TAP Into Your Town's News

Scotch Plains/Fanwood — News

'A Place for Us' Plays to Large Audience

Mindy Scarlett

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 • 9:16pm

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ  - The Scotch Hills Country Club, known as “Shady Rest” from the 1930s to the 1960s, was the venue for the local debut of the documentary “A Place for Us”. 

A group of African-American investors called the Progressive Realty Co. bought the property in 1921 and opened Shady Rest, the first ever Country Club and Golf Course to be owned by African Americans.

In an era where anyone of color could only hope to serve in such an establishment, “Shady Rest” truly provided a place where African Americans could enjoy all the good things in life, from live Jazz and cocktails to golf, skeet shooting and tennis.

Althea Gibson, who became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament, played at “Shady Rest”.  Jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald provided the entertainment.

Barbara J. Kukla, in her book, "Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-1950," writes that Shady Rest is described by one musician as the place "where all the rich black folks used to go.”

Shady Rest was also the home course to John Shippen, Jr., another “creator” of history who was the first American-born golf pro, not just African-American pro, because until 1896, when Shippen made his professional debut at the U.S. Open at Long Island's Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, only European-born players had ever competed. Despite a threatened boycott because he was allowed to play, Shippen played in the tournament, coming in fifth.

Shippen served as the club's golf pro and groundskeeper from 1931 to his retirement in 1960, only four years after the Professional Golfers Association rescinded its so-called Caucasian-only membership rule.

Conflicts between two groups of investors, a mounting tax burden and the Great Depression caused Scotch Plains Township to acquire the Shady Rest property through a tax lien foreclosure in 1938. The country club continued as a focal point of African-American social life until 1964, when the town took over operations, renamed it Scotch Hills Country Club, and opened up membership to everyone.

Currently, there are plans to apply for various grants so that a preservation study can be done, much needed repairs can be completed and steps taken to get the building onto the National Historic Register.

At the end of the evening, Mayor Kevin Glover thanked the guest speakers, and the Historical Committee for putting the event together.  “I think we will have to do this again to accommodate those who were not able to attend because every seat was filled.  I thank everyone for their passion and their commitment.”

TAP into your town! Get Your Town's News In Your Inbox: Click here to sign up.