Last October, after a weekend hike with friends on the trails out behind the Clarke Industrial Park, I captured some photos of the remains of concrete steps that we discovered while descending out of the preserve near Turnage Lane. I shared the photos on the “You’re From Bethel, CT if...” Facebook page, explaining that these steps led to the sixth-hole tee box of the now-defunct Terre Haute Golf Course.
Quickly, it became clear that many of us who grew up in Bethel have fond memories of Terre Haute. Like so many others, I remember learning golf on that course. But also, people excitedly shared their recollections of sledding on the property in the winter, running the hills during high school cross country season, or just hanging out and exploring with friends from the neighborhood.
With so much interest and so many memories, I thought it would be fun to do a little research on the land known as “Terre Haute”, but was surprised that I could not find much in the way of recorded history of the property. Primarily with the help of Ken Daniels, we were able to discover through old newspaper articles and other sources a loose history of the property in terms of land ownership, land use, and some great historical photos. The following is not meant to be a full accounting of Terre Haute but might be an interesting read for those who have childhood memories of the area.
The Owners and Property Uses
In January of 2003, the Conway School of Landscape Design for the TOwn of Bethel performed a land-use feasibility study for the Terre Haute property. According to this study, the Town of Bethel purchased the “watershed lands” in 1878. The study read, “Historical uses associated with the Terre Haute property in the 1900s include management of the forest for wood lots, use of the dammed ice pond for ice harvesting, harvesting of lumber used in lime processing, for charcoal and timber, gravel mining, and residential use.”
The first reference that I was able to find of the private ownership of the Terre Haute property was in a Danbury News-Times article about a Danbury homeowner remodeling her bathroom! The article, “She Found Old News in the Bathroom Ceiling”, by Donna Christopher and dated January 15, 2011, tells the story of Barbara and Greg Schnuck discovering some 1920s newspapers while remodeling their bathroom on Franklin Avenue Extension. The old newspapers provide evidence of who one of the original owners of the Terre Haute property was: When interviewed about the newspapers they found, Schnuck said, “I like the story about Terre Haute (a 300-acre estate in Danbury owned by I.F. Terry), and that they say the guy didn’t even have his land for sale,” referencing the land’s sale to a mystery figure.
“Mr. Terry said this morning that he had not sought a sale of the property, and that the offer to purchase had been made very recently, and the sale effected quickly.” The estate, the story continues, “has all the conveniences of a modern home such as electricity, telephone, and now the city water is being installed, to take the place of a private water supply system.”
An article from the Bridgeport Post reporting a fire at Terre Haute on December 21, 1960, references that the estate was built by I.F. Terry, “about 30 years ago” and provides additional evidence as to the identity of the first owner of Terre Haute. And while the word “terre haute” is French for “high ground”, I. F. Terry could have named the property Terre (Terry) Haute as a play on words which was common at the time. Consider the nearby Tarrywile Mansion which was built by Dr. William C. Wile. Per “The History of Tarrywile Mansion”, “the name Tarrywile comes from the play on words; to tarry a while – Wile”.
Although I have not found the record of Joseph Proskauer’s purchase of the property, I think that we can surmise that Mr. Proskauer may have been the gentleman who made the unsolicited offer to purchase the property from Mr. Terry, based upon a Terre Haute property transfer dating back to May 7, 1931 which lists Joseph Proskauer as the selling party in the transaction. Mr. Proskauer was the president of the William C. Popper & Company which was a printing and lithographing firm. Mr. Proskauer was considered an international authority on printing. He was born in 1856 and died in 1936 at the age of 81, about five years after selling the estate. His obituary included the tale, that he was fond of recounting, of how his father who was a lieutenant colonel with one of the Virginia line regiments during the Civil War, met his brother who was a major with the Union forces on the battlefield at Bull Run. During one of the lulls in the fighting, Virginia and Pennsylvania troops fraternized. His father and brother recognized each other, spent a few moments talking, shook hands, and then rejoined their commands as the battle started anew. Both survived the battle and war. Before the Civil War was over, Joseph saw his family’s Virginia plantation overrun by Union soldiers when they captured Richmond.
