Tryon, North Carolina


Harmon Field



Walking Tracks


The preamble to Harmon Field would begin in Lebanon, Ohio. William Elmer Harmon was born in Lebanon, Ohio, in 1862. Mr. Harmon became a famous real estate developer in New York City in the early 1900s. The idea of Harmon Park, a tract of 88 acres, was conceived and given to the citizens of Lebanon, in 1912, by Mr. Harmon. The park was so well received by the residents that this gift would be the beginning of his desire to help communities around the nation have similar playgrounds.

In 1921, the Harmon Foundation was organized and began giving donations to communities around America to build or improve their parks. The Harmon's wanted to leave their money and their properties where it would benefit children. They knew that children growing up in small communities needed places for supervised recreation just as much as the city children. They also knew that there would be no money available for such things in smaller communities.

To comply with the requirements of accepting the grant of land, the communities had to agree to the following stipulations:

  1. That the property be used in perpetuity for playground and recreational purposes.

  2. That no building be erected upon the property, except for the furtherance of desirable play and recreation.

  3. That the premises shall always be known as Harmon Field.

  4. That the land shall be open to all persons.

  5. That the premises shall always be kept in such condition as to be attractive as a place of recreation and shall not be permitted to become a nuisance in appearance or unattractive as a place for recreation.

By the time Mr. Harmon died in 1928, 34 states had benefited from his philanthropic spirit, and there were 117 Harmon Fields throughout America. Tryon, North Carolina was one of those benefactors. After Mr. Harmon died, most of the Foundation funds would be used to help African-Americans reach their dreams in nursing, music, and the arts.

In 1927, there were, reportedly, around 100 communities nationwide that had applied for the Harmon Foundation Playground grant. Thirty-nine playgrounds, in 20 states, received a positive response to their application, Tryon being among those winners.

W. R. Mahaffey, secretary of the Tryon Chamber of Commerce, noticed in the New York Times that the Harmon Foundation was offering funds to communities for recreational areas. Through the Chamber, Mr. Mahaffey applied for and secured the first funds to create Harmon Field, dedicated forever to the play of children and the development of youth and the recreation of all.

On October 17, 1927, 8.0 acres of land were purchased by the Harmon Foundation (Deed #2), which adjoined 7.75 acres (Deed #1), just purchased on September 27, 1927, for the new Harmon Field in Tryon. The first acreage is the area of the main entrance and the ball fields. The Harmon Foundation purchase is the area of the walking track. Since then, other acreage has included: 2.38 acres (Deed #3), August 15, 1929, which is just to the left of the current drive; 10.45 acres (Deed #4), May 6, 1936, which is the equestrian area; a boundary adjustment, June 22, 1953 (Deed #5), which is where the log cabin stands; 0.72 acres (Deed #6), October 9, 1996, the area of the soccer field; 6.11 acres (Deed #7), April 8, 1999, the "Barbecue area" and maintenance area; 10.63 acres (Deed #8), the old Tryon Middle School; and a pending amount of 1.04 acres (Deed #9) which is the new location for the community gardens. The total acreage of Harmon Field is now over 45 acres. All of the current areas delineated above are approximate locations.

Originally, eight acres were conveyed, for $1.00, to the town of Tryon by deed, October 19, 1927, from the Harmon Foundation, Inc., New York, W. Burke Harmon, vice-president. Provisions of the conveyance were that the property, given in perpetuity, should be used for playground and recreation purposes and always be known as Harmon Field. Harmon Field was officially opened with band music and special ceremonies on March 15, 1928.

The field is owned by the Town of Tryon, supported by taxes from those who own property in Tryon Township. The Harmon Field Board of Supervisors was created in 1995 operates and maintains Harmon Field in Tryon. The Board of Supervisors has a self-perpetuating board of five members. Vacancies are appointed by either the Town of Tryon or Polk County Board of Commissioners. Board members serve without compensation.

Though the field is situated in Tryon Township, it is used by people from all over Polk County, as participants or spectators, and brings enjoyment to the throngs which gather there.

In 1918, Carter P. Brown, who owned and managed the Castle Park Hotel in Michigan, visited Tryon while looking for a new resort property to develop. He introduced fox hunting, and created a fine athletic and show facility at Harmon Field. He also established the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club in 1925.

