In the words of the late Peter Gomes, once a member of the Old Colony Club in Plymouth, “The club does nothing, but we do it very well.” Founded in 1769, the club was established “as a gentleman’s club for those who didn’t want to drink with the fishermen down on the wharves,” says current member Matt Adams. Many Plymouth traditions, businesses and lifestyles have come and gone since then, but the Old Colony Club still stands.
“It was an old boys’ network,” says Adams. “You met once a week to socialize and you’d find out about everything in town.” There is still a sense of that today. And while there is no barrier to admitting women—some have even been asked—they don’t seem to want to join. Town gossip is still a topic of conversation among the men. “It’s like reading a Plymouth edition of People magazine once a week,” says Adams, who says he goes for the cards, billiards, the raconteurs, the camaraderie, and the roast beef and succotash.
“It’s got a mystique about it,” says immediate past president Jim Stanne, “but only because it’s so old.” The club has no philanthropic cause. Rather, it’s a place of relaxation.
“It’s an eclectic membership,” says Rex Funderburk, who is another past president. “Religion and politics are not really discussed. We’re a gentlemen’s supper club. We get together for dinner. Nobody gets mad at anybody. Discussions can get heated, sure, but we walk away friends at the end of the night.”
From its earliest days, the club has had its solemn traditions. Coats and ties are required for the Friday night dinners, and top hats are worn during the club’s public appearances, like town parades. And although Old Colony Club records vanished for a long time, we know from secondary accounts that a visit to Cole’s Hill on Forefathers’ Day has been an annual event for more than two centuries. That celebration includes firing a cannon first thing in the morning, up on the hill.
The clubhouse itself has every earmark of a full-size man cave. There’s a “TV room” that no longer has a TV, but boasts several plush chairs into which one sinks without wanting to ever rise again. The walls of several rooms are covered with historic photos from around town, leaving barely a few inches here and there for the ancient wallpaper to peek through. In the “Presidents Room,” every president back to 1875 is depicted, sharing space with a portrait of George Washington himself. A rickety old Bradford chair is reserved for the immediate past club president, which, Stanne says, is not exactly a privilege, but it is a tradition the club hopes to preserve.
There’s a cigar smoking room, a billiards room and a library. There are also overnight accommodations for members traveling from afar, and in the card room, the table is set up for Bestia, a game that every Google search says is extinct. Perfect card hands are displayed on the wall, meaning that when someone gets one and puts the cards under glass, he has to run out and buy a new pack for the club.
Members gather in the snug before the dinner bell rings on Friday at 7 p.m. and then head downstairs to the dining room, where they are watched over by a display of esteemed members’ memorabilia, including a tux, a smoking jacket, a cane and Peter Gomes’ favorite drink—an old fashioned. “Every year there’s a little bit less,” says Don Brown, another past president. “We figure it’s Peter’s spirit coming down to take sips.”
The average age of the members recently dropped precipitously. A number of centenarians have passed away, bringing the median age to somewhere in the 40s. And there’s always room for one more. If nothing else, the downtown Old Colony Club is still a gathering place full of happiness and edification, where Plymoutheans can share what’s beautiful about their ancient town.