In the mid 1700’s, the Ephraim Tucker Farmhouse was built on a thirty-one acre plot of rural landscape just outside the town of Westfield, New Jersey. In 1808, John Locey purchased the property that became George B. Osborn’s Tavern in the 1880’s. About 1897, the farm was sold to the newly formed Westfield Golf Club who then converted the farmland into a nine-hole golf course and the main farmhouse into a clubhouse. The Westfield Golf Club opened in 1900.
A close knit group of Blacks settled on both sides of the golf course and made the pathways across the course when visiting nearby friends and relatives. The Westfield Club membership recognized that the Club could not pursue plans to expand its nine-hole layout into the 18-hole course they desired. Rather than risk infringing upon the legal rights of the Black community residents during this era of segregation, the Westfield club negotiated with the Cranford Golf Club, with which it merged as Echo Lake Country Club in 1921.
Country Club for Young and Old
On September 21, 1921, a group of prominent Black investors known as the Progressive Realty Company, Inc. purchased the property and established Shady Rest Golf and Country to “provide and maintain a Country Club for the recreation for young and old; where respectable men and women can come and enjoy the real and outdoor life, and indulge in wholesome, healthful sports, as Golf, Tennis, Croquet, Horseback Riding and Shooting.”
With great business acumen, Henry Willis, Sr., who assumed control of Shady Rest in 1925, gradually transformed the Club into “one of the best known clubs for golf, tennis, and social affairs for colored people in the United States,” according to a 1932 report. Membership was selective with annual dues set at $25 for Resident Members (persons residing within fifty miles of Westfield), Social Members (not including golf privileges) paid $15 a year and Non-resident Members paid $10. A membership committee of the Board of Directors conducted background checks on prospective members. The committee’s charge was “to keep the membership up to a desirable standard.”
More Than Just a Golf Course
The nine-hole golfing facility served as a venue for Black golf tournaments. The American Tennis Association (ATA) was headquartered there and it became a regular stop on the tennis circuit. Two time Wimbeldon champ Althea Gipson, who won the mixed doubles championship at the club with her coach Sydney Llewellyn, commented in a 1991 Star-Ledger interiwe that “It was a very pleasant atmosphere.”
Shady Rest was a popular haunt for the broad range of cultural events and diverse groups of middle class Blacks. It was also a hot entertainment spot during the Swing Era (1920’s to 1946). Among the long list of entertainers performing at the club was Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and Newark’s own Sarah Vaughn. Although white residents did not attend events held at the segregated club, it did not stop some of them from coming within listening range.
Despite the social circumstances which led to the establishment of Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, it flourished over a period of forty years. The Club survived a rocky period in the 1920’s when a bitter dispute erupted over control of the club followed by the devastating effects of the stock market crash in 1929.
In 1938, Scotch Plains Township acquired the property through tax lien foreclosures and maintained it as Shady Rest until 1964. The municipality then took over the operations, renamed the club Scotch Hills Country Club, and turned it into a public golf course.