If you came here thinking you were going to find something about the decline of the Mastic area in the 1970's & 80's , you can hit the back button on your browser now. This page goes back much further and is about the two subjects that seem to endlessly cross reference each other for me and have given root to the stories for my books "The Mastics .... From Blue blood to Blue Collar" and the one that started it all for me "The Knapps Lived Here"
On these pages I will be presenting some information that I've had for sometime about "Big Dog" Mastic area residents E. R. Tollfree, W. Edgar Baker, and the one that hits closest to home ( literally for me) Claire Antoinette Knapp and her legendary dog kennel Clairedale. I believe Clairedale officially started at her estate in what was then still called Mastic. The designation Mastic Beach did not occur until a year after she left the estate to her brother Joseph F. Knapp aka Dodi Knapp in 1925.
William Edgar Baker may of been the first major dog resident in Mastic, when he married Ella Marian Lindley in 1914. Ella who's mother was Marian Floyd, was raised on the Floyd estate as a young girl and then re settled there with Baker. Tanglewold Farm was the name of the Baker's kennel where William and Ella raised all breeds of Terriers along with other livestock. Ella may of continued it after their divorce in the late 1920's as Mrs. William Shepherd Dana. I know the Danas had a wildlife preserve, Baker who left the area for Conneticutt definitely continued and also became a judge at the Westminster Dog Show in NYC. Across Mastic neck on the west side in Tangier, Mr. Edward Rogers Tollfree moved in in 1922 and raised show dogs ( St. Bernard's and Rotwiellers ) at what is now known as the Island View Manor in Shirley.
About midway between these two gentleman's country estates was the estate of Claire Antoinette Knapp which as I 've said often was literally in the backyard of my childhood home and the spark plug if you will that started all this for me. In an article by Kerrin Winter-Churchill that was just published in the June 2003 issue of Dogs In Review, I've come to learn some new and fascinating info about Miss Claire and her kennel that is truly a legend and deservedly so in the Annals of Dogdom.
Regular readers of this website know by now the Knapp estate was a grand 180 + acre place that Claire shared with her kid brother Dodi from 1916-1925 and while Dodi seemed to be having fun with all the pleasures a young bachelor country squire could possibly imagine, boating , hunting, flying, golfing etc, Claire seemed to be honing in on her dogs. It was the one thing that would define her life's work as much as the printing arts defined her fathers.
I need to note that I believe Claire's introduction to the dog world came about from her father Joseph Palmer Knapp, being a founding member of the Westminster Kennel Club and her mother Sylvia Terersa Knapp showing Boston Terriers at the same during the late 19th century. However that said Claire took the leash and ran with it whole heartedly for most of her life. She seemed to have first focused on horses, but started giving serious attention to dogs before 1911 according to Ms. Churchills article. It was also the first breed she started with Airedales, from which Clairdale Kennel now obviously derived it's name. Funny thing is I saw a photo of her daughter Antoinette in the NY Times some time ago and she was holding the leash of an Airedale which at the time I thought was odd, because I had not ever read anything about her mother ever working with them. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or as it has been in my case of studying the Knapps for well over two years now....it's always something ..... new to learn.
Show dogs and horses have always been associated with high society and affluence. The Knapps were no exception there, one of Claire's trotters was named "Prosperity". However I have a very strong gut feeling from reading and learning about Claire's involvement with dog breeding , that things went far beyond the level of "the thing to do because of ones station in life". That gut feeling has been further reinforced by what I have learned from Ms. Churchill's piece titled "The Great Ones"
I have many other accounts of Miss Claire A. Knapp's dog show wins which means they took place while she still lived in the Mastic Beach mansion. She had quite a few chows kenneled there including Chop Suey, Chow Main, Min Sing, Flame, and the one who kept her kennels full "Buddy" officially known as Ch. Clairedale Son Too. It was during the 1920's that she developed her line of Chows that brought fame to Clairedale and a great deal of respect to Claire as an authority on the breed. It was during this time that a friend of Claire's, Mrs. Flora Bonney, who was already very well known for her Tally Ho Kennel Dalmations, purchased two chows from Claire to start her own breeding program. These chows were from the Son Too bloodline and one of their line "Gus" took the Best Of Breed at Westminster. Further down the line Flora took Best In Show with another Chow from the Clairedale Son Too bloodline "Image Of Storm" Had she added "King" to "Image Of Storm's" name, one would think Dodi may of been involved, as he was with Mrs. Bonney's aviator husband, Leonard. you can read about his development of an experimental aircraft here Although the Bonneys lived in Queens County, the plane was developed out in Mastic, most likely at the remains of the WW1 air station on Knapp's estate.
In 1926 Dogdom magazine wrote in regards to the Chow Chow entries at an major Eastern show. " The turnout was spectacular owing to the presence of respected Chowist, Mrs. W.O. Penney (Claire was now married and living in Yaphank) Exhibitors seemed most eager to present their dogs to Mrs. Penney for her keen observation" 2.
On several of the maps I have of when her brother sold the estate in 1938 there are out buildings drawn on the property. I have often thought about which ones might of been the actual kennels. From what I read about her other kennel in Hampton Bays in the 1930's , I might have a pretty good idea and actually played in the Mastic Beach one, several years before I mustered up the courage to go inside their abandoned mansion. Claire's daughter Margaret (who followed in her mothers footsteps as a breeder ) recalls here about the Hampton Bays kennel: "It wasn't a fancy place, but it was a very good kennel. Everything and everyone that was built, bought or hired was done so with the dogs in mind. Most important was the care of the animals and she had enough people to care for them properly" 1
On the corner of Ramshorn Rd & Jefferson Dr there was a building we used to refer to as "The Shack" It was located in what was then a field between the two Knapp barns known then as Schulte's Barn on Dogwood & Jefferson and Clark's Barn which was just on the other side of Ramshorn road . We used to play in it and use it as Fort Laramie based on the TV show Rin Tin Tin. My buddy Larry Schulz thought it originally was a chicken coop . It may of well been too, like when George Sutter owned the place, but a funny thing is Larry had a dog named Skippy who was a mixed breed chow. When Skippy had her puppies, she chose the shack as the place to go give birth. Is it possible for a scent to linger 30 years? Or was it just a Clairedale vibe? Skippy had lots of choices of places nearer to the Schulz house for her litter, but that is where she headed. She actually crawled under it because she could not open the door.
It was on a weekday afternoon, during Easter Vacation around 1954 that the shack suffered the fate of too many empty places in Mastic Beach. It was perhaps only 6 feet high but the flames that came out of it must of leaped 20 feet or more, catching fields on both sides of Jefferson on fire. I remember vividly watching the fire department fighting it with Indian Canteens, brooms and a pumper or two. It would take the entire Mastic Beach department plus the departments from Mastic and Brookhaven when they returned to Ramshorn some 5 years later to contain the flames leaping out of Knapp's Mansion.
It was around the fall of 1959 , that a red Chow dog (most likely a mix) wandered into my yard. He was unusually friendly and did not want to leave and acted like he knew all of us forever. Even Boots our Lab of 8 years had "no problem" with him. Boots would often have problems with other male dogs that came on his property. We took him in while we tried to find his owner. I really got attached, named him Sam, which he answered to and wanted to keep him. I even took his photo on a color slide that I still have. We went everywhere together. He was with us for several days when all of sudden he took off and I followed him. I'd call to him but he acted like he didn't hear me. We got to a house on Dogwood between Beaver & Cypress and he turned in the yard. His owners came out and told me he took "vacations" often. They thanked me for looking after him. I am not positive what they called him, but I think it was Buddy.