HISTORY OF THE DORCHESTER YACHT CLUB
By Frank Foley
So that we may have in mind the setting in which the club was organized, let us quote a historian writing in 1889 about the Dorchester district: “It is quite rural; and some of its minor streets lead into the most delightful lanes, which are much enjoyed by the pedestrian. Here also are fine county residences, with grounds made beautiful by the skill of the landscape gardener; and pretty villas,–especially at Savin Hill, a picturesque eminence, with water on three sides and commanding a superb view.” This, then, was the birthplace of our club.
To give an idea of the atmosphere in which the club was organized, the following list of dates is presented as evidence of Boston’s rapid growth into a modern city in the post Civil War period:
Boston City Hall dedicated – 1865
Broadway Bridge completed – 1872
System of parks established – 1875
Boston College founded – 1863
Boston Art Museum founded – 1870
M. I. T. incorporated . – 1861
Wellesley College founded -1875
Boston Athletic Asso’n founded – 1888
Boston University founded – 1869
Boston Yacht Club founded – 1865
Dorchester Soldiers’ Monument – 1867
So. Boston Yacht Club organized – 1868
(Meeting House Hill)
Great Boston Fire – 1872
Mechanics Building erected.- 1881
Hotel Vendome built – 1880
Sewerage system completed – 1884
The Dorchester Yacht Club was originally organized in 1870. Not much is known of its early activities, but on May 27, 1946, the Boston Traveler in its feature “Through the Years” reported that seventy-five years previously, in 1871, the club had conducted a successful regatta. There are in existence yearbooks for 1871 and 1877 which contain the bylaws, sailing rules, and a list of the members and the boats in the club for those years.
It is most interesting to note that the yacht ?America,” after which the international sailing
trophy known as the “America’s Cup” is named, once flew the colors of the Dorchester Yacht Club. It was in 1851 that the “America” crossed the ocean to England to defeat seventeen other yachts in the first of the international sailing races, which later involved such contenders as the “Yankee”, “Endeavor” and “Enterprise.” The “America” was rebuilt in 1871 and is listed among the yachts of the Dorchester Yacht Club in the yearbooks of 1877 and 1882. It should be noted in passing that the wheel which served as the helm on the “Enterprise” and “Endeavor” is now serving as the helm on Vanderbilt’s yacht “Versatile” which was built in 1950 at Simm’s Bros. Yard near the yacht club. A complete account of the history of the “America” up to the year 1937 is contained in the book “Sailing Craft” by Edwin J. Sohoettle, the Macmillan Co., 1937, pages 3 and 4. A further account (celebrating the centenary of the first race) appeared in the magazine “Motor Boating”, September 1951. This account says that the ?America? was finally broken up for scrap in 1945. The National Shawmut Bank of Boston had a display in 1951 commemorating the event of the 1851 race.
Early in January, 1890, the Dorchester Yacht club petitioned the state legislature for the right to change its name to the Massachusetts Yacht Club. Some of the members felt that the name Dorchester was too restrictive to be appropriate for a club having so many members who did not reside in Dorchester. However, other members felt that a local dub should be maintained, and as soon as the General Court had granted the request, ten of them who were Dorchester residents immediately petitioned the General Court for the right to incorporate under the discarded name. A second application for the use of the name was submitted by the Savin Hill Yacht club across the bay. After hearing both sides, the commissioners of corporations granted the ten Dorchester men the charter for a club to be again called the Dorchester Yacht Club.
These ten men immediately issued a prospectus calling for additional members, stating that a “club house and landing stage at Coulter’s Beach, Harrison Square, will be secured if possible.” On April 17th it was announced that the landing stage at Colter’s Beach (Colter was spelled both ways in early records) was in position and ready for use. On April 30, 1890, it was announced that quarters had been secured at the Hotel Elsmere at the corner of Commercial (now Freeport) and Mill Streets. The quarters consisted of a room with the use of the piazzas on the northeast side and of the cupola on top included. The “Hotel Elsmere” was the big house with the cupola which is still located on Mill Street In back of the three-family houses directly behind the present club site. It was the old Humphrey estate which once also included part of the real estate on which the club now stands.
