Kimberton Hunt Club conquers urban sprawl by showcasing the best of its traditions through family and inclusiveness.
What does it take for a hunt to endure for 150 years? It's more than longevity and history alone. Stepping thoughtfully over other peoples’ land helps. But in an age of virtually unrestricted growth and urban sprawl, how does a hunt keep dozens of generations of hounds, horses, and members riding across the same territory?
The Kimberton Hunt Club has done it for a century and half. Its current joint-MFH, Barb Mueller, attributes most of what they have today to her parents, Sandy and Barbara Dunn. Sandy took the horn for Kimberton Hunt in 1978 and served for thirty-four consecutive years. He and his wife had inherited the club’s history and a decent reputation within its community, but it had lost some of its favor with local landowners. At the start of an era when suburbia threatened more of the open territory the club had always known, the generosity of landowners quite literally became the hunt’s lifeblood.
Sandy and Barbara had to bring something new to the same revered territory in order to keep hunting over it. What they brought was a tangible sense of family and an inclusive spirit. As the parcels shrunk and the number of landowners grew, that character introduced by the Dunns’ fortified Kimberton Hunt’s established history and created an unbreakable rapport in the same community where it started 150 years ago.
The hunt’s territory in southeastern Pennsylvania runs dozens, if not hundreds, of five- to ten-acre parcels with dairy farms scattered between. It makes contacting every landowner almost impossible. That’s why their history and rapport is so important. It helps existing landowners build relationships with new landowners to understand the significance of the club to the community.
Kimberton rides the perimeter of cornfields, through thick woods, and even respectfully through backyards. When new landowners move in, they rely on neighbors knowing how to explain the merits of the hunt.
“We are lucky that our landowners more often come out to take our picture rather than shoo us away,” says Mueller.
From 1800 through the 1970s, outings often ventured for miles across the borders of numerous towns. During the shorter days of autumn and winter, members met in the dark, rode all day, then returned in the dark. Things have changed since then.
Sandy and Barbara caught the tail end of that era. Sandy took the horn as MFH and huntsman in 1978. Barbara would eventually serve as President, whipper-in, driver, chief public relations officer, horse show manager, and head chef for most of the club’s new functions. They both joined Kimberton in 1968. When Sandy arrived at his first hunt, instead of assuming a spot in the field, then MFH and Huntsman Harry Graham, grandson of the hunt’s first MFH and Huntsman, Raymond Graham (1870 - 1920), handed him a whip.
That was two years after Kimberton’s previous MFH and Huntsman, George “Stiney” Stine, had retired. When he did, he asked the hunt members to purchase the pack of hounds, but they declined. Graham had no hounds when he took over in 1970. Stine had sold them all to Pickering Hunt in Phoenixville, about four miles east of Kimberton.
Graham recovered some hounds from Albert Crossen of Pickering Hunt among others. Crossen also gave three pups to Sandy, who had been whipping for Graham every Wednesday and Sunday. Sandy also got an old bitch named Snaggle from fellow hunter Paul Hannum and later, several more established hounds from Crossen. He and Barbara had established their kennel in the Main Line neighborhood of Gladwyne, about 20 miles east of Kimberton. He’d bring his hounds when he whipped for Graham.
When Sandy and Barbara married in 1975, they moved their seven and half couple of Penn-Marydels to Spring City, about five miles north of Kimberton. When Graham retired in 1978, Sandy took over as huntsman and led all six of Kimberton’s remaining members. He and Barbara spent the coming years growing the pack and introducing a fresh vibe to attract a new generation of members.
The day Barb was born, two of Sandy’s best bitches also whelped. It was a good omen of things to come. When the family moved to Birchrunville, four miles west of Kimberton, Sandy built the barn and kennels first. The house came later. But the farm ultimately became Kimberton Hunt’s activity center.
Before Sandy retired in 2013, and after growing the pack to thirty-seven couple, he enlisted the help of a local basset hunter, Mike Gottier, as backup huntsman after Gottier had helped retrieve some of Sandy’s hounds from a neighbor’s fenced yard one winter day in 2012. He started car following Kimberton that day and quickly learned the difference between chasing rabbit with bassets and foxes with hounds. When Sandy gave him the horn, Gottier served until 2014 when he moved to Midland Foxhounds in Georgia. That’s when John Dean, Jr., longtime friend of Sandy’s, took over.
Dean, Jr., had moved from Missouri back to Pennsylvania. He preferred hunting red fox over western coyote and brought some of his hounds with him. When he moved his personal pack to nearby Warwick Village Hounds in 2018, Phil Shirk took the horn and helped build upon the family atmosphere Sandy and Barbara had started.
Success Through Family
“I was born and raised in the hunt,” Mueller says. Her son and daughter rarely miss a Saturday now. “I believe the success of the club is owed to that family atmosphere.”
From her parents to herself to her children, Mueller’s family has hunted the Kimberton territory for more than 50 years. Perhaps that family bond built the bridge that helped Kimberton Hunt span the unyielding surge of urban sprawl that has ended other hunts in the area.
“Members are welcomed into our homes and treated like family at every hunt,” Mueller says. “Our huntsman Phil Shirk and his wife, Diana, bring many juniors hunting which is great. Many hunts will have eight kids learning to enjoy the sport.”
In 2015, Kimberton Hunt became a registered pack with the Master of Foxhounds Association of North America. That gave them the opportunity to award colors to extraordinary members.
“The first colors we awarded was posthumously to Mr. Bill Flagg, a person who every foxhunter in southeast Pennsylvania knew and loved,” Mueller says. He died in 2016 but was a local legend, having hunted with Pickering Hunt, Warwick Village Hounds, and Kimberton.
“We’ve awarded colors on a limited basis every year since to members for their support in the hunt field and with our fundraising functions such as our annual horse show,” Mueller adds.
Kimberton’s annual USEF C-rated hunter/jumper show is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It is the club’s biggest fundraiser and features three rings and up to 200 horses. It is completely organized and run by members.
“I know there may be a few clubs older than 150 years old, but I would bet we might be the only club in the same original location,” Mueller says.