Aurora Gun Club records
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
Finding aid prepared by Andrew Engel, 2012, 1930-2006
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Perhaps no other shooting organization is as rich in tradition and history as that of the Aurora Gun Club. Its six locations since its founding in 1895, by brothers Eugene and Alexis I. du Pont, are all centered in the area around Wilmington, Delaware. As the population of an industrial Wilmington grew past the city lines during the twentieth century and into the suburbs, Aurora was forced to move several times. However, it still continues to operate in close proximity to the site of its founding. The continued success of the organization can most certainly be traced to the generosity and dedication of its members.
Aurora’s founders held the earliest shoots at the property of Eugene and Alexis’ father. Eugene had long been an avid sportsman, and had become increasingly interested in trap shooting. The fifteen founding members of the club were all DuPont Company employees and du Pont family members. They together decided that membership would be by invitation only, no dues would be collected and of course with the requirement that members be “sportsmen interested in shooting.” All of the early efforts at organization and securing a trap and targets were spearheaded by Alexis I. du Pont and Eugene du Pont Jr. The brothers solicited a bid from the Chamberlain Cartridge and Target Company in Ohio on July 12th 1900 for plans for trap houses and as well as lease terms for the company’s ‘Magautrap’. By the end of July, Eugene had in hand the plans in hand and was ready to start building. With Eugene’s generosity, Aurora decided to rent the trap that at a yearly cost of $30.00. The trap was shipped out for Wilmington on August 25, 1900.
By 1903, Aurora had an established slate of officers. Eugene du Pont as President, Philip du Pont as Vice-President, William Wheatley as Secretary/Treasurer. Wheatley, an investor in Brooklyn, New York kept the books of Aurora at his office at 1207 Bergen Street.
Advances in trap technology by 1904 lead to Eugene du Pont’s investigating the prospect of replacing the original Aurora ‘Magautrap.’ Inquiring with Chamberlain Cartridge, du Pont received a quote for a new trap. However, the club could not afford to make the investment, Eugene soon came to the realization that the addition of several new members and contributions from old members, the bank balance can be made sufficient for the purchase. The new trap was installed after funds were raised at Aurora’s second location, ‘Pelleport,’ by this time the home of Alexis I. du Pont. The Harvest Shoot would become the most popular event on the yearly Aurora calendar. Following the conclusion of the shoot, Alexis would host a dinner at the main house for all of the shooters; he of course would serve as the master of ceremonies.
Following World War I, the club would begin shooting at the ‘Meadows on the Brandywine,’ which was the home of Norman Rood. ’The Meadows’ as it was fondly referred, was an interesting location. Just past the trap house, stood a stone marker denoting the Delaware - Pennsylvania state line as marked in 1892. Unique to this location was the fact that if you missed a left angle target in Delaware, probability had it that the target would land in Pennsylvania.
By the fiftieth anniversary shoot of the Aurora Gun Club, shooting was taking place near ‘Dogwood,’ the home of Eugene E. du Pont. On November 9, 1952, The Wilmington Evening Journal covered an anniversary shoot as even by then Aurora had the distinction of being one of the oldest active gun clubs in the United States. The Evening Journal went on to mention that members of the club in 1952 were: Eugene du Pont, William du Pont, Eugene E. du Pont, W. Glasgow Reynolds, Isaac Fog, W.R. Ellis, Maholon Milliken, Harold Schutt, Porter Schutt, Fagan Simonton, Karl Mollin, S. G. Baker, William Jones, James T. Skelley, Ted Doremus, James H. Dunbar, Harry Prettyman, W. G. Wood, Bernard Peyton, Edward Porter, Walter S. Carpenter Jr., Noel Bannard, Clark Davis and finally Stuart Groves. For this special anniversary shoot, a hot tamale luncheon was flown in from California buy members Ellis and Milliken.
The year 1955 saw the end of an era with the passing of Eugene du Pont late in 1954, a new president would need to be elected. A meeting was held at ‘Dogwood’ to determine who the next president would be. At the meeting, Ted Doremus was elected second president of the club. To pay homage to their late president, Sam Baker met with officials of the newly constructed Eugene du Pont Memorial Hospital on the site of ‘Pelleport’ who suggested that they fund the construction of a covered passageway for nurses walking from their dormitory to the hospital proper as an appropriate tribute to Eugene du Pont.