Horseback riding was a family sport. The Tryon Horse and Hound Show, forerunner of the present Tryon Horse Show, is the oldest of many sporting events sponsored by the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club. Initially, it was mostly a local show, conducted on a Wednesday. The entries were entirely from the Tryon area. One of the most popular classes was the family group exhibiting their own horses or horses from Tryon Stables. The Horse Show was the gala event of the Tryon spring. The lure of horses, hounds and, especially the barbecue feast served free to all the landowners who supported foxhunting, brought out the entire county. Schools let out and businesses closed. Tryon Riding & Hunt Club colors flew all up and down Trade Street. The Boy Scouts directed traffic, and the Girl Scouts sold programs. It was an event where you could see everybody you knew unless you got too interested in watching the horses.

The most prestigious event in the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club's annual program is the Steeplechase Race held each spring on the grounds of the historic Block House. The first Steeplechase, started by Carter P. Brown, was held at Harmon Field and was a single race with a tin cup as the prize for the winner.

Mollie Pritchard, a local land owner, traced her ancestry back to the first owners of the land. She was three quarters Cherokee. Mollie was well known in Tryon, but more often by the names "Millie" or "Granny" Pritchard. The railroad ran just behind her cabin, and the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club often ran just in front of it. For allowing the fox hunters to cross her land, Mollie and her grandchildren rated a ride in the oxcart and an invitation to the annual hunt barbecue at Harmon Field. She and all the mountain people regarded the barbecue as a settled institution, which not even war must interrupt.

"In the early '30s someone had the idea of having a tilting (jousting) tournament at Harmon Field where brave knights in costume tried to spear rings hanging from a support while galloping full speed around the course. It developed into an elaborate mock medieval pageant, featuring a King and Queen with a court of beautiful ladies who rode sidesaddle around the ring to their places in the court. The costumes, all created locally, were so gorgeous and the entertainment so unusual that Paramount Movies, Inc., took newsreels of our spectacular and it was shown in movie theaters all over the country. Margaret Culkin Banning and Ralph Erskine were Queen and King in 1934." - Elizabeth Doubleday Frost. Polk County, North Carolina History; pg. 80. Polk County Historical Association, Inc.; 1983; The Reprint Company Publishers, Spartanburg, SC.

"I'm sorry that Betty [Crapo] was unable to write about her family connection with Tryon as she spent more time with our children in Tryon in the early days and entered into the life of the community. We do recall the medieval days brought to Harmon Field in April, 1931, when Betty was queen of the tilting tournament and rode on a litter borne by four slaves. Twelve knights on horses engaged in the tilting tournament. All were costumed by Harold Crandall." - William Crapo; Polk County, North Carolina History; pg. 165. Polk County Historical Association, Inc.; 1983; The Reprint Company Publishers, Spartanburg, SC

Dairy goat shows were held at Harmon Field, and Mrs. Carl Sandburg, of Flat Rock, would bring her goats to the shows. She was an inspiration to many people to have their own goats to get milk for their family.

About 1940, the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club gave Tryon township additional land adjoining Harmon Field. It includes a picnic area, ball field, tennis courts, exhibit and horse show facilities.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Polk County Fair, Inc., headed by Hubert McEntyre, sponsored a fair in the horse stalls at Harmon Field.

In 1956, the United States Olympic Equestrian team practiced at Harmon Field. The United States was represented by eight men and ten horses chosen after a yearlong competition. Five members of the team were civilians and three others, including Frank Chapot, the youngest rider, were on detached service from the Armed Forces. Managing the team was Brig. Gen. John Tupper Cole, one of the mainstays of the United States team when the US still had a cavalry.

In May 1959, the Tryon Boosters Club undertook the raising of funds for athletic equipment so that a full-time summer recreation program for young people could be started at Harmon Field. The program, technically administered by Tryon school officials, was directed by the athletics coach, and all Polk County youngsters were welcome to participate.

Other improvements through the years have included show ring and jumps, two new stables, lighted baseball fields, picnic sheds and tables, concession stand, four all-weather lighted tennis courts, lighted football field, stand and track.

Through the years, the field has been used for horse and dog shows, family reunions, gatherings of all kinds, calf shows, goat shows, softball games, and Little League games, and Tryon High School used it for its baseball, football, track and tennis events. A recreation program was conducted there in the summers.

In September 1973, the football field was named Eargle Stadium, so dedicated to honor Curtis M. Eargle for his years of work and devotion to the care and development of Harmon Field.

In 1974, the area of the new stables, providing facilities for horse shows, was named The Carter Brown Equestrian Center, to honor Carter P. Brown, who had done so much to promote horse events in this area. Unable to attend, Mr. Brown sent his son, Austin, to be present at the dedication ceremony, celebrated on May 18, 1974. The Honorable Mayor, John W. Cowan, read the Resolution.

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Horse Show Harmon Field   Tryon, NC
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