What was that rumbling?

Dalton HouseThe Dalton Club in Newburyport is rather a unique institution.      Located in one of the most significantly historic homes in the City (George Washington slept here for example.), it is set apart from traditional social clubs like the North End Boat Club, the Elk’s Club and the Neptune Club.    

It is a gentlemen’s club.

Unfortunately, in the 1990’s, this term was taken over as a promotional euphemism for strip clubs.     The Dalton Club is definitely not that!

The true definition of a gentlemen’s club is a male members-only private social institution originally set up by the British upper class men in the eighteenth century.    Later it was popularized by American and English upper-middle class men and women in the late nineteenth century.      The original clubs were established in the West End of London.    In fact, the area of St. James is often referred to as ‘clubland’.       These clubs reached their highest popularity right around the 1880’s.   The oldest existing American clubs date to the 18th century; the State in Schuylkill in Philadelphia, founded in 1732, is arguably the oldest club in North America, and the Old Colony Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts founded in 1769, is also one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in North America.   As the years have gone by, many clubs have become more open to gender and social status of members.      The Dalton Club is still a men’s-only establishment.

Their original concept was not to be places of entertainment.     The clubs were, in effect, “second homes” in the center of London where men could relax, mix with their friends, play parlor games, get a meal, and in some clubs could stay overnight. They allowed upper- and upper-middle-class men with modest incomes to spend their time in grand surroundings; the richer clubs were built by the same architects as the finest country houses of the time, and had the same types of interiors. They also were a convenient retreat for men who wished to get away from their female relations. Many men spent much of their lives in their club.    Especially in England, it was a common feature for young newly-graduated men who had moved to London for the first time to live at their club for two or three years before they could afford to rent a house or flat.

Today, traditional gentlemen’s clubs are no longer as popular or influential as they originally were, but there has been a significant resurgence in popularity and status in recent years.     The more ancient a city, the more likely it has a traditional Gentlemen’s Club.      Newburyport is no exception.

Now getting into these clubs has always been a tricky affair.*     There is usually a set limit of membership and most clubs have quirky requirements that must be fulfilled for full inclusion.   For the Dalton Club, you must be sponsored by a present member     Some clubs will be flexible enough they will invite prospective candidates to enjoy the benefits of the club in a limited way.       Historically, there is always a risk for a current member to be blackballed if he nominated an ‘undesirable’ and would in turn be asked to resign because he didn’t have enough sense to withdraw the name.       As for our local club, there is a long waiting list for admission.

A few years back, the Preservation Trust held it’s annual meeting (of both genders) in the building and the membership even gave all those who attended a full tour of the facility.

We all got to see the grand social room.

Dalton's Gentleman's Club

We also gazed at the official 1895 declaration of its founding.

1895 Declaration of Dalton Club's Founding

As well as Tristam Dalton’s Coat of Arms.

Tristam Dalton Coat of Arms

We also bemoaned the fact a very famous picture of George Washington was missing. (It had been sold when the club was experiencing one of its ‘tight’ times.)

We gazed at an original Newburyport-made Balch grandfather clock.

Balch of Newburyport Grandfather Clock

We were shown the original (not developed) servant quarters in the attic.

Servant's quarters

But I think the most peculiar thing of all is the bowling alley in the basement and the fact it partially runs under State Street.      I joke about the rumbling but truthfully haven’t felt the slightest vibration on the street level.    It is an excellent little facility for candlepin.      Adjacent to the alley is an odd subterranean room – it is said a ghost inhabits the lower level though assured by members not to be a poltergeist. (A mischievous ghost)

Bowling Alley Backside of bowling alley

All in all, a very nice facility just soaked with history.    In the windows are Indian shutters that still function, walls are decorated with great paintings including serious photos of great Newburyport men, Rufus Sargent & Theophilus Parsons looking down at this social club.

Parsons & King Hanging Out Together

But all I have to say to the women of Newburyport – It’s impressive.   But no offense to the club members, I personally don’t think you’re missing anything.      

As for the P.P. – I think I saw a little sign over the kitchen door, something to the affect to those of my sort, “You need not apply”.

-P. Preservationist

* If Lord Timothy Dexter, who craved fame and notoriety, lived today; he would literally do everything possible to get in…and probably not get accepted!

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4 Responses to What was that rumbling?

  1. tomsalemi says:

    Did George Washington sleep there? I thought he slept at the Tracy Mansion and had breakfast at the Dalton House. Just curious. How many times did he go through Newburyport?

  2. I was always told that the one-time he came here, he partied at the Tracy Mansion and slept at the Dalton House. Recently, a member of the club told me in a passing conversation that Old George had done just that. But he may have been mistaken.

    Anyone out there who can tell us definitively? Doug Locy for example?

    Tracy did all the heavy privateering that forced the British to leave Boston; and Dalton was the financier of the Repubic – I’d favor the guy for a big party who had the ships!

  3. Tom Salemi says:

    Permit me to share a nugget from one of my Christmas Gifts, “The World Turned Upside Down: Essex County During America’s Turbulent Years, 1763-1790” by Ronald N. Tagney.

    “The President was escorted to the Tracy house, an imposing brick mansion on Fish (now State) Street, presently the Newburyport Public Library. Washington slept the night here, after an evening reception at Marshal Jonathan Jackson’s exquisite High Street residence.”

    Militia companies pridefully fired a feu-de-joie. In the evening, reveling townspeople and visitors celebrated as fireworks burst and rockets soared skyward. All “man and beast” arriving in town to help commemorate the historic occasion were “provided for gratis.” The November 4 Essex Journal praised the public “for their orderly behaviour through day and evening.”

    “On Saturday morning, Washington and invited guests, including Rev. John Tucker and young (John) Quincy Adams, breakfasted at Senator Dalton’s State Street home. Afterwards, as the President rode along High Street toward Amesbury ferry, he bid farewell to Newburyport which he described as “pleasantly situated on the Merrimack River.”

    He got that right.

  4. John says:

    My cousin is a member and if he can get in the mystique has vanished for me 😉

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