With a new era of Aurora dawning under the leadership of Ted Doremus, Eugene E. was elected Chairman of the Board, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Eugene du Pont III, son of the late president, was elected Vice President. Doremus also appointed Porter Schutt to act as chairman of the membership committee, along with members, Eugene III and Sam Baker.
In March of 1962, Doremus would retire as president in March of 1962, to be succeeded by Sam Baker. At the same time, Eugene E. du Pont attempted to resign as Chairman of the Board. His resignation from the position was declined by the membership and Eugene was made an Honorary Member of the club. Out of respect for Doremus, a new position was created, that of President Emeritus, for Doremus to remain active in club affairs. The Harvest shoot and luncheon that followed turned out to be bittersweet. On September 24, 1962 Sam Baker broke the news that Ted Doremus had passed away. In tribute, at the October 21st shoot, Jim Dunbar showed off a silver target won by Doremus at an Aurora shoot in 1908 showing the late Doremus’ long time dedication to Aurora. Following the shoot, a toast was made in the honor of Ted Doremus, and he too, would now be on the roll of those honored at the annual Memorial Shoot.
To promote club morale, Porter Schutt suggested in 1965 that a Twilight shoot be held and followed by a light supper provided by members. With interest seeming at an all time low, reflected in the lowest level in shoot attendance in memory, Sam Baker wrote to Sam Carpenter and Porter Schutt that members just paying dues was not enough to make Aurora survive, feeling that the club had just become a social gathering spot, Baker seemed as though he was ready to throw in the towel on Aurora. With that discontent in mind, Sam Baker resigned as Aurora President on December 14, 1965, to take effect January 16, 1966. At that time, long time club Secretary and Treasurer, Louise Swartz, would also step down. Upon hearing this news, Eugene du Pont III wrote rather upset about the road Aurora was heading down and the lack of interest in the club. He suggested that regardless of the existence of Aurora as an organization that a Memorial Shoot still continue to be held annually.
Aurora’s third President, Jim Dunbar, would take the reins in January of 1966 and began with an outcry for the attendance of members at shoots (with the new President, also came new Secretary/Treasurer, Elva Johnson). Dunbar also started the year with an increase in the annual assessment to $35 to boost the dwindling treasury to enable shoots to continue to be held in the midst of falling attendance. Aurora’s committees were also restructured at this time with W. S. Carpenter III leading the Handicap committee, Porter Schutt continuing as Membership Chairman, and finally Phil Atwood was made in charge of shells. Recalling the words of Porter Schutt the year prior, Aurora scheduled and held its first Twilight Shoot on May 19, 1966 and it was an overwhelming success with members using the headlights of their cars to eat the evening’s dinner.
In a letter in the spring of 1969, Porter Schutt again came up with an idea that would grow into an Aurora tradition, the annual game dinner. It was later decided after much debate, that the dinner would be held on January 28, 1970 the Wilmington Club, 1103 Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware. By December 23, 1969, twenty-four members had signed-up to attend all volunteering a donation to the dinner. W. Glasgow “Scotty” Reynolds was in charge of coordinating game for the dinner. A dinner committee was formed that included Reynolds, Jim Dunbar, Rod Blackhurst and George Harrington.
The Seventies would begin not only with success of the Game Dinner, but with increased shoot attendance and the addition of Rufus Bayard to the membership roster. At the January 1973 shoot, twenty-two members and five guests took to the trap with Jack Biggs winning high gun and his father in law, Phil Atwood, winning long run. Aurora would also welcome A. Felix du Pont to membership in the 1970’s, as well as future Aurora president, Fred Fiechter. After a successful career as President, Jim Dunbar would pass the reigns of Aurora to George Harrington in 1978 after just six years as President.
George Harrington would work from the start to spread the duties of officers and committeemen’s duties so volunteers would not become burned out so quickly. Harrington redefined positions to spread the duties more evenly across the board and in his first year as President, Harrington would also oversee the emergence of a new Aurora tradition, a competition with the shooters from the Vicmead Gun Club. In 1979, the competition was two rounds of skeet and two rounds of trap. Unfortunately for Aurora, Vicmead took the top prize. The competition against Vicmead continued in 1980 with a cup to be competed for that had been donated through the efforts of Bob Bolling that had been won by Mrs. Donald Ross in 1930.