The property transfer involving the sale of Joseph Proskauer’s property can be found under the headline, “Stock Exchange Member Buys 400-acre Connecticut Estate” in the New York Times. The article lists the seller as Joseph Proskauer and the buyer as Louis Kaiser. The transaction price was $125,000 (nearly $2 million today) and the main residence was described as a “reproduction of a Norman chateau”. Other features of the property included a “guest house, several cottages, bridle paths and a swimming pool”. The newspaper story also reports that, “Mr. Kaiser intends to occupy the residence and to improve the property.” Interestingly, “Spruce Mountain” is described as being part of the property, and is “said to be the highest point in Fairfield County.”
Sadly, Louis Kaiser died less than six years after purchasing the property. On December 13, 1936, at the age of 39, Louis Kaiser died of a cerebral hemorrhage while in his suite at the Hotel Pierre on Fifth Avenue and Sixty-First Street in New York City. His obituary described him as being “an enthusiastic horseman” who “had exhibited at leading horse shows”. Indeed, we can see that his equestrian exploits landed the name Terre Haute in the New York Times with headlines such as, “Kaiser’s Saddle Horses Outstanding as Elberon Exhibition Gets Under Way” (August 2, 1936) and “Annual Horse Show at Rye is Dominated by the Terre Haute Saddle Entries” (July 11, 1936). Included in the article from July of 1936 is a photo of Mrs. Louis A. Kaiser “giving trophy to Miss Elizabeth I. Chase after Himself’s victory in hunter class”. Clearly, one of Mr. Kaiser’s intentions in purchasing the property was to use it as a horse farm.
The next purchase of the property occurred nearly three years after the death of Louis Kaiser, on December 5, 1939. An article in the New York Times announces, “Dr. Blumgarten Gets 600- Acre Property at Bethel”. Of interest in this announcement is the first reference of a golf course on the property. “On the property are a large Chalet-type main residence, a four-room guest cottage, children’s house, log cabin, superintendent’s cottage, barns, garages, kennel, greenhouse and a nine-hole golf course. Other facilities include a sports pavilion, swimming pool, tennis court, and an outdoor horse ring and exercise track.” The main residence is described as containing, “a large paneled living room with fireplace, paneled dining room, five master bedrooms and a number of servants’ rooms”. Also of interest, the announcement states that the main residence was erected in 1920. This aligns with our assumption that I. F. Terry was the original builder of the estate. The announcement also states that the main house was remodeled in 1933 which is consistent with Louis Kaiser’s stated intention to improve the property at the time of his purchase in 1931.
The property remained in the hands of Dr. Blumgarten for nearly twenty years until his death in March of 1958 at the age of 71. The next property transfer can be found in the Stamford Advocate on March 5, 1959 under the heading “Purchase Reported of 1,100-Acre Tract”. This transaction is described as “involving one of the largest tracts of land under private ownership in Connecticut”. Interestingly, the property is also described as “lying contiguously in Danbury, Bethel and Redding”. The buyers are listed as Moe Tunick and James B. Maher and are described as “speculator-investors”. The sellers are listed as the “heirs of the late Dr. Allen S. Blumgarten, New York physician”. The structures listed in this transfer are consistent with the previous recording: “among eight main buildings and several utility structures on the property [is] a large main residence with eight bedrooms. The estate also includes a nine-hole golf course, a swimming pool”, and then something different, “a nine-acre lake”. This most likely must be Mountain Pond. The intention to develop the land for the first time is apparent, “The tract includes 900 acres of wooded and cleared land classified as residential and 200 industrial acres. The industrial acreage is adjacent to the New Haven Railroad tracks……..Mr. Tunick and Mr. Maher said they have purchased the property for speculative purposes. Present plans call for breaking up the tract and selling it for residential developments and industrial sites.”
