A Perfect Anomaly

A Perfect Anomaly

Brookside Country Club’s Halfway House

The English language often applies the same name to several unrelated things. For example, your dog will “bark”; a tree is covered with “bark”; and, if you’re not careful, you may “bark” your shin on a low table.

And when you hear the term “halfway house,” you might immediately think of a facility that helps people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities or criminal backgrounds prepare for independent and productive lives.

So when you hear that the oldest halfway house in the United States is situated on the golf course at Brookside Country Club, it’ll grab your attention, at the very least.

But in golfers’ parlance, a “halfway house” is usually a little structure located around the 9th or 10th hole of a course; it offers players a chance to grab a snack or drink, or take a quick time-out during a round.

In Brookside’s case, it’s a stone building that dates to the 1830s. And a little bit of history will put it into context. Brookside Country Club traces its 1920s roots to Harold Witwer and Harold Jones, co-owners of the eponymous sporting goods store in downtown Allentown that closed in 1992. They conceived of a country club that had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and the local community jumped on board. The club acquired 154 acres of land for its project in 1929, for $12,500, financed by the club itself.

“The property was known as the Brookside Farm, one of several local farms owned by James Singmaster, who was a very wealthy Macungie businessman in the 1890s,” said Ted Parcel, a board member and the club’s operations chairman. In November 1929, then-mayor of Allentown Malcolm Gross broke ground in an unusual way: chopping out a divot with a gold niblick (roughly equivalent to a modern 9-iron). Six months later, a nine-hole course was ready for play; by that October, Brookside boasted a full course as well as a swimming pool, tennis courts, 6,000 new trees, and other improvements. Meanwhile, the old stone building remained a quaint part of the landscape.

Modern-day club members often claimed that it was the oldest halfway house in the U. S., and Parcel started researching its history a year or so ago. “The Lower Macungie Historical Society examined it and confirmed that it was built during the 1830s. It was likely used as a summer house. Those were usually built in cooler, shady areas or near creeks,” he said.

Its primary function, in Brookside’s early days, was housing for the club’s assistant pro and his wife, who cleaned the clubhouse, Parcel added.

It must have been a spartan existence for the couple; they used the clubhouse facilities (then located across Brookside Road) for eating and bathing, and there was no provision for heat, although a hole between the first and second floor indicates a coal or wood stove may have been added later.

Parcel estimates it was converted to its present use sometime in the 1950s or -60s, but it stayed true to its rustic roots. Step inside and you’ll see reclaimed barnsiding on one wall, accented with farmhouse-style décor; the others are covered with circa-1960s wood paneling. Its countertop is a solid slab of cherry wood, complete with the original bark on the outside edges. The second floor is used mainly for storage, but the bathroom features an old sewing machine cabinet converted to a working sink.

Some newer resorts and clubs have quite elaborate refreshment facilities—the one at Silo Ridge Field Club, a gated community in New York, reportedly offers a sundae bar, venison jerky, cured duck, and a frozen margarita machine. “Some even have a food-service phone line on the course,” Parcel said. “You can call in your order and continue to play. It’ll be ready when you get there.” Brookside’s offerings are far more modest—crackers, candy, beer/soft drinks, hot dogs, clubhouse-made sandwiches, and the like. Certainly not fancy, but suited for grab’n’go purposes. Parcel estimates that about 70 percent of the club’s golfers stop there during a round, and the average visit lasts about five minutes.

Altogether, it’s a simple operation, one that’s more an amenity for members than a money-maker.

Its age notwithstanding, the stucco-covered stone building is an anomaly in itself. Parcel said, “Halfway houses were never that common. Some of our members are in the Golf Association of Philadelphia league, and play on older courses. I asked them about halfway houses and learned that the few they’d heard of had been torn down.”

In fact, modern golf course design has obviated them. Old courses used the classic “front nine/back nine” design, but modern courses follow a sort of double-loop: their first nine holes begin and end at the clubhouse, as do the second nine.

Brookside Country Club
901 Willow Ln  |  Macungie, PA 18062


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