History of the Rhode Island Yacht Club
The Rhode Island Yacht Club was founded and chartered as the Providence Yacht Club in 1875 and incorporated as such in 1877 by a group of prominent Rhode Island businessmen and boating enthusiasts. The Yacht Club's first location was on Allens Avenue near Henderson Street in the City of Providence, and had nineteen members listed on its Membership Roll and twelve yachts listed on its Fleet Roster. Its By-Laws set the membership entrance fee at five dollars with annual dues of ten dollars for yacht owners and five dollars for non-yacht owners. To be eligible for membership a person had to be sixteen years of age. Among the members listed that first year were names familiar to local history including Simeon W. Cameron, Robert W. Jencks, Charles E. and Edward N. Pettis, John L. Sprague, James F. Tiffany, Newton F. Thurber, and the Club's first Commodore Harvey J. Flint, who along with Waterman J. Pierce and Newton F. Thurber were also the Club's first trustees.
The Yacht Club's Constitution in the 1878 yearbook described the Club as, “the object of this Club shall be the encouragement of yacht building and naval architecture, and the cultivation of naval science,” thus setting a precedent that continued for over one hundred and twenty-five years and is presently described in the Yacht Club's By-Laws as, “the object of this Club shall be the encouragement of yachting, yacht building, seamanship, advancement of navigation and nautical science…”
On February 24, 1887, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved and passed an act that was filed with Secretary of State Joshua M. Addeman, by Addison H. White, Henry J. Steere, William L. Beckwith and Harvey J. Flint, to amend the previous act of the Providence Yacht Club and change the corporation's name to that of the Rhode Island Yacht Club.
Meanwhile, its two hundred and fifteen members invested $7,000 toward construction of a new Clubhouse at a location in Stillhouse Cove in the City of Cranston, just north of the seaport Village of Pawtuxet. Honorary member and area resident Charles Bloomer of Pawtuxet oversaw the financing of the remaining balance of construction costs for the beautiful three story Victorian-style Clubhouse that was built on what is known as Big Rock, which the Yacht Club was renting at that time for $1 a year from the City of Cranston.
On Commissioning Day June 14th, 1887, composer D. W. Reeves of the American Band dedicated his new work to the 7th Commodore of the Rhode Island Yacht Club, William H. Low, Jr. The composition “The Commodore March” was written by Reeves to mark the grand opening of the new Clubhouse. Life Member Chelis Baukus' grandfather, then thirty-seven years old and a cornet player in Reeves' American Band, performed on that historic day.
In 1888 the Club's Membership Roll read like “who's who” in Rhode Island. Along with its second term Commodore William H. Low, Jr., owner of Low's Grand Opera House in Providence, other prominent members listed were from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, Maryland and Illinois. The Club's yearbook for that year listed 428 members on its Membership Roll and 67 yachts on its Fleet Roster, which also listed the 180¼ yacht Sagamore, owned by member J.W. Slater.
In 1903, Councilman and Yacht Club member Arthur Austin purchased land at the foot of Ocean Avenue and created an imposing entrance to the bridge leading out to the Clubhouse on Big Rock. At his own expense, Austin also established the town's first public park at this site along with a sea wall to protect the area from the ravages of the weather. (A picture of this scene is on display in the Members' Room.)
In 1904 the Yacht Club purchased land overlooking Potter Cove on Prudence Island and opened a new summer Clubhouse for members as a destination for regattas as well as a place of refuge in case of storms. Also in that year, on July 2, the yacht Little Rhody, representing the Rhode Island Yacht Club and captained by Charles F. Tillinghast, participated in and won the longest race (330 miles) ever sailed by boats of such small dimensions at that time (no boat was over 38.9’ LOA - Little Rhody's LOA was 34.6’). The race was referred to as an outside race (over an ocean course) from Brooklyn, New York, to Marblehead, Massachusetts. The winner's cup presented to Captain Tillinghast by its donor Sir Thomas Lipton, is the most costly prize ever offered for such small craft; its value being one hundred guineas at the time.
That year also had a brutal winter that produced severe icings in Stillhouse Cove that damaged the Clubhouse's supports and destroyed the docks and wharf. A new 60 foot L-shaped dock with deeper water access for larger boats was designed and built with a landing float in the bend of the L.
The racing season in 1914 saw Henry Ford donate a sterling pitcher in his honor that was presented to the winner, “Wanderer VII” in Class I racing, sailed by owner and member Harvey Flint of Rhode Island Yacht Club and son of the Yacht Club's first Commodore.
In the years that followed, Rhode Island Yacht Club played an active and leading role in yacht racing and boating activity on Narragansett Bay. Member John Brown Herreshoff inspired the long tradition, support and involvement of the Club with the world-renowned Herreshoff Yachts. The elegant and sleek S-Class sloops designed and built in Bristol, Rhode Island, from 1919 to 1935, enjoyed an active schedule of racing and sailing for many decades at the Yacht Club; a tradition which continues today. We congratulate the S-Class Association as it enters its eighty-seventh year of racing history.
