Every curler knows that the first curling club in the USA was The Orchard Lake Curling Club formed in the winter of 1831-32. If you have read the history booklets of The Detroit Curling Club you may recall that curling in Detroit started in the winter of 1836-37. According to Thomas Williamson, during that season the Detroiters ventured north to Orchard Lake for a match where they were defeated, but learned much of the game; the enthusiasm and the camaraderie that our sport promotes.
We have recently found an article printed on Feb 27, 1845 in Detroit’s Democratic Free Press describing a trip to Orchard Lake for a curling match. The author (I believe his name is Torquil) claims that this match in 1845 is the first of its kind in Michigan. We reprint some of it here…
“The Curlers of Detroit having formed themselves into a Club, and prepared cast iron blocks, of forty to fifty pounds weight, molded precisely in the form of the old Stones, set earnestly to practice this winter upon the ice of our noble river. The Curlers of Orchard and Pine Lakes, a band of jovial, independent farmers, residing in Oakland County, about 25 miles from this city, instilled with the spirit of sportive rivalry, sent us a challenge to meet them at any given time, upon either of these lakes, “to do battle”. This challenge, of course, was eagerly accepted, and Thursday, the 13th was the appointed day.
“The morning of the day of battle betokened just such weather as a Curler could wish – keen, cold and cloudy. Pine Lake was selected as the scene of operations. About nine o’clock the combatants were on the field and proceeded to choose sides. Twenty-eight players were chosen, fourteen to a side, making two Rinks. Dr. Wilson and Squire Gilmore being appointed Skips on the part of the Lakes Club and Messrs. Robert Linn and William Barclay on that of the Detroit Club.
“The sport commenced in the true spirit of older time. Modern cares and modern phraseology were lost in the kindly enthusiasm. Nothing could be more amusing to those who understood or more unintelligible to those who did not understand the peculiar technicalities of the game:
“Man, Gordie ye’re a jewel, that was a bonny shot.” “Draw Jonny to my Cowe.” “Rab the house is open noo, slide straight in an’ tak ye’re dinner on the Tee.” “Gies the ice Wille, soup’ him past!” “Ha! Ha! Jamie ye’re a hog.”
“Fortune dawned at the outset upon the Lake Curlers, owing to the advantage of their wooden blocks, which were some fifteen pounds lighter than the opposing iron ones; but the tide of luck turned, and the struggle continued equal for some time. After a lively contest of five hours, the victory declared in favor of the Detroit Club - the aggregate of both Rinks being 44 to 33. It was really pleasing to observe the good humor, free of all profane or vulgar expressions, which prevailed throughout the day.
“Dr. Wilson politely invited all hands to take dinner at his house. The evening was spent “in mirth and glee”. Old songs charmed the fleeting moments. One half of us remained with the Doctor, while the other half returned to the house of Mr. George Dow. We all fell asleep with the impression that if we ran them in our debt on the ice, they double repaid us in hospitality and kindness.
“Next morning we mounted our wagons for Detroit, each with a twig of Juniper in his cap by way of laurel. The curiosity of the good people by the road side, was greatly excited at our appearance, and having no idea of the badges being worn upon any occasion except a political one, actually supposed we were celebrating the annexation of Texas.”
Ed Note: This is the first time that I have found a reference that Detroit curlers first used “irons”. Secondly, it is hard for us to imagine that a 25 mile journey from Detroit to Orchard Lake probably took 4 to 6 hours. Even if they had taken a train, the route from Detroit to Pontiac had just been completed in 1843 and it took over 4 hours on a good day if the engineer did not stop too often to pick-up or drop-off passengers.