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Squash in the Historic Blackstone
Valley

By Ron Beck, information from Andrew Knott and James Knott,
Sr.  
Squashtalk Independent News; ©
October, 2006 SquashTalk LLC



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I first
met Andrew Knott at the US Open a year ago when he first
asked me to come visit him at his squash court. Andrew
Knott is a persistent man, he kept after me month after
month, politely leaving messages and renewing his invitation.

So
in OctoberI made the trip following Andrew’s directions,
which involved getting off of the interstate highway and
heading out through downtown Whitinsville, Massachusetts,
and then on to Northbridge, a small town going through a
renaissance. Now I have lived in Massachusetts for 27 years,
but I will admit that I had never even heard of either Whitinsville
or Northbridge. [See
map]

The
route involved a number of twists and turns,
up a steep hill out of downtown Northbridge, into an immediately
rural setting, along a high wall, through an opening in the
wall and into a wide drive leading to an 1880s-vintage Carriage
House.

court view outside
The Knotts perfectly restored
squash court in Northbridge, MA © 2006
Ron Beck

Andy
Knott met me at the drive and we walked towards the Carriage
House in the late fall twilight. Knott explained to me that
this wasn’t exactly his court – it belongs to his father,
James M. Knott, Sr. who had purchased the property, moved
there with his wife, and completely renovated the beautiful
vintage squash court, all so that his son, who lived next
door at the time, would have a place to play squash . (The
nearest squash to Northbridge is some 15-20 miles northward
at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
)

Andrew (left) and James Knott
inside the court that they restored in Northbridge. Note
the expansive skylights above
(photo © 2006
Ron Beck)

James
Knott, who at 77 is still running a vibrant manufacturing
company (Riverdale Mills) and is going a mile-a-minute, had
done some historical research in preparation to my visit.
The house and carriage house on the property were
built around 1880 by members of the Whitin family, after
whom the nearby village is named and owners of the Whitin
Mills, and who largely
created Northbridge and Whitinsville.

DATING
THE COURT

In 1922, the property changed hands, and at that
time the sale documents on file with the town has language
which implies that the squash court had already been constructed.
So the date of the court, the Knotts theorized, postdate the
coming of the automobile to Massachusetts (and probably early
on to the Whitin family) and predated the coming of electricity
(with the court fully lighted by ample and interesting skylights.)

As
a long time member of Boston’s Tennis and Racquet club (built
in 1903 in downtown Boston) I found an uncanny resemblance
between the skylights, boards, and doors of this court and
the venerable courts (now no longer in existence at the downtown
T&R), so it is not a difficult stretch to believe that this
court was constructed in the very early 1900s at about about
the same time as the T&R courts – somewhere around 1910 or
1915 would certainly be believeable, which would make this
court one of the oldest remaining courts in the US.

KNOTT
GETS THE SQUASH BUG

As it turned out, Andrew Knott, an all
around sports guy in his college years, was introduced to
squash by the father of a college friend, who invited him
out to the Union Boat Club. Roger Bakey, his teacher, was a legendary
player in Boston squash annals, who learned his squash from Jack
Summers at MIT, and played out of the Union Boat Club for many
years winning a wide range of honors in Massachusetts and nationally.

James Knott (left) bought
the Northbridge property that the squash court stands
to feed the squash enthusiasm of his son Andy.
(photo © 2006 Ron Beck)

Bakey
launched Knott on a lifelong love of squash. "I was
intrigued,"
said Knott, "how this older guy (Bakey) could just stand
there and keep me running and running and running. I was
determined to learn this game."

Knott
had the bug, but once he moved out to central Massachusetts
it was hard to find a court. "One day," Knott recalls, "I
was nosing around in the woods and looked in the window of
this carriage house that had always intrigued me. I was stunned
to find a disused squash court inside. When the property
went on sale a few years later, I called my dad right away."

James
Knott laughs as Andy tells the story. "I called dad
and said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to buy this great house that’s
for sale next door.’ When he asked why, I said, ‘Dad
it’s got a squash court.’

They
bought the property, and then embarked on renovating the
court. They started out sanding down the entire court by
hand and eventually hired John Wheeler, who’s worked on the
majority of the squash courts in the Boston area, to complete
the renovation, including installation of some electric lights
to augment the skylight.

The
court is now in wonderful condition, complete with an excellent
gallery, and is a pleasure to play on, though it is a "hardball"
(18′ wide) court in an increasingly "softball" world.

And
as for Knott’s squash, that determination that Roger Bakey
put into Knott’s head has well and truly stuck. He is an
accomplished and skilled player, and suffers only from
a dearth of sparring partners in the Blackstone Valley. He
told me that had a regular partner for many years, who had
been a county player in the UK and taught him the softball
game, and has played on and off for several years with Ned
Bacon, a former Harvard player.

So
if you are reading this story from out in the Blackstone
Valley, or are passing by central Massachusetts, get in touch
with Andy Knott, he’d love to show you his court (that is,
his father’s court) and play a few games with you.

The rearwall and gallery. The skylight (photos © 2006
Ron Beck)

 

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