At this time the club had grown to sixty members, most of whom had trans?ferred from the Massachusetts Yacht Club, which had its club house on the adjacent lot of land. In reorganizing the club, members acted very vigorously, and in all the later newspaper accounts of the early years of the club, that same vigor is apparent. As an example, it was reported that in its very first year with only a landing stage it conducted one open and four club regattas. It was strictly a racing club. This apparent determination to make good very definitely made the difference between the success and survival of the Dorchester Yacht Club and the failure and dissolution of the Massachusetts Yacht Club.
In January, 1891, Colter proposed to build the Dorchester Yacht Club a new club home on the beach near that of the Massachusetts Yacht Club. In February the club had its annual dinner at the Parker House. In June the club gave up its quarters at the Hotel Elsmere and began holding its monthly meetings at Blake Hall, Fields Corner. In August there was a moonlight sail around Thompson’s Island. According to the reports a number of the yachts “swung Chinese lanterns at vantage points, and there were colored fires and fireworks along various parts of the passage.? During this season the Club also conducted four regattas.
Late in 1891 the D. Y. C. secured an option to purchase for $4,000 pay?able before April 1, 1892, the land and buildings then occupied by the Massachusetts Yacht Club, which at the time was also negotiating for the property. In April, 1892, the club exercised its option and purchased Colter?s property (Colter was later a member), which gave them a frontage on Freeport Street of 150 feet as well as one-third interest in the lot to the east, which had a frontage of 450 feet. This latter section was partitioned by the Probate Court in 1896, the club being given a section with 125 foot frontage and the lot presently to the east was given its frontage of 325 feet. Total frontage of the club is exactly 274.4 feet. At this time a majority of the membership of 125 members of the present D. Y. C. had transferred from the Massachusetts Yacht Club, which started in this same year to build its new club house on the Gas House Wharf at the point of land directly to the east of the Old Colony Parkway drawbridge. It was destined not to survive.
There is a cut in one of the old newspaper clippings showing the old club house. It was a one-and-a-half story structure, 46? x 40?, with a piazza on three sides. It contained a hall running the whole length of the building and also a kitchen, poolroom and washroom. Upstairs there was a large loft for storing sails, etc. in the winter. The interior was finished in light varnished wood. Beneath the clubhouse was a large platform, terminating in a 50 foot .landing stage.
In 1891 one of the regattas had forty boats participating, which was an unusually large number for those times. Some had even come from the southern side of Cape Cod to race.
In 1893 the club was running “hops”, and had a six-piece orchestra. On March 3, 1893, the club gave a minstrel show at Winthrop Hall, Uphams Corner, and it was so successful that it was presented again by request at Associates Hall, Milton on April 14th, 1893.
In 1894 the annual dinner was held at Young’s Hotel, Boston. For the year expenses exceeded income by $57.02.
The club was civic-minded, because in May, 1697, the club donated club property to allow the widening of Freeport Street, provided that a retaining wall was built by the city.
The old clubhouse was moved in 1910 from its location at the southwest corner of the club property to the spot now occupied by the present club house, which was built at a cost of $15,411 in 1937 after the old club had burned down.
After examining the minutes of the club meetings held years ago and knowing the operation of the club as it is today, one feels that the character of the club, at least concerning its activities and methods of operation, has not changed very much through the years. The club seems always to have operated on a small profit margin; for example, in 1900 the treasurer’s report showed a balance of seventy-five cents. There are frequent accounts of collations and “hops” being given in an effort to raise funds and to stimulate social activity. The practice of issuing bonds to the members to cover extraordinary expenditures is one of long standing. When the first clubhouse was purchased in 1892 there were 400 ten-dollar bonds issued to 42 members.
Showing the area of the influence of this club, there are records of communications (in July 1897) from the Brooklyn and Fall River Yacht Clubs.
There are some problems which are of long standing and which have been discussed down through the years by the members. Some examples are:
July, 1900 “it was voted to keep the gates closed and to have admission to members by key only.”
