Eleanor Davies Croquet Classic and Garden Party turns 4 | News

More vests than usual in July in Meadville were on display along Terrace Street Sunday afternoon, but the number of vests was outnumbered nearly two to one by suspenders.

And it would be wrong to mention the cardigans and suspenders without mentioning the straw hats, bow ties, wool socks and knickers – or the dangling pearl necklaces, the many colored cloches, the glittery flap dresses and the purple umbrellas here and there.

And the tweed – so much tweed.

“As much tweed as you could find,” says Josh Sherretts, director of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum and impresario of all things historic.

The occasion that seemed to inspire a run on tweed the likes of which Chestnut Street hasn’t seen in a century was the fourth annual Eleanor Davies Croquet Classic and Garden Party. Held on the lawns of the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum and neighboring mansions, the event is expected to raise $12,000 to $15,000 for the Crawford County Historical Society, which owns the museum and — as of a closure that happened Friday — its dilapidated Hide Copper House next door.

While 32 teams clashed at 16 croquet lanes along Terrace Street, Sherretts paused for a sip of a cup of Pimm’s punch that befits the era, a combination of a gin-based liqueur and lemonade with seasonal fruit and sometimes mint. Wearing a slip, tweed vest, wool socks and, “in true Edwardian fashion,” a boater’s cap, he surveyed a scene more like Downton Abbey than downtown Meadville.

“It’s kind of become a staple of the summer season in Meadville,” Sherretts said of the event that went ahead last year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic with remote hammers. “We’re thrilled to be the reason people shop on Chestnut Street to find the perfect outfit and buy clothes that, if they were worn elsewhere, could get weird looks.”

An opportunity to wear such clothes was enough to lure Steve and Liz Vondriska to Meadville from their home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. For Liz, the trip was a return to where she graduated from Allegheny College in 2009, but the draw had less to do with the chance to play croquet or visit her alma mater and more to do with the atmosphere.

“We’re committed to re-enacting the 1920s,” Steve explained as he waited his turn, his hammer on his shoulder. “We have a party every year that’s a Prohibition Party, celebrating the beginning or the end of Prohibition, so we like to come and do everything in the 1920s.”

When Steve returned to the field of play and watched his next shot, Pittsburgh teammate Jonathan Steele, a 2010 graduate of Allegheny, said his croquet skills are improving.

“This is my second year playing” in the Davies Croquet Classic, Steele said, “so this is the second time I’ve ever played — sixth game.

“I’m improving – improving skills,” he added with a laugh. “I never played croquet until last year, but it’s so much fun.”

On the other team, Mary Jo Cares of Meadville remembered playing croquet as a child—and never since.

“When we played in the backyard, it was my father’s rules,” she said. “I don’t know if those were the real rules.”

Fortunately for the players, the program delivered to each participant provided an overview of the rules of the game and a diagram showing the direction of play through the nine wickets on each pitch. The extent to which those rules were observed varied from court to court over the course of the afternoon, as some teams took the matches more seriously than others and more libations were enjoyed by the participants.

For Melissa Goodwill of Saegertown, her team’s win-loss record was less important than the experience of what was her second consecutive Croquet Classic.

“We’re doing our best. Sometimes we’re ahead, sometimes we’re behind, but we’re just having fun,” Goodwill said.

“My friends and I had so much fun last year that we knew we would have to come back every year they offered it.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

Eleanor Davies Croquet Classic results

In the final game of the fourth annual Eleanor Davies Croquet Classic, “Grandpa’s Babalouies,” a team consisting of Air Force members Dustin Schmidt, Jason Schmidt and Chuck Branum defeated Hagan Business Machines. The prizes for the best costume of the time went to Sara Reiber and Jonathan Steele. Casey Dickson won the Best Facial Hair Award, while Amelia Crowley won the Best Hat Award.

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