this local landmark, tapinto.net reported. Last September, the Township Council voted unanimously to revert the name of the golf course back to the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, after town leaders in 1964 renamed it as Scotch Hills Country Club. That announcement was made exactly 100 years from the day the nine-hole golf course was purchased from the owners of a whites-only country club. A group of Black investors, led by Henry Willis Sr. of Scotch Plains, created the first African American-owned golf and country club in the country. It was built out of necessity because private clubs continued to deny membership to African Americans and other minority groups.
During its heyday, Shady Rest was a center of African American recreation and culture, hosting icons such as NAACP co-founder and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, jazz luminaries Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald, and International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Althea Gibson, tapinto.net reported. It was also the home of John Shippen from 1931-1964, hailed as America’s first professional golfer who then competed in a U.S. Open in 1896. The Shady Rest was listed in The Green Book, which listed businesses that would accept African American customers.
The country club offered six tennis courts, a baseball diamond, skeet shooting, and horseback riding, tapinto.net reported. The tennis and baseball facilities were removed after Scotch Plains took over the site in 1964. However, in recent years, there has been a strong effort to reclaim and celebrate Shady Rest history. The clubhouse underwent a $1.1 million, three-phase rehabilitation in 2015 to restore the building to what it appeared like in 1925, based on historic photos. Aluminum siding and aluminum windows were replaced with wood windows and historic features were restored.
In the ballroom, the historic walls were restored; the fireplace was replastered, and the original wood floor from the 1920s was uncovered, re-sanded and restored, tapinto.net reported. In the dining room, the exterior north wall of the 1830s house – covered since in the 1960s – was revealed again, showing the clapboard and window sash. Architects located three windows from the 1830s that were refurbished and moved to the lobby to be seen and experienced in the oldest space in the building. Original wide-plank flooring from the third floor was relocated to the lobby.
“Placement on the state and national listings underscores the careful, diligent work of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee to unearth the amazing history of this country club,” said Councilman Roc White, who serves on the committee. “This achievement was the work of many residents and countless volunteer hours in recent years, who recognized that Shady Rest is a natural treasure. If the Scotch Plains community does not make its preservation a priority, who would?”
Councilman Matt Adams said this is an ideal time for Scotch Plains residents to revisit Shady Rest and explore its public, nine-hole course and miniature golf course. The clubhouse is frequently used for social gatherings, community meetings and historic tours, tapinto.net reported.
“For those who attended our July 3 fireworks, it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and explore the country club,” Adams said. “We hope many residents who have not yet visited Shady Rest take the opportunity to experience this local, and now nationally-listed, treasure.”