The Terre Haute Golf Course
A little over a year after Moe Tunick’s purchase of the land, the first step in turning what was a privately owned estate into a revenue-generating property can be seen with the following announcement of the formerly private nine hole golf course which, “was once exclusive to only friends and relatives of the former owners, but now will be available to anyone who desires to play there at the fee required”. Bethel Democrat Selectman and former Sycamore night manager George F. Sherwood was given the position of manager of the golf course. The announcement also reiterated that I. F. Terry had originally acquired the estate in 1907 and provides a good description of the golf course.
Bridgeport Sunday Post, May 8, 1960
Selectman Now Manager of 9-Hole Golf Course
A nine-hole golf course located on the Terre Haute estate and owned by Moe Tunick and Julius Y. Levinson, of Stamford, will be opened for public use Thursday. The Terre Haute links, part of a 1,000 acre estate acquired by the late I. F. Terry in 1907, has laid idle for the past several years but has been maintained. Owners have named George F. Sherwood, 97 Grassy Plain Street, as manager of the course. Mr. Sherwood, who is a democrat selectman of Bethel, has given up his position as night manager of the Sycamore restaurant to take the new position. The course, located a quarter mile from Route 53 Turkey Plain Road, will be one of the only two public courses in the Bethel-Danbury area. The other is located in Brookfield. Mr. Sherwood will have an office on the property.
Tennis, Swimming Planned
Plans are underway to have a golf-pro on the property, and also for putting the tennis court in shape. The club house will be opened, and the swimming pool made available.
Prices are to be approximately $2 per day per person; $2.50 for a weekend or a season pass can be had for $50. There are to be stables for horses, and possibly riding instructors.
Mr. Sherwood pointed out that the greens still need some work, including reseeding and top dressing but are now easily playable. The fairways and tees are in excellent shape and the generally large, deep sand traps have been redug and new sand added.
The combination of five par four and four par three holes will be used by the Danbury Dusty Golf league this season with some Danbury Golf league members scheduled to play before the official opening.
The course is unusual with woods and heavy brush or a marsh bordering the right sides of most holes. The tee for the 395-yard first hole is some 700 feet from the clubhouse. The first par three hole, the 165-yard second, is well trapped with woods near three sides.
The 316-yard fourth (third) is relatively easy but the 142-yard fourth and 127-yard fifth are side-hill fairway affairs and the sixth is 158-yards almost straight down from the tee on top of a hill. The last three holes, 228, 217, and 331 yards respectively, are all par fours.
The course is approximately a three minute drive from the center of Bethel and about 10 minutes from the Center of Danbury.
Mr. Sherwood said that as a good will stand point, plans include the offering to Bethel high school golf teams, the right to use the course for play or practice if they wish.
He has conferred with both the selectmen of Bethel and Danbury who have heartily approved the plan to put the course in public operation, and state that they feel there is a dire need in this area for such a move from a recreation standpoint. The 2,079 yard fairways was once exclusive to only friends and relatives of the former owners, but now will be available to anyone who desires to play there at the fee required.
Not long after the announcement of George F. Sherwood as manager, the golf course was run by Ernie and Helen Hahndorf. Their daughter Sherry, who was just a little girl at the time, was able to contribute her memories of Terre Haute by way of email to this story:
“My parents managed the course once it was open to the public either in 1960 or early 1961. I was all of 10-11 years old. My Mom (Helen) would run it on weekdays and my Dad (Ernie) would take over on weekends. I do remember that Moe Tunick and Jules Levinson were the owners and I actually met them. Moe Tunick was more involved (that I remember) than Mr. Levinson. I think Levinson was located in NYC. It was such a gorgeous place back then with all the horse barns and old homes. When we got there, the grounds and homes were basically untouched. The previous owner, I believe, was a doctor and he and his wife lived in the home on a hill across from Willie as you drove in from the main road. The doctor was long gone by the time Tunick bought it. I remember going through the house and there were dishes, medical tools, books, knick-knacks, etc. left. It looked like he walked out one day and never came back.”
“The buildings on the property were magnificent! There were many horse stalls and a big riding rink, plus a barn near Willie’s house, along with other out building/garages for mowers, work vehicles, and other equipment. I remember vividly of what we called the “main” house which was located on a knoll before you went down the hill to the golf course. The carvings and woodworking were breathtaking. No one lived there. During the winter, the building burned to the ground. The fire occurred at night and I remember seeing the red glow from our house. We thought it was the horse barns. Of course my father and sister rushed to the scene. The house was a total loss as there was no/little water to extinguish it.”
