Early History

Ed Kilgore, a long-time member of HTC, wrote the document below on the early history of Hilton Tennis Club. Ed passed away in 2019.

Early History of Hilton Tennis Club

The Hilton Tennis Club was started in about 1938 or 1939. The first tournament was won by Colonel Nick Powell in 1939 who later wrote the "Code" for tennis and is still the "unwritten rules" of tennis beyond the official rules. Most of the original members belonged to a club in Stuart Gardens in Newport News. A housing development absorbed the club's land, forcing it to move in the late 1930's .

The Hiden estate left the plot of land to Warwick County (on which the Hilton Club is now located) to be used for recreational purposes. Most of the gift from the Hiden's estate is now used not for recreation (except for Hilton Club) but for Newport News storage facility and a parking lot for the library.

I had a verbal agreement with J. Clyde Morris (county manager of Warwick County) that if it ever became necessary to take over the Hilton Club land, the county would replace the facility and fixtures in another location. My mistake was in not getting this in writing because Warwick County was later to become part of Newport News. I do not know how this affected the Hiden land gift with its recreation use stipulation and whether J. Clyde Morris' verbal agreement still holds? In any case the city of Newport News is getting a first class recreational facility for no public money.

Back to the history. In the late 1930's a barber, Andy Anderson, in Hilton Village combined the group from Stuart Gardens and with help from the WPA (Work Projects Administration) built a wooden clubhouse and four dirt courts enclosed in a chicken wire fence on wooden posts. The clubhouse rotted out and essentially fell down in the early 1950's. It was re-built in cinder block on the original concrete slab by Mike Moonvie's father who was a contractor. Mike was one of the better young players at the club in the 1950's. The original clubhouse had a four row stand for spectators for tournament viewing.

The original members (late 1930's) included a Swedish family. Pojs Fond was the family leader and played into his 90's. Wilbert (Buck) Spain was the club backbone and kept everything in repair. He also won the club championship twice during the 1940's. A big guy, with a wing span of about six feet, he was difficult to pass or lob over.

The courts were dirt (about one third sand) and would and would break up badly in dry conditions. Lines were laid with a liquid lime and during play they would become almost useless as players slid over them. This, as you can imagine, led to many disagreements to be settled by the reigning club president. One year the lime markers got moved on the clubhouse side about one foot. Everyone wondered why so many balls went out on that side.

In the early 1950's the clubhouse fell down, the fences rotted out, and the courts grew up in weeds. Jack Butler, Terry Mahloy, Jack Erwin, Bob Thompson, and I met and agreed to a start-up plan. Using railroad ties with protruding spikes, I tied this to my old Oldsmobile and got rid of the weeds. This resulted in breaking the springs on my old car but in retrospect it was worthwhile. We succeeded in getting a number of potential new and old members to sign a note for enough funds to put an anchor fence around the court area. We hired a professional company but they started on the clubhouse side about two feet in from the original fence line. However, that is why there is less room behind the courts on the clubhouse side than on the railroad side. We laid plastic pipes to each court for watering and drinking. As far as I know the original pipe is in place. However, no one ever thought to cut off the water most winters and the courts became a skating rink with burst pipes many times.

We had an active tennis team which would traveled extensively in the Spring and Summer months to play other clubs – Norfolk Yacht, Norfolk Northside, Norfolk Fergus Reid, Suffolk, Williamsburg, Hopewell, Richmond Country Club, and Charlottesville Country Club. These were social affairs with tennis and libation. The tennis ladder rules were similar to today's rules except the ladder was formed by the Spring ladder tournament. The winner was #1, the runner-up #2, and so on. I started at #1 most of the years from 1948 to 1970 but never played a ladder match. I was busy with state tournaments and team matches so some years I fell off the ladder depending on how many challenges I had.

Har-Tru became the surface of preference in the 1960's. Being poor we couldn't afford it however we saw a pile of road building limestone ground very fine at a local contractor. We bought a truckload and spread it on courts 3 and 4. It was great except that it had some larger pieces and the bounces were worse than a "Hilton bounce". We raised a little more money and ordered several tons of Har Tru from Robert Lee of Charlottesville. When we replaced the "rocky" stuff, the courts played fine and cracked up very little. This is what is on the courts today, as you know. Other additions have been made including lights and flowers.

Hilton has been fortunate to have a leader come along to carry the club forward – The Fonds, Buck Spain, Butler, Kilgore, et al, Dan Sims.

I have put all this on paper to arm future generations with enough history so that no one can say we have no rights to be where we are. It's a great club and great people made it that way.

Ed Kilgore
2004


Club Championship

1939                          Col. Nick Powell
1940                          Bill Verell
1941                          Wilbur Spain
1942                          Dave Blalock
1943 – 1946              War Years
1947                          Wilbur Spain
1948                          Ed Kilgore
1949                          Ed Kilgore
1950                          Ed Kilgore
1951 – 1952              Club not in use
1953 – 1967              Ed Kilgore won 14 times – Col. Shivar won one time
1968                          Brent Hughes

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