Membership shrank in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and a Membership Committee was created in April, 1945, to look into higher dues and other responses to the financial problems this presented. The old gas/electric chandelier in the “living room” was taken down in January, 1946, and replaced with a more modern fluorescent fixture. The old custom of observing Washington’s Birthday, which had occurred in the 19th century, was revived that year. Questions about the Club’s boar’s head arose in September, 1946. Elmer Briggs wanted to buy the head, which had been taken down, but as often happens in such cases, the expression of interest was enough to spur long deferred action. It was voted to not sell the head but rather to have it cleaned and rehung in the upper hall, although it is not clear that this was ever done. The steward, who was getting on in years, requested and was granted the authority to hire a temporary assistant to help him clean the rooms on occasion.
A storm in February, 1947, blew down a number of shingles, and did other damage throughout the town. The outside of the Club was repainted and the piazza repaired in 1947. Paul W. Bittinger became the second Club Historian after Fred A. Jenks died on June 17, 1945. He was supposed to give a short history of the Club at the annual Forefathers Day dinner, but apparently George C. P. Olsson, who was the main speaker, covered the historic material in addition to his other topics.
In March, 1949, the Entertainment Committee was asked to arrange a dinner to raise money for a television set. The first Clambake committee (of “Messers. Hatch, LaRocque, Pioppi and Fletcher”) was created in August, and the kitchen was moved downstairs into the “wood room” in the fall of 1949. “It was voted [at the annual meeting] that the assembly give a vote of thanks to Messers. Finney, Robbins, White and Giles for their splendid efforts in the work of remodeling the Club, both inside and out, namely: Painting the outside of the Club House, removing the hedge, grading the grounds, painting papering, fixing floors, new bath room in the apartment, changing the old wood room downstairs into a new, up-to-date, modern, convenient kitchen, painting downstairs, painting and papering the billiard room and card room upstairs, new lighting in various parts of the building, repairing about a dozen chairs and building new tables for the dining room.” It was also voted to send a letter of gratitude to George L. Gray for his long service (since the First World War) as steward. The job of cooking for the Club was then given to Mrs. Mildred Priestley.
A feature of the original 18th century Club celebrations of Forefathers’ Day was a dawn march marked with cheers and the firing of cannon and guns. This event was revived in 1956 by the third Club Historian, L. J. Bradbury during his term as President, at the suggestion of member James J. Connell, who had read about the first Forefathers’ Day Celebrations. It has since become a unique Plymouth custom, and regardless of the weather on Forefather’s Day, the Club members have unfailingly performed a daybreak march ever since.
On December 22nd, 1956, the members of the Old Colony Club gathered at the Clubhouse early in the morning. At six o’clock, with flags and music, and wearing tall hats, they marched across the street to the Court House lawn. There verbal respects were paid to the Pilgrim Forefathers by the Club President L. Joseph Bradbury. Then after firing a small signal cannon and shouting hurrahs, they marched down Court and Main Streets to Town Square and back to the Clubhouse, where they partook of a breakfast comprised of cranberry juice, ham and eggs, muffins, doughnuts and coffee. After breakfast, and again wearing tall hats, the members gathered at the flagpole on the Clubhouse lawn, raided the American flag and gave their pledge of allegiance to it.
On May 18, 1959, the Plymouth County Celebration of the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was held in Plymouth, with members of the Club participating. High Sheriff Adnah H. Harlow acted as Marshal and made the proclamations. John R. Wheatley, District Attorney for the Plymouth District was one of the speakers, as was the Honorable George C. P. Olsson, Clerk of the Superior Court of Plymouth County and also Chairman of the Plymouth County Centennial Committee. The Centennial dinner was held at the Old Colony Club with some 80 participants who were welcomed by the Club President, Harold A. Boyer. George C. P. Olsson presided and the Honorable Paul C. Reardon, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts was the speaker.
On the 200th anniversary of the Club’s founding, January 13, 1969, the featured speaker was the Honorable Paul Cashman Reardon. Judge Reardon delved into the history of social clubs in this country and cited another club that had been organized prior to 1769. It is asserted in the records that the other club (the South River Club of Annapolis) was no longer active, so the Old Colony Club continued its claim of being the oldest active social club in the United States.
