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Steeped in tradition: Belle Meade Hunt holds 40 years of memories for Lewis

For the past four decades, the Belle Meade Hunt has been an integral part of 67-year-old Charlie Lewis' life in Thomson.

It's been that way ever since Mr. Lewis, an Edgefield County, S.C., native, moved from Aiken, S.C., to Thomson 40 years ago.

"I remember it well," said Mr. Lewis during an interview Monday at his business office in Thomson. "I was working for the late Pete Knox at the time."

The Belle Meade Hunt had been founded just two years earlier by James Wilson. And today, the hunt is recognized as one of the best in America. A variety of feature stories have appeared over the years in newspapers and magazines about the Belle Meade Hunt, which opens this weekend for the 42nd time.

"There's no place like it in the world," said Mr. Lewis, owner of Carriage Lane Realty Auction & Appraisals in Thomson. "It's what I do this time of the year and what I love doing."

Mr. Lewis and the late Mr. Wilson were former business partners in several ventures years ago. They became friends and "just seemed to hit it off when" it came time for the Belle Meade Hunt season, which begins the first weekend in November and runs through the first Saturday in April or spring turkey season.

He became so involved in the sport that he raised his two children, Kathryn and Chuck, to love the sport, too.

His wife, Trudy, doesn't ride. But it doesn't mean she isn't into the sport. Just the opposite. She and her husband have sponsored the annual Friday night supper and party at Boots Hill for years.

"She supports us in another way, too," said Mr. Lewis. "She makes sure that all of our clothes are prepared properly and tends to all kinds of events at the clubhouse."

One of his most memorable occasions on a hunt came about 10 years ago.

"Out in a hayfield, me and some other hunters saw a fox," recalled Mr. Lewis. "The fox then ran away and jumped in a window of a nearby house. After running all around in the house for a few minutes, we saw the fox jump out another window on the side of the house and out ran the hounds. That was pretty funny."

Some 20 years ago, there was another memory, but it's not funny. In fact, the hunters and their horses could have been badly hurt.

It happened while Mr. Lewis and Mr. Wilson were riding on a hunt.

"In full gallop, James and I came around a blind corner in the woods at the same time and collided head-on," said Mr. Lewis. "The collision knocked James and me to the ground along with our horses."

He described it as an embarrassing moment in his life, while Mr. Wilson just laughed it off.

"That was the kind of person he was - a real laid-back person who simply enjoyed seeing what nature had to offer when he was out riding his horse," said Mr. Lewis.

In another hunt about 25 years ago, Mr. Lewis and his horse were jumped by a deer.

"That wasn't so funny either," he noted. "That buck's anglers caught me in the arm and in the chest. My chest was black from the bruises. The deer could have killed us. You just never know what you're going to experience during a hunt."

Mr. Lewis also remembers the love that James Wilson had for the sport and the respect he had for the hounds.

"James was obsessed by everybody having a good time when they came to the Belle Meade Hunt," said Mr. Lewis. "He was determined to make the hunt special for everybody."

The same is true today of one of Mr. Wilson's sons, Epp, according to Mr. Lewis.

"I think Epp is the most dedicated huntsmen in the United States," said Mr. Lewis. "His dedication to the sport and his ability to have bred the finest pack of foxhounds in America makes him a unique individual. Epp can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the family tree of the hounds."

Epp Wilson, a Thomson businessman, serves as Joint Master of the Belle Meade Hunt. It's a position shared by both Mr. Lewis and Dr. Gary Wilkes of Harlem. Mr. Wilson also serves as the Huntsman of the Belle Meade Hunt.

Mr. Lewis said he looks forward to the Belle Meade Hunt every year.

"It's a time to forget about all the pressures of work and concentrate just on the outdoors," added Mr. Lewis.

Web posted on Friday, November 02, 2007

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