Seeing a key to the success of the club in numbers, Harrington again worked to boost numbers due to a projected $4000.00 in expenses for calendar year 1983, which included repairs to the cabin roof which would soon be at “ground level.” In his March bulletin, Harrington asked for volunteers to perform repairs to the cabin at a scheduled work day on April 30. Repairs on the list would include as Harrington wrote “replacing the rotten porch floorboards, shoring up the beam over the fireplace, installing a mantel, patching holes in the roof and replacing caulking between the logs.” Ten members came to work that April 30th to help with the repairs as well as clearing brush from around the clubhouse. Even with his success at raising the levels of attendance, Harrington pointed out that the majority of the responsibility for the operation of the club fell in the hands of the president. Not only was he preside over the shoots, he also was to manage the finances, buy targets and trophies and prepare a schedule that best suited the membership. Harrington suggested the election a Vice President, as well as a Secretary and Treasurer, to spread the responsibility more evenly. With that task completed, Harrington announced to Schutt and Dunbar that he was retiring as President at the end of 1984.
As it turned out, the very man Harrington had commended for his work in committee, Rufus Bayard, was picked as the new President of the Aurora Gun Club in a secret ballot vote. His term would begin effective September 16, 1984. Upon taking the reins of Aurora, membership stood at forty-four with twenty seldom showing up for shoots, and over 40% of the membership over the age of sixty. Bayard would start out immediately with efforts to recruit new active members that would regularly show up for shoots. Shooting though would continue with the annual competition against Vicmead.
In 1986, an old Aurora shooting was revived once more. The competition against Nassau at the traps in Princeton was to be held that year, consisting of fifty trap and fifty skeet targets. To be well prepared for the match, Phil Atwood made arrangements for skeet practice to be held at Louviers on March 2. Soon enough the calendar would turn to 1990. Shooting would continue as normal with higher attendance then had been seen in prior years. All was moving along well until the November 2nd shoot of 1992. During the fourth round of shooting, the local mounted patrol interrupted shooting. Apparently the Delaware State Police were investigating an alarm at Alexis I. du Pont High School, and upon hearing the gun shots investigated the source. A decision was made to suspend shooting after three rounds. In a bulletin of that same date, President Rufus Bayard announced his retirement and a new person to lead Aurora in 1993. Fred Fiechter was nominated and later accepted his new position being the man that would carry Aurora into its second century of shooting excellence and eventually would carry Aurora to a new location for the first time in sixty years in 2004.
The move to the site on Barley Mill Road would start in March of 2004 when Aurora was asked to find a new home. Henry B. du Pont IV, offered his property with the provision that Aurora would comply with his insurance company’s regulations. The first shoot was on du Pont’s Way Road property, shooting over a trap mounted on a trailer on April 25, 2004. Tough weather conditions added to the speed of the targets made for less than desirable scores. The second shoot on the property was held at a location less offensive to the residents of Way Ridge in du Pont’s front field. This location was better suited for shooting with a natural noise screen and a woods background.
By June of 2004, Aurora purchased a new trap at a cost of $8,000.00. The trap was ready to go by the September shoot, with funds raised through the assessment and a donation by George Harrington. By mid October though, the trap house was completed and work would begin on the new club house. Plans were presented by Charles du Pont and it was decided that members would make contributions to a building fund to equal the cost of construction for a log cabin similar to that of what was at the Hillside Road location. Nearly a year and half after the move, work was nearly complete on the new club house. Upon its completion, Henry du Pont IV was presented with a plaque honoring him for his great generosity towards the Aurora Gun Club.
The collection documents the rich history of one of the Brandywine Valley’s most prominent target shooting organizations. Founded by brothers Eugene and Alexis I. du Pont, the club in still in existence today and actively holds shoots at its current Hockessin location. The records in the collection range from membership rosters, club bulletins and shoot results to financial records.
Doremus, T.E. (Thomas E.), 1874-1962
Game and game-birds.
Kinloch Gun Club (Georgetown, S.C.).
Pelleport (Wilmington, Del. : Dwelling).
Reynolds, W. Glasgow (William Glasgow), Mr., 1911-1987
Schutt, C. Porter (Charles Porter), 1911-1999
Vicmead Hunt Club.
du Pont, Alexis (Alexis Irénée), 1869-1921
du Pont, Eugene E. (Eugene Eleuthère), 1882-1966
du Pont, Eugene, 1873-1954