This may not actually be true. Besides our own venerable Club, there were several such early gatherings in America. The South River Club of Annapolis, Maryland, which had its own building since 1740 and met as a club since about 1700 was only one of the claimants. Another candidate is (or was) Philadelphia’s State in Schuylkill (otherwise known as “the Fishhouse”) which had a continuous history since 1732.
Plymouth’s 350th Anniversary Committee, recognizing that the Old Colony Club introduced the celebration of Forefathers’ Day commemorating the Landing of the Pilgrims, invited the Club to begin the festivities on the opening day of the celebration, which took place on September 12, 1970. The members met at the Clubhouse, then repaired to the District Court yard at 10:30 A.M. The festivities began with a salvo of cannon and an address by Club President Robert F. Curtis. The members were accompanied by the Honorable Francis W. Sargent, Governor of Massachusetts and led by Past President Sheriff Adnah H. Harlow and a band. Wearing the traditional tall hats, the group marched from the yard down Court and Main Streets to Leyden Street, thence down to a speaker’s stand near Plymouth Rock where they stood at ease during a 19-gun salute, orations and the dedication of a new flagpole in memory of James A. Leland, Club member and Vice-Chairman of the 350th Anniversary Committee. After orations by Club members John G. Talcott (Chairman of the 350th Anniversary Committee) and John Prentice (Chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen), and by other notables such as Governor Sargent, the Club members returned to the Clubhouse for a buffet lunch.
On May 1, 1976, the Old Colony Club participated in the special Bicentennial Law Day ceremonies sponsored by the Plymouth Bar Association. Members wearing the traditional tall hats gathered at the Clubhouse at mid-morning and were led by Sheriff Harold Braddock and President Avedo R. Neri in a procession to Plymouth Rock. There a sizable gathering with numerous dignitaries heard Allan M. Hale, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court talk about the re-dedication of equal justice under the law. After the ceremonies, the Club members joined the judges, members of the Plymouth Bar Association and others to proceed to Town Square where Club member John G. Talcott, Jr., Chairman of the Plymouth Bicentennial Commission, and Past President Harold A. Boyer, a member of the Plymouth 1749 Court House Committee, participated in further activities.
The cannon first used in the revival of the Forefathers’ Day Dawn March was a small signal cannon of the sort used in sailing races. In 1982, it was decided that a more appropriate cannon should be acquired to serve as the ceremonial saluting gun for the Club. Walter Shobbrook researched a design for a modified robbinette cannon, which was then used by Clifford E. Sampson, Jr. to construct the gun. Using a pair of pony cart wheels which he fitted out with the appropriate hardware and oaken carriage, C. E. mounted a bronze barrel (made from a boat’s propeller shaft donated by George Davis) which had been turned by Robert Holton and then caused to be bored and decorated with a bronze casting of the Club Seal by William D. Sykes. After a successful testing on the Withington property, it was fired on Forefathers’ Day, 1982, and on every 22nd of December since then.
Until recently, the Plymouth 4th of July Parade was another occasion for saluting the town with the Club cannon, but an incident in 1990, when cannoneer Bob Holton was injured by a premature ignition of the charge, caused the suspension of the practice. The members, with their characteristic tall hats, can be still seen marching in the Plymouth parade on the 4th but the cannon now rides mutely on its truck.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Club House (which was recognized by a special proclamation by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), the Old Colony Club held a formal anniversary meeting on May 14, 1993, and a public parade and band concert on May 21. Today the Old Colony Club continues to serve as a congenial gathering place for Plymoutheans with historical interests to enjoy convivial Friday-night dinners at the Clubhouse or on Clark’s Island. The culminating event of the annual Forefathers’ Day Dawn March and Succotash Dinner still punctuates the year for the Club each December 22nd. Irregular special events, golf matches, clambakes and chowder suppers provide additional occasions for fellowship. And the tradition goes on... If you chance to pass 25 Court Street on a Friday evening in the summer, and see the members enjoying a cigar or a soft drink on the Clubhouse piazza in the twilight, say hello. We’ll be watching for you!