“A year or so after my parents opened the course, a horseman by the name of Jack Young leased the barns and brought in other families that were involved with horses. It was western riding, not English. There could have been 20 or more privately owned horses there including my sister‘s horse. Everybody took care of their own horse but we would all ride in the rink and go for trail rides. It was a wonderful group and a great educational and social experience for young teenagers which we all were at that time. Each year, the group would take the horses to the Danbury Fair and ride in the parade, plus we would go to other horse shows/functions in the surrounding area. Since I was one of the younger kids, I split my time between the horses and the golf course and now consider myself so fortunate to learn to ride and play golf at this young age! I did eventually give up the horses but definitely not the golf!”
“The Golf Pro Shop back then was a shack on top of a hill off the parking lot. It was a small one room shack with no bathrooms. There was a beautiful wood home/building across from the tennis courts and pool, but it was in disrepair and would take too much money to fix up. I remember the beautiful fire place it had in it.”
According to Sherry, “Terre Haute was known for its copperheads! Everywhere you went you had to be so careful. Copperheads always travel in pairs so if you saw one, there was another one close by. We would be so careful going up to the Pro Shop or walking to the first hole. I did go up to the reservoir/dam a few times but it was a tough hike if I remember correctly. Besides I don’t like snakes and I’m sure that area was loaded with them!”
The golf course was not the only source of revenue sought by the new owners of the Terre Haute property. A few months prior to the public golf course announcement, on March 20, 1960, the Bethel Town Planning and Zoning commission announced that an application for a gravel mining permit had been received for an area of approximately 20 acres. Gravel mining would be the main source of industrial revenue from the site over the next eight years.
Sadly, disaster would strike just as the year 1960 came to an end. On December 27, 1960, newspapers reported the burning down of the Terre Haute Mansion. The 12 room frame house was destroyed by a fire that was reported at 2:15 a.m. Furniture and antiques had recently been moved into the house, and the heat had been left on in the house in preparation for Mr. Levinson’s occupancy.
In addition to gravel mining, the property would be developed as an industrial park with the announcement on January 16, 1969 that the land would be the site of the “new 55,000 to 80,000 square foot plant to be built by the Burndy Corporation”. Other plans submitted to the Bethel Town Planning and Zoning Commission by Moe Tunick called for the construction of an industrial building, possibly two, in the near future. Mr. Tunick said that these buildings “would be constructed to attract new industry to the community”. It also appears that at this time, there was consideration to build a “connector road” through the Terre Haute property to link Route 53 with Route 7. Mr. Tunick had expressed that he was against a proposal by the state to spend $1 million to straighten Rt. 53 in the vicinity of Terre Haute, but instead said he was, “wholeheartedly in support of a connector road to Route 7” and that “if it becomes necessary, and feasible, he will convey the state the property adjacent to the Railroad for this purpose”.
By 1971, it appears that Moe Tunick’s relationship with the Town of Bethel had soured. On June 2, 1971, sewer assessments conducted by the Bethel Sewer Authority for property owned by Moe Tunick and that of the Burndy Corporation “are not satisfactory to the owners”. Two weeks later, on June 14, 1971, Moe Tunick and Julius Y. Levinson announced that they were taking the Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission to court concerning the commission’s recent denial of a gravel mining permit. Less than three months later, Moe Tunick and Julius Y. Levinson would no longer own the property.
The sale of the property was announced, not long after, on August 24, 1971. “A contract to purchase 660 acres in Bethel and Danbury was signed yesterday and is believed to be the largest such property deal in the town’s history. The property, known as Terre Haute, bordering on Route 53, consists of 212 acres of residential land in Danbury, 241 acres of residential land in Bethel and 200 acres of industrial land in Bethel.” The property was purchased for $750,000 and would be developed by the New York City investment firm Investors Funding Corporation. And while the Terre Haute Golf Course remained open to the public for many years, by 1985 the Town of Bethel Economic Development Commission began to receive bids for construction of roads and utilities for the Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park, leaving the Terre Haute Golf Course to be nothing more than a memory.
