Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Eckhart Square Circle

When I was little, I attended a few events in a small, wooden cabin back home.  The unassuming cabin was painted white, inside and out, and decorated with stuffed heads of wildlife and black and white photos of current and former members.

My grandfather, Charles Gilbert "Gib" Rase (we called him "Pop") was a member, as was my dad and many uncles; their faces appearing now and then in those photographs.  Pop is in the photo at right - back row, far left - about to be kissed on the head by a deer.  I used to know the names of the other men, but I don't recall them anymore.
On a side note, one of my two middle names is Charles, named after Pop.  I sometimes wish my parents' would have nicknamed me after him.  I think Gib is a cool name.  And he and I apparently share dispositions.  I mean, look at him in that photo.  He just can't even.
The little white cabin was the home of the Eckhart Square Circle Club, an outdoor and rifleman's club which was part of the larger Western Maryland Outdoor Life Federation Sportsmen Association in the Cumberland, MD area, which spawned several "units" or chapters throughout Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties.  The Eckhart Chapter was founded by George Walters in 1937.

George and Pop were lifelong friends.  When Pop was at home, dying of cancer, George visited him every day - every day - and would sit and talk to him.  Sometimes, Pop wouldn't even look at him, but George came every day, sat with him, talked to him, and sometimes prayed with and for him.  George and  his wife, Elizabeth, remained close with Granny long after Pop's death in 1971.  George would pick Granny up every Saturday night and take her to church.  Likewise, George, Elizabeth, and Annie Groeter (Granny's aunt - married to her mother's brother John), would get together most Friday nights and play pinochle.  They mostly came to Granny's house; I would sit in the living room and watch TV.  Occasionally I would go out to the kitchen and George always tried to explain the game to me.  He was one of the kindest, friendliest men I've ever known.  I remember him always with a smile on his face.

The Square Circle club members held regular quarterly meetings beginning Sunday, October 2, 1938 at McMurdo's Garage in Clarysville, MD.  It was relocated to a small building on Frog Hollow (now Piney Mountain Road) in 1939.  Each meeting was opened with the recital of the club's creed:
I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources of my country - its soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.
The club's first slate of officers was elected on January 14, 1939.  Not happy with meeting in a garage, work began on building the new clubhouse the week of June 3, 1939 (three weeks before my dad was born).  The clubhouse was built by its members and stood about 500 feet from the entrance to Piney Mountain Road from US Route 40.  The new clubhouse was completed before the end of the calendar year.  An indoor rifle shooting contest was one of its first events, held December 6-7, 1939.

The club's 3rd Anniversary banquet was held on January 29, 1940.  The newspaper article about this event is shown at right.  I was struck by the evening's planned entertainment:  a German band, a boxing match, and not just A black-face artist but THE black-face artist in the area.

The club was active in conservation and ecology projects.  Objectives of the club were to protect the interests of sportsmen in legislation of licenses, seasons, limits, etc.  They planted thousands of trees and shrubs to provide feed and cover for game and to protect against soil erosion.  I could have, quite possibly, been a member myself as I support what the organization was all about: gun safety and fairness to hunters.  This club was, for all intents and purposes, very popular and necessary in its day, which lasted about 40 years.  By March 1975, it was the last club of its kind in the United States. per Charles Garner, Inland Division of the National Resources Police, who spoke at the club's 1975 induction of officers, which would be its last.  I'm not sure when the club formally disbanded, but I would expect that it's demise coincided with George Walters' death in 1977.

The clubhouse building is still standing, but in an almost-unrecognizable form.  It was sold to someone who renovated it and turned it into a private residence.  If you remember the building, you'll see traces of the old clubhouse.  But otherwise, you might drive right passed it.

So why am I writing about this?  Because I couldn't find ANYTHING on the internet - the whole wide internet - about this club and the building I remember so well; no articles and no images.  To share the information that I have, I needed to join a newspaper archive website and research old newspapers to piece together the Square Circle's history.  And of course, I relied on my fuzzy memory.  This place and its members were an important part of my family history.  My family attended parties at the cabin.  At the age of 7, I attended Uncle Bill and Aunt Susie's 25th wedding anniversary party there in 1973.

And as savvy and informed as we think we all are, it raises the question that despite everything we think we know and how easy it is to access information, how many small organizations just like the Square Circle are completely unaccounted for in the world's virtual encyclopedia.  Once my generation dies out, which is not in the far too distant future, this club and its clubhouse will cease to exist, even in a living person's memory.  So I wanted to put something out there on the internet and encourage others to do the same.