Devon Horse Show wound up its 72d year Saturday night and prepared to go home and get ready for its 73d.
There were a long list of champions, grand champions, reserve champions. A host of happy riders; a few chagrined riders, a lot of riders determined to return next year to the World's Largest Outdoor Horse Show and down the opposition.
The handsome tack rooms were being dismantled, the elegant tack stowed away for "another show, the beautiful red and gold and blue and silver backgrounds carefully packed in each stable's vans.
The horse show is moving on.
This year's gigantic competition, with 1236 horses, 900 exhibitors, scores of riders, grooms, stable boys, ring boys, judges, was a far cry indeed from the simple one day show which inaugurated Devon in 1896.
On July 2 of that year a group of gentlemen from the substantial families which were beginning to move out of the city along Philadelphia's Main Line gathered together to judge the competition at the old Polo Grounds on U.S. 30, at Lancaster Pike. They had formed a Horse Show Committee earlier in the year, to encourage the local farmers to breed fine harness horses. Judges were Barclay War bur ton, Dr. Thomas Parkes, and a Mr. M. Peach.
Winner of the first event, _ for yearlings owned by actual farmers, was $10 and a ribbon, to "Crescent", a bay filly owned by Mr. U. G. Groff. Second prize, $5 and a red ribbon, went to Owen B. Powell's roan filly "Fashion/* and third to "Senorita", a Chestnut filly owned by Mr. Elbert W, Lapp.
Even on the opening day, Devon was already established as an event of importance to the fashionable world of local society. Among the distinguished guests at ringside historians of the day noted Mr. and Mrs. George H. Earle, Samuel H. French, Mrs. Lincoln Godfrey, Miss Lillian Smith, Dr. Charles Turnbull and daughters, Miss Mabel Hastings, A. B. Coxe, J. H. Coates, E. W. Twaddell, Lemuel C. Altemus and a host of other figures.
Over the years, the show increased in size and scope, but remained one of the big social events of the season. It was in 1915 that one of Devon's greatest ladies, Jean Austin, later Mrs. William duPont, first exhibited. This year her daughter, Mrs. J. H. Tyler McConnell, a director of Devon, presented the new Gold Ring, beside the Wanamaker Oval, in honor of those who have been competing at Devon for fifty years or more.
1919 was the most important year at Devon for the . distaff Main Line families — as for Bryn Mawr Hospital, to which all the funds realized from this point on have been presented. The ladies got together and organized a Country Fair, in a series of shops and booths behind the judges stand. The two sides of Devon were officially incorporated, and became The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. Many socially prominent ladies who had not played an active role became volunteers In this new and time-consuming activity; and with the years, the Horse Show, and the Country Fair grew side by side. This year there were 1236 horses—and 2000 volunteers working on the Fair!
In 1921 the Silver Anniversary was celebrated, and Dr. Thomas G. Ashton was at the helm, with William H. Wanamaker Jr. and Isaac H. Clothier Jr. as members of the 25th anniversary committee.
Since then, the list of champions who "made it" at Devon is nearly endless; some approximation of them maybe found in your Horse Show Program, In a history written by Raymond S. Cox and found beginning on page 57.
And as the horses are led into vans, the Derby winner rides off in his new Cutlass, and the final hot dog is placed in the final roll, all that alleviates the sadness of leaving these beautiful grounds, with their memories of greatness and of simple pleasure, is the knowledge that we'll all be back at Devon next year.
References: The Devon Horse Show Association by Elinor C. J. Sensenig, TEQ 12-3 (April 1963); Where Champions meet - The Devon Horse Show by Bob Goshorn, TEQ 32-3 (July 1994)