Local news, art, history & entertainment in the mid-Hudson Valley
Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds
BY RUSSELL LA VALLE
This article was published in Our Outdoor Heritage, the 2011 yearbook of the Dutchess County Historical Society. For more information, call 845-471-1630, send an email to email@example.com, or visit dutchesscountyhistoricalsociety.org.
When Morgan Wing died on September 15, 1957, readers of his obituary in the New York Times may have wondered why his death merited any notice at all from the paper of record. After all, the headline of the Times obituary said: “Morgan Wing, 70, Raised Pheasants.” No one could have guessed from those five words how much history Morgan Wing’s life embodied.
Morgan Wing traced his ancestry back to Elizabethan England and to the minister John Wing (c.1584–c.1630), who married Deborah Bachiler, daughter of the Reverend Stephen Bachiler. Although John Wing had intended to emigrate to Massachusetts, he died before doing so; nevertheless, his widow emigrated with their children and her father. Once arrived, the Reverend Bachiler proved to be quite a thorn in the side of the Puritans. With his ideas of religious freedom, he was the only minister to vote against the expulsion of Roger Williams from the Bay Colony. Nor did religious contrariness end with Deborah Bachiler’s father: Her son Stephen Wing (1621–1710), converted to Quakerism.
It was one of Stephen Wing’s great-grandsons, Daniel Wing (1734–c. 1795), who brought his Quaker family to the farmlands of eastern Dutchess County in the late 1700s. And it would be Daniel’s grandson, John Daniel Wing (1834–1910), who would make the family’s fortune.
As a young man, John Daniel Wing heeded the call of the California gold rush and moved to San Francisco, where he set up the firm of John D. Wing and served as a lieutenant on the businessman’s Vigilance Committee, which tried to maintain law and order in that wide-open city. But in 1858, Wing returned to New York, and in 1859 he launched one of the city’s first chemical merchant companies, Wing & Evans. Partner John H. Evans (c. 1831–1889)1 was the company treasurer (and the second mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey), but upon his death the treasurer’s post was taken by Wing’s son, John Morgan Wing, and the Evanses seem not to have been involved in the company thereafter.
But the firm of Wing & Evans prospered, and John Daniel Wing soon joined the mercantile elite of Manhattan: His 133-foot yacht Coronet, one of the largest schooner yachts in the world, is the last surviving example of the great Gilded Age yachts and can be seen today at the Museum of Yachting in Newport, Rhode Island. He also became a gentleman farmer in Millbrook, specializing in Jersey cows, founding the American Jersey Cattle Club, and assuming the presidency of the New York State Agricultural Society. To build his Millbrook mansion, John Daniel Wing purchased the abandoned building of Quaker-run Nine Partners Boarding School (where he had been a student), and used its timbers in the construction of a home he called “Maple Shade.” But when he moved his house and enlarged it, his daughter Marion gave it the name “Sandanona,” an American Indian word for “sunshine and light.”
John Daniel Wing died in 1910 on New Year’s Day, “on the stroke of midnight” (as legend has it), leaving a widow and two sons: John Morgan Wing (1860–1930 ) and L. Stuart Wing (1864–1916), who were both employed by Wing & Evans, by then the principal sales agent for the Solvay Process Company, which manufactured soda ash.
Like his father, L. Stuart Wing was also involved with stock-raising in Millbrook, but he died at the relatively young age of 52, leaving a fortune valued at $1.1 million, which in current dollars would be between $25 million and $85 million, depending on which inflation index one chooses. A son of L. Stuart Wing, S. Bryce Wing (c. 1890–1975), would go on to become a leading figure in Maryland hunt and thoroughbred circles: chairman of the Maryland National Hunt from 1962 to 1972, and president of the National Steeplechase Association from 1948 to 1964.
Stuart Wing’s older brother, John Morgan Wing (who married the granddaughter of George Jones, founder of the New York Times), was president of Wing & Evans, until the company was dissolved when the Solvay Process Company was absorbed in the 1921 creation of the Allied Chemical and Dye Co. He died in 1930 at the age of 71, while staying at what the Times called “his summer home,” Sandanona.
Like his father, John Morgan Wing had two sons: Morgan Wing (1886–1957) and John D. Wing Jr. (1889–1964), both associated with Wing & Evans until the creation of Allied Chemical. Following the demise of the family firm, John D. Jr., became a stockbroker at Farr & Company, and then married the widow of banker August Belmont III, whose grandfather had founded the Belmont Park race track. Morgan Wing, of course, “raised pheasants,” which he “sold to gun clubs and to the New York State Conservation Department.” He also had two sons: Morgan Wing Jr. (c. 1911–1974), who would become Master of the Hunt of the Sandanona Beagles and a president of National Beagle Club, and Henry (1913–1983), who would take over Sandanona following Morgan Wing’s death.
In 1937, Henry wooed and wed the beautiful Beatrice Barclay Elphinstone, an active member of Manhattan’s younger social set since her debutante season of 1933–34. In 1935, her image appeared nationwide as part of a cigarette advertising campaign that portrayed “aristocratic” American women (such as Dutchess County’s own Mrs. Hamilton Fish Jr.) announcing their preference for Camels. Ensconced on East Seventy-Third Street, the Henry Wings had two daughters, Elizabeth Elphinstone Wing and Victoria Van Duzer Wing; Morgan Wing, just three months before his death, used Sandanona to host a Millbrook coming-out party for his granddaughter Elizabeth.
The Sandanona Pheasantry
It had been exactly fifty years earlier, in 1907, that Morgan Wing formally turned his family’s 300-acre Millbrook property to be (ironically or aptly, given the family name) a wingshooting grounds: the Sandanona Pheasantry. In that year, it became the first licensed gamebird preserve in the United States, and soon afterward Wing founded the New York State Breeders Association.
For thirty years, Wing invited friends to enjoy all the fellowship and traditions associated with wingshooting. Then, in 1937, the preserve was opened to paying customers, at $7 a bird, and attracted notables such as the Roosevelts and the Buckleys. When Wing died in 1957, his son Henry Van Duzer Wing, a stockbroker by trade, assumed control of Sandanona and continued operating it for another two decades, hosting writers and editors from major outdoor magazines, and even luminaries such as Adlai Stevenson. But when Henry’s wife became ill, the challenge of care-giving while managing Sandanona became too much, and Henry faced the prospect of shutting down his family’s beloved hunting grounds.
Fortunately, Sandanona had a champion in George Bednar (1942–2007), a big man who had played football for Notre Dame in his youth and even went on to play professional football for two years. In 1966, Bednar moved from football to business, becoming sales and marketing director for McKesson Imports Company. In this role, he is credited with having developed the marketing program that created a craze for Harvey Wallbangers, thereby quadrupling his firm’s sales of Galliano Liqueur. In 1976, Bednar started his own consulting firm for liquor marketing, International Marketing Group. In the 1980s, he launched Promotions Systems, Inc., to advise more diverse companies. In the meantime, Bednar had become a close friend of Henry Wing, and in 1981 he bought Sandanona, maintaining the preserve for an additional dozen years, before selling it to the Orvis Company in 1994.
Russell La Valle is a freelance writer and screenwriter, and a longtime resident of New Paltz, New York. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Village Voice, among other publications; he has scripted that feature films that have appeared on HBO, Showtime, and the Movie Channel.
Part two of the Orvis Sandanona Shooting Grounds in print this week.