Award: Incubation / $15,000
Purpose: To support the development of an inclusive master plan for the historic interpretation and public experience of Shady Rest Golf & Country Club (1921), a National Historic Landmark.
Shady Rest Golf and Country Club opened in 1921 and operated as the first Black-owned country club in the United States until 1938, hosting such historic luminaries as W.E.B. Du Bois, Althea Gibson, and Joe Louis, in addition to performers such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn.
It was also the home course of John Shippen, Jr., the first U.S.-born golf professional and first Black golf professional.
“With the proud tag line ‘A Place For Us,’ and having been listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book, it was a hub of Black society with far-reaching renown,” said Michele Saliola, an advisory member of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee.
Despite this rich history, the site and its countless stories have nearly been lost on more than one occasion.
Facing financial problems in the late 1930s, the country club was acquired by the Township of Scotch Plains but was allowed to continue operations. Later in the 1960s, the facilities were converted to a public golf course and renamed Scotch Hills Country Club. Still, the site stood, and many locals continued to refer to it as “Shady Rest.”
In 2013 the Township announced well-intentioned plans to modernize the course, a plan which called for the demolition of the historic site.
“In response, a group of multi-generational residents whose personal stories intertwined with Shady Rest’s complex history, organized protests and forced public debate on the future of the clubhouse,” said Saliola. “Their collective efforts succeeded in preventing its demolition and reaffirmed its importance to residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds.”
After this initial success, a dedicated group of volunteers formally established the Preserve Shady Rest Committee as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2014, aiming to raise awareness of Shady Rest’s historical significance and ensure its future as a public resource and source of local pride.
Since then, the organization has worked with the Township to complete many needed renovations and improvements. In 2022 it achieved an important goal in being named to both state and national historic registers. It also succeeded in restoring the site’s original name, in coincidence with the site’s 100th anniversary.
Next up for the organization is to create an inclusive master plan for the historic interpretation and public experience of Shady Rest.
To get a jump start on the project, the organization participated in the 2023 cohort of NJCH’s Community History Program, during which it assembled specialists to begin research, assessment, and preparation of an interpretation plan.
“Participating in the Community History Program was a great reminder that history is personal, and that storytelling happens from person to person,” Saliola said.
With $15,000 in Incubation Grant funding from NJCH, the committee will work with experts to devise a comprehensive plan to guide its work from 2025-2028, hopefully laying the groundwork for the site’s next century of history to be made.
“Shady Rest is a beloved sporting and recreational resource in the culturally diverse community of Scotch Plains. And yet its historical significance is lesser known,” Saliola said. “Recognizing, recording, and retelling individual experiences—that is how our stories become history.”