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Springfield Yacht and Canoe Club

Sailing / Yacht Club , Agawam, Massachusetts, United States

The Springfield Yacht and Canoe Club began as the Springfield Canoe Association in 1850 in a boathouse on a raft rented from Mr. W. Spencer at the foot of Elm St. in Springfield Massachusetts adjacent to the landing of the riverboat “Sylvia”. When these accommodations became too small, the Association built their own 50’ x 20’ floating boathouse which they occupied until 1892. The canoe club then built, on land, a three story brick and wood building at a cost of $4,000. The canoe house had a brick first story capable of storing 8o canoes. The second story was used for receptions and had locker rooms, a workshop and baths plus space for the Steward and his family to live. On the third level were observation rooms and deck. Membership was restricted to only men who owned a canoe.

In 1887 the club voted to admit 18 ladies as honorary members. Early members included the first Commodore, S. Bowles, Everett Barney the inventor of the metal-clasp ice skate, local canoe champion Emil Knapp and many other prominent citizens. The club also had a camp, “Calla Shasta”, a short distance downriver in a picnic grove on land owned by E. H. Smith, the founder and owner of Riverside Park. There were ten cottages on the land. A party at “Calla Shasta” was an event looked forward to and long remembered. Mr. Smith owned several large charter yachts on the CT River; the “Calla”, the steamer “Mascot” and later the “Sylvia”.
Before long sailboats and launches were moored in front of the clubhouse. As the number of sailboats and launches increased, the owners wanted a club of their own. In 1884 the yacht and canoe club merged under one Association and was incorporated with separate commodores. (Later in 1929 the clubs officially became one with the name Springfield Yacht and Canoe Club) In 1900 the canoe club was much larger than the yacht club. The canoe club furnished canoes, paddles, carpets and seat backs but most members owned their own canoes.

Dues were $12.00/year with a $5.00 initiation fee. The club hired a Steward, who lived on the second floor with his family, and an assistant. By 1908 there were about fifty yachts anchored in front of the club.
The canoe club had several planned trips each summer like Patriot’s Day up the Agawam (now Westfield) River with a portage around the Mittneague dam. The July 4th trip was to the Hartford Canoe Club in Hartford, CT and on Labor Day the canoes were shipped to Greenfield, MA and paddled back home with a portage around the Holyoke dam. Boat parades were a common sight on any given holiday. The club sponsored several clambakes on what is now the site of the Bondi’s Island waste treatment facility.
Races were held on Saturday afternoon for the canoes and sailing yachts. Club member Clarence Euson was a national (canoe) champion as was Everett Barney and his son George. Emil Knapp, a founding member, was also a local canoe competitor with many trophies to his name in addition to being club treasurer. Very active in the club, Mr. Knapp was a major contributor towards the purchase of a war canoe for the club and donated a silver punch bowl canoe trophy to the Association that was most likely purchased with the $40,000 he embezzled from the Chicopee National Bank where he was Head Book-keeper. Mr. Knapp’s accounting “errors” were discovered and he was subsequently arrested and convicted. As part of his restitution, he was required to turn over all his canoes, equipment, cottage at “Calla Shasta” and trophies to help defray some of the loss to the bank. Emil Knapp was also removed from membership in the Canoe Club but the club was allowed to keep the silver punch bowl.
Other clubs to share the
Springfield riverbank included the Atlanta Boat Club and Rickrimmon Boat and Canoe Club as well as local school rowing teams. These clubs faded from the scene but the Springfield Club remains today.

During the mid to late the 1800’s the club was a co-host for the Harvard-Yale rowing regatta in addition to local and other national rowing and boating events. Several trophies and other memorabilia can be seen at the clubhouse, the Springfield Historical Society and at the Indian Motocycle Museum. Mr. Hendee, the founder of Indian, was a powerboat racer and champion.
When the city of Springfield dedicated the (original) Memorial Bridge, the club had decorated boats in attendance, sponsored outboard motor races and had an open house.

At that time, when anything happened on the river the clubhouse, being so close to the center of the city, was always crowded. Spectators would line the banks from the clubhouse south to Longmeadow to watch races and parades.
Following the First World War and for several years afterward the membership dropped dramatically due to the new popularity of the automobile as a leisure-time family activity. This was the major reason for the final consolidation of the clubs in 1929.

A humorous Springfield newspaper article from February 1931 recounts a banquet honoring some of the founders and original members of the Canoe Club. Reminiscing about river trips, parties and events filled the evening’s conversation as, no doubt, cigar smoke filled the air. One incident recounted a member’s accidental dip in the water during a spring outing far downriver. While warming his clothes by a bonfire, most of his apparel burned with the exception of his undergarments. As the group returned to Springfield by rail, it was decided to crowd around this poor fellow and shield him from view as they exited the train. Once on the platform in Springfield, and amid the crowd of fellow passengers, on a given signal the members dispersed leaving him in “an unprotected state for all and sundry to gaze upon” as the article reads. Mr. E.C. Taylor, chairman of the 1931 reunion, called several “old timers” to the head table to “reward” them for their many years of service to the club. Among the awards were the “Beau Brummel” medal, the “Paddle Breaker”, and one for excellence as “Club Scavenger” willing to eat any and all leftovers. One prominent businessman was honored with the final reward for his excellent taste in girl friends and his dependability as a “dating agency” for fellow members. I’m happy to say that, as the years progressed, we have not lost that spirit, sense of humor and ability to not take ourselves too seriously.