December 10, 1913 ? “The Commodore reported results of a meeting he attended at the New York Yacht Club “with some 30 yacht clubs along the Atlantic Coast. Mainly at the suggestion of the officers of the Boston Power Squadron, which had proved a great success In a variety of ways, it had been proposed, with the cordial co-operation of the U.S. Navy officials, that a national organization of similar character but of much wider aim be formed as an adjunct or supplementary force in time of war, under the direction and supervision of the naval authorities.
May 13, 1914 “Mr. Simpson of the House Committee said as to the matter of the letting of the lockers, that the same had been given out in order as applied for, per list.”
December 9, 1914 “There was a discussion of the necessity of the officers of the club to take some action before the opening of this coming season to prevent conflict and confusion in the matter of allotting locations of moorings in the flats and in the vicinity of the new basin of the club.?
May 12, 1915 “The regulations in regard to the matter of tying tenders to the outer float of the club were not obeyed as they should, and it was suggested that the House Committee see to it that the rule be enforced with more strictness.
June 14, 1916 “The House Committee is to keep the clubhouse clear of interlopers at
the entertainments and hops at the clubhouse, of which many complaints have been made.”
“The proposition to change the system of the distribution of lockers by putting the same up at auction did not meet with the approval of the House Committee.
May, 1918 It is interesting to note that the late President Roosevelt’s name appears in the record. “Mr. Wynde (Fast Commodore), as representative of the DYC in the Massachusetts Yacht Racing Union, read to the body a communication from Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, urging a resumption of active interest in small boat racing on the part of the smaller clubs in the country to the end that large numbers of young men might be drawn into the sport and get an insight into nautical matters and so be fitted to take a prominent part in the extended activities of the nation in matters pertaining to the naval defenses of the country.
January 25, 1920 The Board of Directors discussed the unnecessary amount of gas used during the winter.
January 25, 1920 ? House rules stated:
1) No woman can be allowed on club property between the months of
December and April.
2) That all bathing by women must be confined to the beach at the
south side of the club. One piece bathing suits are hereafter barred.
3) No boat will be allowed to remain at the float more than 45
minutes without the express permission of the House Committee.
October 13, 1920 ? “Mr. McKinnon of the House Committee took the oppor?tunity to notify the members officially that hereafter no tenders would be allowed to be kept on any part of the club platforms from the closing to the official opening of the club.”
May 25, 1921 ? “Matter of joining the Dorchester (later Massachusetts) Bay Yacht Club Association was deferred until the SBYC should apologize for past remarks made in the year 1917 concerning the actions of the members and their lady guests of the DTC.? (Our club seems to have had a little vindictive streak in it, but the club finally applied for admission in April, 1923.)
Oldest living member is Hubert G. Fisher, San Diego, California, who joined in 1905. H. C. Mildram, a civil engineer in Boston, joined in 1890, and he is still alive. Allan Forbes, president of State Street Trust, was formerly a member in the early 1900?s.
During World War II the clubhouse served as. the base of operations for a unit of the Coast Guard Auxiliary which patrolled Boston Harbor throughout the whole year, night and day.
As this history is written in 1951 there are many evidences in recent years of the continued vigor of the club. In 1949 the dub erected a locker building consisting of twenty-two 8′ x 12? individual lookers. For this project sixty-eight $100.00 5-year bonds were issued to members. In September 1950, the Ladies Auxiliary was established, and Mrs. John Curry, wife of the 1951 Rear
Commodore, was elected its first president. In its first year this group contributed much to the financial ($800 in cash) and social (dances, whist parties, penny sales) success of the club. In 1951 the club paid off the last of the mortgage on its parking lot across the street and retired $500 worth of the 5-year bonds. Also in 1951 the mooring basin was given the permanent protection of harbor lines by the passage of Senate bill 144, which would forestall the possibility of future .filling of the basin. On the whole, the character of the club fleet, considering the age, value, capacity, beauty and quantity of the boats comprising it, seems not to have diminished in substance through the years. The membership in number is the same as it was about 1900. Therefore, it may be said that the dub seems to be maintaining its position.
Captain Nils T. Seaburg, a member since 1913 and a member of the Regatta Committee In 1927, died in 1949 at the age of 83. Since he had no relatives in this country, his remains were buried on a high point on Middle Brewster Island by Frank Foley, secretary of the club.
