The Phil Kilfoil Company’s Woodland Players from New York City performed Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” on the grounds of the Antlers Club in Fort Johnson in 1904.
The private golf course, today known as Rolling Hills, had opened in 1901 on a 90-acre site. The original clubhouse was built that year with a spectacular view of the Mohawk Valley from its veranda.
The play was a hit, according to an anonymous review in the Amsterdam Recorder, even though the start of the outdoor production was delayed a day by rain. An estimated 350 people sat in camp chairs on a chilly evening to watch Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy on Wednesday, July 13. Many in the audience arrived by trolley car.
The play was performed atop a hill overlooking the clubhouse, with the woods forming what the reviewer called “an ideal background” to a grassy stage. Japanese lanterns lighted the audience “with a soft flickering light,” and Minch’s local orchestra played popular songs before the play.
When the play began, “powerful calcium lights” illuminated the stage and trees with what the reviewer called “a bright but weird glow, which might be well described as exaggerated moonlight.”
The reviewer said the entire company was good but gave special praise to Ivah M. Wills, who played Rosalind, F.J. McCarthary as Touchstone and James A. Young as Jacques de Boys.
Trouble in Oswego
Shortly after leaving Amsterdam, theatrical producer Kilfoil was charged with passing bogus checks in Oswego. The Oswego and Amsterdam papers reported on July 30 though that charges were dropped when Kilfoil’s business partner, Charles Wiegand, provided funds to back the checks.
The Recorder said the actors apparently were among those not getting paid: “The company has been receiving money (presumably from Wiegand) and one by one the members are leaving Oswego as fast as their remittances arrive. There will be no more Woodland Players, it is said, and both Wiegand and Kilfoil have expressed their intention of abandoning the dramatic field as a non-paying venture.”
As Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It:” “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
Historian Jacqueline Murphy wrote that Genevieve “Sis” Golden remembered taking the trolley from West Main Street in Amsterdam to Antlers to play with her former neighbor and friend, Thelma Lord, the golf professional’s daughter. The Lords had lived on Phillips Street in Amsterdam until Phil Lord was appointed golf pro at the club and the family moved to a home adjacent to the grounds.
Sis would board the trolley at the foot of Henrietta and get off at the Antlers station. A long set of narrow wooden steps led from the trolley station to the clubhouse, which sat on flat land. Sis recalled the men who formed the organization had first had a hunting lodge on the premises. The location lent itself to ice skating in the winter on two ponds, Ice was cut from the ponds, too, and stored in an old barn to the north of the course.
On May 6 1965, Antlers golf course neighbor Mrs. Ray Smith was putting out milk bottles at her home when she heard a strange sound, which she realized was the burglar alarm at the golf course. She then saw the clubhouse was on fire and alerted the Fort Johnson Fire Department. The beautiful old clubhouse burned to the ground.
Historian Hugh Donlon wrote, “The replacement made a year later was smaller and lacked the spacious veranda that had contributed so much to summer social life of affluent Amsterdamians for 60 years.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.