On the night of, January 16, 1935, an alleged spark from a passing train burned the clubhouse down. A decision was made to build a new clubhouse at a different site due to the close proximity to the railroad tracks, sewage disposal outlets and several industrial plants at the original Springfield location. Land was purchased in Agawam on River Road near the South End Bridge where the club now stands. Local builder Joseph Chapdelaine built the new clubhouse for about $7,000. Membership began to grow until WWII. The war put a damper on club activities and a Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla was formed at the clubhouse. Today the clubhouse is used not only for club functions but also by local groups for educational programs. Regularly the local police, fire, Power Squadron, Department of Environmental Protection, watershed groups and other civic organizations use our meeting room for seminars and classes in the public interest.

With membership down to a mere 25 due to poor water conditions, a loss of water depth thanks to the deterioration of the Enfield dam and the imminent closing of the Windsor Locks (CT) canal, in 1964 the club leased land in Chester, CT and a second location was built for the larger boats. The purchase price of $30,000 was staggering so a lease-purchase agreement with the owner, Mr. Monty, was negotiated. Members could, until 1965, sail their boats from the clubhouse, downriver through the canal to the sound. The canal was closed permanently and a last passage was made north to the clubhouse for winter storage.

The Chester property had the bare essentials needed to develop a usable marina. But, thanks to the hard work and considerable talent of a group of dedicated members, a Springfield Yacht and Canoe Club marina now exists on Chester creek with land that also faces the CT River and has direct access to Long Island Sound. Currently there are 40+ larger powerboats in Chester. Improvements to the property over the years included new docks with water and electricity, a pavilion, shower facilities and beautiful landscaping. In 2000 another dredging and widening of the basin was completed at a cost well into six-figures. This major project was viewed by the membership as yet another way to enhance the value of our properties. Being a “member-owned” club we all benefit from any improvements. Further, with the construction of our new private launching ramp in Chester, the basin now offers members with smaller, trailerable boats an opportunity to use this terrific facility. In 1977 the property was paid off and a mortgage burning ceremony was held. The last paragraph of the ceremony’s speech, delivered by then Commodore Neal Hamilton, sums it up well. “We can not celebrate this mortgage burning without thanking the many members who have given so unselfishly of their time and labors. This basin is what it is today because of its members who have every right to be proud of their accomplishments.”

The Chester acquisition led to an eventual increase in membership. Currently the club is limited to 150 members divided between both locations. During the summer of 1999 several members paddled canoes and kayaks from the Agawam clubhouse to Chester camping along the way showing the spirit of the old Canoe Club is still alive and well after 150 years. On Tuesday evenings the sailboat racing tradition also continues.

The CT River’s water quality has increased dramatically over the past few years. Now people regularly swim in and water ski on the river. Weekends find people camping and spending the day on one of the small islands on our local stretch of the river. In 1999 the Connecticut River was named an “American Heritage River”. This designation paves the way for money to improve the river, its banks and begin recreational development with a lot less (governmental) red tape. Only ten rivers in America were given this honor. Bald eagles nest near its banks and feed on the fish. Several other species of birds and animals also call the CT River home thanks to the dramatic increase in the quality of the water. And, the fishing is terrific! Still, the breaches in the Enfield dam subject boaters to dangerously low water levels north of the dam through Springfield during certain parts of the year. If the dam were restored to its original height and provisions were made for migrating fish this problem would be eliminated and more people would be able to use the river safely.
Membership in the SYCC is only $150.00 per year. There are no employees and every member is expected to lend a hand at each of the two work parties in the spring and fall at both locations. Additionally, any construction work to be done around the marinas is usually performed by the members. As an example, we need to replace all the windows in the Agawam clubhouse. One of our members is a building material wholesaler. He gave us a price of $200.00 per window and another member suggested that, rather than take the money out of the treasury, we could allow members to “purchase” a window for the club. The response was overwhelming and, at a recent meeting, all the windows sold out.

The club participates in community events like the Lucky Duck Race and fishing tournaments to benefit area charities and offers its private launching ramp and docks to local police, fire and emergency services for rescue and training. Members come from all walks of life and varied professions. Boats range from kayaks to canoes, rowing shells, fishing boats, small outboard powered pleasure boats and sailing craft up to 40’+ motor yachts. There is a Commodore, Jack Cavallon, and several officers plus a Board of Directors all elected each year by the membership to oversee the club’s operation and finances. Additionally, several committees take on tasks relating to the day-to-day operation, maintenance and activities. This is a “working” club… That’s why the membership costs and mooring/dock fees are so low in comparison to other yacht clubs and private marinas. This, along with people who love boating, the fellowship of other boating families and any excuse for having a party or event is what makes this club continue to be a success. We have several multi-generational member families consisting of parents, children and grand children.
The 150th celebration weekend will begin with a cocktail party at the Agawam clubhouse Saturday night June 3rd. Local dignitaries, public officials and invited guests will be treated to a catered reception (again as a working club one of our members, Chef Hubie from the
Student Prince Restaurant, will be providing his usual expertise in the kitchen). As the evening progresses a silent auction and river cruises will be offered.
For some of the local officials this may be the first time they have seen their city from the river. Memorabilia and photographs will be on display throughout the evening. The next day will be an open house. Radio, TV and newspaper coverage leading up to the event will invite area residents to visit the yacht club. Many people who live in the surrounding towns drive by our facility daily.
On June 4th we will invite them in to see what we are all about. Kid’s games, vendors, demonstrations of power and sail boats, kayaks, rowing shells and canoes plus fishing techniques from bass pros will be part of the day’s activities. Raffles will offer some great prizes. In addition to our celebrating 150 years of continuous operation, the proceeds will benefit Baystate Medical Center and their local community activities. As one of the oldest yacht clubs in the United States we have a rich local history and we look forward to promoting safe family boating, water sports activities, environmental conservation and community involvement long into the future.

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