Hi Everyone! I’ve had this trunk for over 20 years but It’s been in storage. This summer my family brought it to me to open. I did a video of opening it, it’s on my Instagram. I wanted to share with you the items because it came from an estate in Princeton, New Jersey. Some of the items in the trunk date back to the 1800’s I’ve included the story written by William Baillie of the Herring family. It’s such an amazing find!
A Bloomsburg Boy
Makes the Big Time
Sometimes an unremarkable child of Columbia County has achieved great things in
the wider world as an adult. Such stories are, in a way, part of our county’s history.
Since we are again in football season, it is appropriate to tell one such story that hinges
on outstanding success on the gridiron.
Donald Grant “Heff” Herring was born September 6, 1886, at Bloomsburg, the son
of one of the best-known attorneys in Columbia County. The Herrings were one of
the old county families—Donald’s immigrant great-grandfather had settled in
Orangeville in 1800. His grandfather served as president of Bloomsburg’s town
council and treasurer of Columbia County. His father served in Pennsylvania
Donald was educated in the Bloomsburg public schools, including some years at
Bloomsburg High School beginning in the eighth grade. He was instrumental in
organizing the high school’s first football team in 1899, a story he told decades later
in his book titled Forty Years of Football. (See excerpts from that book in “Bush
League Football” on page 1.)
Herring went on to prep school at Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where he
participated in several sports. He was amazed at the difference in the game of
football when played with proper equipment, coaches, and referees.
He entered Princeton in 1903 and immediately tried out for football. For his
freshman and sophomore years he played on the junior varsity team, but in 1905
and 1906 he played tackle and center on the varsity squad. For the 1906 season, he
was named an All-American. He was known as a fearsome blocker and tackler in an
era which produced the 1905-06 “crisis” in intercollegiate football. Because of the
rough nature of the sport and its increasing commercialization, Columbia University
and a score of other colleges dropped the sport, and many other campuses, including
Harvard and Princeton considered doing so. The furor led to the creation of the
National Collegiate Athletic Association and the introduction of a new set of rules for
college football. Herring played in the last days of the “no-holds-barred” brand of
collegiate football—and was among the best of his era.
In 1905 Princeton organized its first varsity wrestling team, with Heff Herring as a
prominent member. In the second year of varsity competition, Herring won the
national intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling championship in record time, downing
one opponent in sixteen seconds and another in thirteen. He was a dapper
heavyweight, appearing at professional wrestling matches in Newark sporting tails,
white tie, and top hat.
Herring excelled also outside sports. At Princeton, he was a member of the senior
council and of many of the upper-class organizations, and he was master of
ceremonies at his class commencement in 1907. As a senior, he won Princeton’s first
Rhodes scholarship for graduate study at Merton College, Oxford University.
At Oxford he entered whole-heartedly into athletics; he made a name for himself
at cricket, hockey, and hammer-throwing, and was the first American to play on the
Oxford University rugby team. That rugby fifteen beat arch-rival Cambridge by the
then-record score of 35 to 3. A letter to the Varsity, a sports paper in Oxford,
reviewed Herring’s stellar career at Princeton and Oxford, and he was even
caricatured in a cartoon in The Tatler, an English sporting magazine. Meanwhile, he
created something of a sensation in America by stating in a 1910 letter to The Daily
Princetonian that British rugby football was a better game than the American version.
This opinion derived probably from his love of rough contact—he was never known as
a gentle footballer!
He received his Master’s degree from Oxford in 1910 and returned to Princeton,
where his alma mater hired him to teach English. Soon he was hired also as a sports
writer for the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and not long afterward he became its editor.
He was famed as a sports reporter whose opinions were widely quoted. He even was
featured—for his sartorial splendor and his unrestrained predictions—in a doggerel
a poem, an account of the 1922 football game at Stagg Field in Chicago which ended in
the score, Princeton 21, Chicago 18:
Heff Herring’s trick hosiery dazzles the eye
As he mounts to the Press Stand the game to espy.
Though dazzling his calves, quite glum is his glance—
In the Weekly, he’s stated we haven’t a chance.
(A footnote to this stanza calls Herring “The only professional pessimist whose
writings are universally enjoyed.”)
In 1912 he was one of five graduates of Old Nassau appointed to Princeton’s
Football Advisory Committee, with authority over the university’s football program.
During World War I Herring won a commission as 1st Lieutenant in the 94th Aero
Squadron, a small group of pilots that included America’s top ace in the War, Eddie
Rickenbacker. They flew many missions over enemy lines in France in their fragile
Spad aircraft. The Spad was a French-built biplane that was faster than other
fighters at the time but was less maneuverable and more difficult to fly. When he
died, Herring held the rank of Colonel, retired, U.S.A.F.
In 1910 Herring had married Jessie Markham of Wheeling, West Virginia, whom
he had met through his sister. The couple, after a year’s engagement, decided to get
married while they were shopping in New York City and were quietly married at the
Little Church Around the Corner. In 1919 Herring and his wife bought land outside
Princeton which they intended for an equestrian estate; they named it “Rothers
Barrows.” They built an “extraordinarily elegant stone house” designed by noted
architect Wilson Eyre in the Arts & Crafts style. Eyre also designed the landscaping
in the “Chestnut Hill” style characterized by native trees; there was a stone-walled
sunken terrace, a croquet lawn, and for the horses a show ring and barn and a 960-
yard race track. Although the building plan was not completed due to limited funds,
the Herrings moved in after World War I and the home became a noted hospitality
center of the Princeton area. In 1992 the estate was designated a Historic Site by
Mr. and Mrs. Herring were featured often on the Society pages of Trenton and
area newspapers and occasionally in the New York Times. Both were in the wedding
party, for example, when the University President’s daughter married a faculty
member in 1915. In 1924 the Trenton paper printed a “charming portrait” of the
Herring family: Heff and Jessie with their four children “spending the winter at
Lausanne, Switzerland, where the children are attending school.”
Tragedy later struck the family. Their only son, Donald G. Herring Jr., followed
his father’s footsteps into a starring role on the Princeton football team. But in
1940—the year Donald Sr. published Forty Years of Football —the son was seriously
injured in a game against Brown University and had to have his lower leg amputated.
The incident generated sympathy for the family across the nation and led to the
family being awarded the first annual Amos Alonzo Stagg Award for “outstanding
services in the advancement of the best interests of football.” Two years later Donald
Jr.’s youngest sister was killed in Wyoming when she fell into a canyon in a
snowstorm; she was twenty-two years old.
The Bloomsburg boy who made it big through football did not return to Columbia
County. His father’s family had moved to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, where Grant was
named to a judgeship. At retirement, Donald went to live in North Carolina and died
there. But for years Columbia County followed with interest the career of a native
son who “made it” in big-time college sports.