Some historians, probably assuming the right as compensation for their labors in compiling the recorded historical data, try to draw some philosophical lesson or some moral from the succession of events which passed under their scrutiny during the course of their work. They “see” in all the seemingly unrelated incidents, or rather perhaps read into them, some principle or evidence of a path or trend being followed which unifies the whole period covered, which presages the future direction of the historical movement, which helps to orient today’s current incidents in the progressive accumulation of time, and which perhaps, if borne in mind, serves as a guide to the human actors on the current scene. Now, therefore, I as a pseudo-historian may be forgiven if I attempt to tell you what I conclude from what I have seen in the records.
I have seen an organization of individuals, first held together by only their inter-personal relations, finally manifest the existence of that organization in the form of property, beginning with a room in the Hotel Elsmere and ending with the clubhouse, lockers, mooring basin, and parking lot as they now exist. This growth is most remarkable when it is considered that there was no private, individual interest involved in the possession of the physical property. No individual could say that he ?owned? the property. It belonged to the whole group, and yet this group was one which was constantly changing in personnel due to resignation, deaths, etc.
Generally speaking, it may be said that the individuals comprising the group for a particular period left the property in no worse condition than it was in when they received it as an inheritance.
The success and survival of the dub has been a community project from the very beginning. Naturally the records disclosed differences of opinions within the club, but in the end the club itself always emerged intact and better for having had those differences.
I have seen the members trying to settle their problems in a democratic way, for always there were the by-laws and established procedures for arriving at decisions. Some individuals who were the leaders left their personal marks on the records, while the others were lost in the anonymity of the notation of “action by the membership?; but all, regardless of their activities as individuals, gave way before Time, and the club continued to exist, taking its life from the living.
I have seen the dub become a manifestation of the aspiration of people toward the “better” things of life and a living proof of how deeply the democratic process has implanted itself within us. The members who went before did not know absolutely from year to year that what they did was “right”, but they must have been substantially correct and basically wise, for the club still operates vigorously after 61 years of existence with no single individual or unchanging group in charge of its destiny. Certainly, one of the basic tenets of democracy, rotation in office, has been followed in the dub throughout the years.
Personally I feel that what we have in the way of club facilities has been left to us by those who have gone before. I am glad that someone before us took the time and gave the energy to preserve the club, so that when we had reached the point where we could have the same aspiration as they, we would find these facilities ready for us to enjoy.
Therefore, I conclude that if we can take part in this continuing process of preservation through striving to maintain the physical and spiritual whole of the club, not necessarily sacrificing ourselves for it, but working so that someone, someday nay also feel glad that we, even though not recognized as individuals but only as persons lost in the anonymity of the general “membership”, took part in that process, then we have justified our use of the facilities. We have received, but we have also given. In the end the club will probably survive us all.
List of Commodores
1870 C.E. Folsom
1871-73 C. Bernard
1874-76 W. H. Bangs, Jr.
1877-80 F. E. Peaboyd
1882 Wm Gray, Jr.
1888 Henry W. Savage
1890-91 Wm. P. Whitmarsh
1892-93 Geo E. Curry
1894-96 H. Davenport
1897-1901 F. L. Codman
1902 H. W. Smith
1903-04 T. W. Southern
1905-06 O. F. Davenoprt
1907 H. Lundberg
1913 C.L. Bertram
1914-26 E.J. Wynde
1917-18 Frank C. Fais
1919-20 G.W. Gow
1921-22 J.J. Farran
1924-25 Frank C. Fais
1926 J.W. Dammerall, Jr.
1927-28 John McDougall
1929 J.J. Farran
1930 Frank C. Fais
1931-32 Harry Bernstein
1937-44 Ed. P. Gerhardt
1945 Wm. Payne
1946-47 Leslie Black
1948 Paul Collins
1949 Carl Alexander
1950-51 Harry Bernstein
1952 John R. Whelan
1953-54 Chester Nolan
1956 Peter McGee
1957 Leo Ricci
1958 Thomas Webb
1959 Thomas Webb
1960 Peter McGee
1961 Peter McGee
1962 John J. Kiley
1963 John J. Kiley