Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Orchard Lake Curling Club

If asked, every American curler and many Canadian curlers would name The Orchard Lake Curling Club as the first in The USA.  How did the OLCC get this distinction and was it rightfully obtained? 

1845  The oldest reference to these curlers that we have found was in the February 27, 1845 issue of the Detroit Democratic Free Press – they were referred to as The Curlers of Orchard and Pine Lakes.  Also called the Lakes Club.

1868  An article about the Dow family of West Bloomfield written in about 1985 states: “the Records of The Orchard Lake Curling Club, transcribed from the old book by John P. Wilson, December 1868.  The OLCC dates to January 2, 1832, where a few Scotchmen neighbors were invited to meet ‘to celebrate the advent of the New Year’.  Their thoughts naturally reverting to Scotland’s manly game.  In the absence of the ‘channel-stane’, they had recourse to hickory blocks.  The first game was played on Orchard Lake January 7, 1832.  The sides were:  William Gilmour, Skip, Dr. Robert Burns, and George Dow; the other team:  James Miller, Skip, William Dow, John Dow and Peter Dow.”  (Ed. Note:  This ‘old book’ is supposed to be at the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society in Pontiac, but they were unable to locate it on the day this author visited, nor have they found it since that visit).

Numerous discrepancies can be found within the article above and its references.  First, Dr. Wilson had apparently transcribed the club minutes 36 years after the fact; second,  Dr. Wilson was born in 1828 making him 4 years old during this first match; third, Peter Dow who apparently played was only 9 years old!!  Therefore, Dr. Wilson’s writings were only transcribed memories of other people.  I do not know about you, but, I have a difficult time remembering details back 30-40 years ago.

Sidebar:  William Gilmour, mentioned above, was very active in the Underground Railroad – helping people escape from slavery.  His house at 4121 Pontiac Trail Road contained secret chambers to hide people. 

1867  The Grand National Curling Club formed.  The OLCC joins the GNCC sometime before 1876.

1880  At the GNCC Annual Meeting, Mr. David Foulis (Secretary) submitted the following as part of his report:  “Gentlemen and Brother Curlers, … In searching for the “Mither Club” of the United States, I found it not in any of the centres of civilization, but away back in the wilds of Michigan, on the banks of Orchard Lake, where fifty years ago (ed. Note:  1830), eight hardy Scots organized the OLCC, using hickory blocks for want of their native whinestane.  This club has had an unbroken record ever since, two of the original eight being active members – a conclusive proof of the benefit to be derived from the practice and associations of the game of curling”.

How did he make this claim?  How did he do his research?  No internet.  No Google.  Well, I guess he could interview all the member clubs of the GNCC.  Rather limited research sample.  There were many curling clubs in the Midwest that never joined the GNCC.

1890  This claim becomes etched in history when the world renowned author on curling (John Kerr) published The History of Curling in 1890.  The author quotes past reports from the secretary of the GNCC (David Foulis) on curling in the United States:  “…The oldest club is the Orchard Lake Club organized about the year 1830 by eight hardy Scotsmen away in the wilds of Michigan, on the banks of the lake from which the club took its name.”

The story that the OLCC was first in the USA has been printed, quoted and misquoted over and over and over in books, news articles and across the Internet on curling club webpages around the world.  I think we are seeing an example of a legend becoming the fact.


The question remains:  Were the Scots of Orchard Lake the first to curl in the USA?  This author says:  ‘No’.  Next week we will unveil some recently discovered writings on curling in the USA long before 1832.  Stay tuned…

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