In its middle reaches the Casperkill flows through about a mile of forested rolling hills on the Casperkill Golf course. The picture above shows what this stretch of land looked like prior to the construction of the golf course. This image was taken from Joyce C. Ghee and Joan Spence’s Poughkeepsie 1898-1998: A Century of Change, and the caption in that book reads as follows: “Snowshoeing in the Wilds of Poughkeepsie. It is hard to imagine this much open space where Oakwood School, the former IBM Country Club and Golf Course, and South Road businesses now bloom, but in 1923, Emily P. Lane, the daughter of industrialist John I. Lane, and her friends could trek for miles over farm fields and woodland without encountering anyone. This was rural countryside.”
One reason for the disappearance of open space in this stretch of land was the expansion of IBM in Poughkeepsie in the mid 20th century. In the early 1900s the land that eventually became the golf course and country club was divided into three sections: the Dickerson Farm (see this earlier post on the Fort Homestead); Kingwood Park; and the Cedar Hill agricultural farm owned by Mr. and Mrs. Theodore H. Miller, who also managed the DeLaval Separator company in Poughkeepsie. When IBM began to expand in Poughkeepsie in the 1940s, the company acquired these properties “for extension of the country club and Post-war housing for IBM employees,”(1, 2) and hired the legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. to design a golf course. The IBM country club and golf course quickly became a popular spot for IBM employees and local residents to spend their free time.
Several local residents remember visiting the IBM golf course. Sue Lynch, who has lived in Red Oaks Mill for 55 years, remembers cross country skiing on the golf course as a young girl; and Vinnie Bihn, who lives just downstream of the golf course, remembers swimming in a pond that is formed on the golf course by a dam along the Casperkill.
If we were desperate we swam in what we called ‘Methuselah’s hole,’ which is where IBM ends and Kerr farm property starts. It was a big hole, like a pool. Unfortunately, if you put your feet down there was a muck bottom, which was not real pleasant but that is where I found some pearls. Katie Kerr and I found the mussels and I had a penknife so we opened them up and found 3 pearls (…) I also used to fish it and catch some small bass—rock bass, stuff like that.”
In addition to visiting the grounds, Vinnie Bihn and his brother Helmuth also remember the IBM country club, which was built in 1946.
Helmuth: “As kids we used to go up there. As long as you behaved they never bothered you (even if you weren’t a member). It was fun. Friday night was family night and they would let you see a movie free of charge. There were 4 or 5 bowling alleys downstairs, and in the upstairs they had one huge room.”
Vinnie Bihn: “One time my friends and I found out that they didn’t lock the snack bar. All of a sudden this guy comes into the room and we’re making hot fudge Sundays, we’re having a ball. Yeah, we got thrown out. We had like two straws in the hot fudge when they came in”
Jim Warner, who worked at IBM from 1951 to 1989, gave us a very different perspective on the Country Club. When asked if he remembered visiting the country club as an employee, Mr. Warner replied: “Oh, the Country Club? That’s what kept the union out. We wanted a union and they said, ‘OK, you want a union? Then we’re going to close the Country Club.’ So that kept the union out of IBM all those years. In fact, they still haven’t gotten in. It’s still not unionized.” Although Mr. Warner did not necessarily see it as a negative thing that IBM has never had a union, he definitely felt that the company had used the aesthetic and recreational resource to manipulate its employees.
After IBM began to scale back their operations in Poughkeepsie the company sold the country club and golf course. Today, Bright Horizons owns the former country club, and uses it primarily for recreation camps. Although the Town of Poughkeepsie came close to purchasing the recreation center at Casperkill last year to renovate it and open a new library, the deal ultimately fell through. (3) The future of the country club remains uncertain.
The Ginsberg Development Company owns the golf course, which is now known as the Casperkill Golf Course. The new name attests to the prominent role that the creek plays in attracting golfers to the course. The home page of the Casperkill Golf Club website invites visitors to play “amidst tranquil ponds, magnificent ancient oaks and the meandering Casperkill Creek.”
Photo credit: Ghee, Joyce C, and Joan Spence. Poughkeepsie, 1898-1998: A Century of Change. NY: Arcadia Publishing (Sc), 1999.
1) “IBM Buys South Road [Miller] Tract for Park.” Poughkeepsie New Yorker 2 June 1944
2) “IBM Buys 300-acre Dickerson Tract; Housing, Club Extension Projected.” Poughkeepsie New Yorker 2 June 1944.
3) Valkys, Michael “Scuttling of Casperkill purchase greeted with cheers, jeers in town.” A1, July 18, 2009