A Retrieving Milestone: Sporting Dogs in the Barrington Countryside
In 2006, Fred Kampo and Carolyn McCreesh published “The History of Retriever Field Trials in America”, devoting this book to “The Early Years: 1931-1941”. Carolyn McCreesh was a resident of Barrington in the 1980s, and had written on this subject for Dog World Magazine, using Barrington Review newspaper records from 1935 held at the Barrington Area Library. Chapter three, “Midwest Trials Emerge”, recalls a forgotten story of the Barrington countryside.
In 1925, Thomas Howell, a successful grain dealer and member of the Chicago Board of Trade, purchased 175 acres at the southwest corner of Brinker and Otis Roads from Spencer Otis. He commissioned the famed landscape architect Jens Jensen to bring his prairie style to Valley View Farm. Howell also built a first-class kennel for Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers managed and trained by esteemed English-born trainer Martin Hogan. Howell’s dogs carried the Barrington prefix and reached the highest levels of awards in the American Kennel Club (AKC) field trials.
This level of achievement was recognized, when, on October 27, 1935, the Midwest Field Trial Club held its first retriever field trial in the Midwest on Howell’s property, which neighbors had nicknamed “Howell’s Swamp” with its rough marsh cover, heavy underbrush, and a large oval lake edged with cattails and high weeds. This provided cover for the birds and suitably hard-going for the dogs.
That 1935 trial was organized under the jurisdiction of the AKC and the American Field, a Chicago-based organization designed to sponsor and support field trials for many sporting breeds. Besides Howell, many prominent Chicagoans assisted in presenting the event, including the banker Albert W. Harris. Dave Lorenz, James Meigs, Gordon Kelly, William Walker, David Kelly, and Bob Becker, the outdoor editor and writer for the Chicago Tribune who also participated in preparations. The judges were Martin Hogan and Dr. D.A. Griffin, a long-time field trial competitor and AKC conformation judge.
Members of the U.S. Olympic gun team and the Indiana state trap-shooting champion joined the trial’s gun team. Nearly 40 dogs competed in what became a prestigious event, with several field trial competitors traveling from the East Coast. Well-known was Anthony Bliss (see photo), with entries from his Chesacroft Kennels of Westbury, Long Island. Bliss was later director of the Metropolitan Opera.
There was a social cachet to the trials, with a gala Friday night party at the Barrington Hills Country Club where Eddie Duchin played the piano. On Saturday morning, when the gallery set out for the Novice and Junior Stakes, the men were fashionably attired in tweed knickerbockers, neckties, and slouch hats, while the women were dressed in fur coats, elegant hats, long skirts, and boots.
On Sunday morning, 300 spectators watched the Open Stakes with money and prestige on the line. Most had arranged for gourmet picnic lunches in the field, before final results were announced after a day of exacting competition and judging. First place was won by Jay Carlisle’s Labrador, “Drinkstone Pons of Wingan”, handled by David Elliot. More trials were held in the Barrington countryside during the 1940s, but none achieved the prestige of that inaugural 1935 event when the best of American Retrievers showed their skills in “Howell’s Swamp”.
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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.