National Park Service Designates First Black-Owned Country Club As A Historic Landmark


August 2, 2022

They’re reclaiming its history!

The National Park Service has designated the first Black-owned country club in the nation as a historic landmark, Patch.com reports. 

The Shady Rest Golf and Country Club is located in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Created by a group of Black investors, spearheaded by Henry Willis Sr. of Scotch Plains, the group was committed to creating a private club for themselves since they were denied membership at other clubs in the 1920s. Shady Rest then became the first African American country club in the United States.


Back then, the facility offered six tennis courts, a baseball diamond, skeet shooting, and horseback riding. It became a safe space for Black recreation and culture, with historical figures like W.E.B. DuBois, Ella Fitzgerald, and Althea Gibson all coming to Shady Rest. The place was also home to America’s first Black professional golfer, John Shippen, who competed in the U.S. Open in 1896. Shippen stayed at Shady Rest from 1931 to 1964. 

Now Shady Rest has been designated as a historic landmark by The National Park Service, listed officially among other sites on the National Register of Historic Places deemed important because of their influence on American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The designation is two and a half years in the making and a key next step in reclaiming Shady Rests’ legendary history. 

“We could not be more pleased. For a number of years, the volunteers of the Preserve Shady Rest Committee, chaired by Tom Donatelli, have been steadily working toward achieving this important designation. The listing will further ensure that Shady Rest will remain an American landmark for perpetuity, enjoyed for generations, protected from development and a living reminder of a dark era in this nation, when African Americans faced segregation,” said Scotch Plains Mayor Josh Losardo. 


Now the committee is looking to focus their efforts on obtaining government grants that will allow them to fully restore the place and maintain the upkeep. A white-owned country club took over the site in 1964, renaming it the Scotch Hills Country Club. But in recent years advocates have fought to reclaim its history, the Township Council voting unanimously to change the name back to Shady Rest last September. The announcement came on the 100th anniversary of the whites-only country club’s purchase of the nine-hole golf course. 

The club has also already undergone a $1.1 million rehabilitation in 2015, restoring the facility to its original appearance and renewing a lot of its historic charm. Councilman Matt Adams is now encouraging Scotch Plains residents to revisit Shady Rest and take advantage of its recreation and facilities, which can be used to host gatherings, community meetings, and historic tours. The town recently hosted fireworks at the club in honor of the fourth of July which brought some residents out. 

“It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and explore the country club. As we continue to renovate and expand recreational facilities town-wide, we hope many residents who have not yet visited Shady Rest take the opportunity to experience this local, and now nationally-listed, treasure,” said Adams. 


Shady Rest Clubhouse is located at 820 Jerusalem Road in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

Photo Courtesy of George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images 

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