Terry Haute Then and Now
To get an idea as to the location of the old Terre Haute Golf Course relative to the current industrial park, my friend Ken Daniels used some computer software to compare old aerial photographs of the course dating back to 1934 to present aerial photos of the industrial park.
Next, we can see the last three holes below. The building at the very top of the present day photo is just below Turnage Lane. So, you can see that the seventh fairway, most of the ninth fairway, and some of the eighth fairway ran just behind the present buildings that lie south of Turnage Lane, while the eighth green and the ninth-hole tee box have been paved over.
If you would like to explore the site of the golf course, there are trails that exist today in its exact location which you can hike. The trail head is conveniently located in the Turnage Lane turnaround, marked by a fire hydrant near the entrance.
And of course, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge who Turnage Lane is named after. In Sherry Hahndorf’s telling of her Terre Haute childhood memories, she mentioned a man named “Willie” a couple of times. She probably only spoke of him by his first name since pretty much everyone who remembers the Terre Haute Golf Course remembers Willie Turnage, the golf course’s caretaker.
Noted Bethel Historian Patrick Wild had this to say about Willie, “I remember Willie the caretaker very well. He had white hair, a mustache, a goatee and wore glasses. He was always very kind and friendly. He let us drink from the well on the property and it was just about the best water I ever tasted.”
Not only can remnants of the golf course be discovered in Clarke Park, but there also lie the remains of the original estate. Up on the bluff above Bethel Power, under the weeds, dirt, and leaves is a paved driveway that leads directly to the foundation of the “Norman Chateau” most likely built by I. F. Terry a hundred years ago.
Terre Haute’s Future?
When the Town of Bethel purchased the Terre Haute property, much of the land was to be developed into the current industrial park, but some of the land was to be set aside for “passive recreation”. Unfortunately, it seems to me, not many Bethel residents are aware of the trails that exist behind the industrial park. The trails have been neglected; they are not well marked and many motorcycle “cut through” trails make the preserve difficult to navigate. But I believe, with a little bit of work, the Terre Haute Preserve could become a popular hiking destination.
Perhaps trails could be cut and designed to trace the layout of the Terre Haute fairways.
I think this would be a great way to preserve our memories of the Terre Haute Golf Course.
Additionally, the property has many other features that could draw people to the preserve for weekend adventures. The highest point of the preserve is Bogus Mountain with an elevation of 850 feet above sea level. There’s also the “West Terre Haute Outlook” where one can find stone steps leading to a wooden bench lying at the peak of a ridge positioned perfectly for sunset views. And of course, there is the ice pond dam.
In January of 2003, a land-use feasibility study of the Terre Haute property, the Conway School of Landscape Design mentioned a “significant archeological discovery”.
In 1911, workers who were pumping water from Mountain Pond discovered a Native American canoe which was sunk in about 40 feet of water by loaded stones. The canoe is believed to date back to the late 16th to early 17th century. The study also states that, “the presence of ledges and rocky outcrops on the Terre Haute property is an indicator of potential use of Terre Haute by Native Americans for camps. Native American tools and sites have been identified in the region by the Connecticut Office of State Archaeology, and highly sensitive sites have also been identified within the industrial park.”
The study references the former land-use patterns for Terre Haute dating back to 1878 when the Town of Bethel purchased the watershed lands. “Historical uses associated with the Terre Haute property in the 1900s include management of the forest for wood lots, use of the dammed ice pond for ice harvesting, harvesting of lumber used in lime processing, for charcoal and timber gravel mining, and residential use.”
I hope that you enjoyed reading about what I believe is Bethel’s historical gem, Terre Haute.
I also hope that the Town of Bethel chooses to be good stewards toward the preservation of this property for future generations to enjoy and appreciate what once was Terre Haute.
Special thanks to Ken Daniels, Sherry (Hahndorf) Buczek, Walter Lasley and Patrick Wild for their contributions.