In 1921 the yacht America (the schooner that visited England in 1851 and brought back a sterling silver cup called the 100 Guineas Cup (later known as the Queen's Cup and today known as America's Cup) and the sub-chaser towing her dropped anchor at the Rhode Island Yacht Club for a day while on her way from Boston to Annapolis, where she was to be presented to the Navy and kept at the Naval Academy as a museum piece. The Yacht Club furnished a dinner for the officers and crew of the sub-chaser as well as city and state officials. When they arrived at Annapolis, the sailors told William U. Swan, yachting writer for the Associated Press, that nowhere along the entire coast had they been treated as well as at the Rhode Island Yacht Club. (There is a plaque in the Members' Room attesting to this visit.)
In August of 1931 the fleet of the Rhode Island Yacht Club joined with the Newport Yacht Club and other fleets across the state to act as escort to the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” as she sailed up Narragansett Bay to dock at Municipal Wharf in Providence.
The Great Hurricane and tidal wave of 1938 devastated much of Rhode Island. Its 30-foot tidal surge ripped the Clubhouse from its piers sweeping it out into the Providence River. Discouraged but not beaten, the members again built a new Clubhouse with a wooden foundation on Big Rock and reopened the doors of Rhode Island Yacht Club in 1940.
This new Clubhouse prospered for fourteen years until disaster struck again. In 1954 Hurricane Carol demolished all but the pilings of what was the short-lived second Clubhouse on Big Rock.
Fighting for their Club's survival, a determined group of Yacht Club members envisioned yet another Clubhouse at the same location but a little further inland from Big Rock. They planned and built the first modern hurricane-resistant structure, which would be on double cantilevers with eight concrete stilts anchored in concrete footings lifting the new Clubhouse twelve feet above sea level. Designed by Knight D. Robinson, the newly-erected one-story building was dedicated in ceremonies at Stillhouse Cove on May 19, 1956. Dr. William E. Kirby, the Yacht Club's 48th Commodore who was very instrumental in overseeing the planning, financing and construction of the new Clubhouse, introduced the honored guest speaker Harvey Flint, grandson of the Yacht Club's first Commodore.
In 1960, in order to provide needed space to accommodate the Yacht Club's growth, Harry C. Foster, 49th Commodore of the Yacht Club, personally oversaw the financing and addition of a new wing to the Clubhouse at a cost of $30,000. That wing today is known as the Members’ Room, while the original part of the building is known as the Commodore Room.
The economic problems of the early 1970's brought bad news when a steep drop in membership sank the Yacht Club into financial difficulty. With the commemoration of the Yacht Club's 100th Anniversary in 1975, the membership continued its persistence and efforts to survive in spite of economic hardship. The following years found the remaining members successfully bringing the Yacht Club back from the brink of dissolution and back on the road to prosperity.
Weathering the financial storm, the Yacht Club braced itself for the future. In 1978 a new $200,000 486-foot stone breakwater was built for the protection of new docks and slips that were to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Carol (the new docks and slips were completed by the summer of 1981). Meanwhile, a concentrated membership drive successfully rebuilt the Yacht Club's vitality and strength in the years that followed.
In 1985 another hurricane turned its fury on the Clubhouse and its marina. Try as she did, Hurricane Gloria inflicted only minor damages to the docks and Clubhouse. Rhode Island Yacht Club stood its ground.
That same year, a plan to dredge Stillhouse Cove was addressed as part of a long-range goal for the Yacht Club. This was just the beginning of what would be eighteen years of meetings and planning before the actual dredging began.
In 1992 Rhode Island Yacht Club members nominated and elected its first female Commodore, Francine A. Ledo, and the following year she was again nominated and elected to a second term as Commodore.
December of 1994 saw another fierce storm strike the Club just three days before Christmas. Its northeast winds reached 60 plus knots and wreaked havoc on the docks and slips, but in comparison did only minor damage to the Clubhouse. Again the membership rallied around a plan of repair and replacement; in addition, plans were completed for marina expansion and improvements to build for the future.
Tradition plays an important part in the Rhode Island Yacht Club, and in 1995 an historic tradition was renewed. Through the organization skills and foresight of Race Chairman Donald R. Gordon, the Ladies Day Regatta, first held in 1888, was reborn on July 16 as the Ladies Cup Regatta and marked the return of a tradition established by our founders over one hundred years ago. The original cups of the winners in the races of 1898 and 1906 were put back in competition for this regatta.
A new racing tradition was also begun that same year with the start of an Interclub Series with neighboring Edgewood Yacht Club. The event was a great success drawing more than 50 sailors from both clubs and expanding Rhode Island Yacht Club's efforts to promote and encourage sailing on Narragansett Bay. This event is still being held as of this writing.
Racing success continued to grow in 1996 as Rhode Island Yacht Club won, for the first time in eight years, the coveted McKee Cup, returning it for display at Rhode Island Yacht Club. This was also the year the Yacht Club, through the donation of the Tillinghast Family, became the proud recipient of the “100 Guinea Trophy” won by past member Charles F. Tillinghast in 1904. The 27" tall, 214 troy ounces of silver trophy is a work of art and triumphs the tradition of craftsmanship. It adds a new dimension to the growing collection of marine artwork, cups and trophies proudly displayed in the Members' Room at the Yacht Club. Also in 1996, the Yacht Club entered the new age of high technology entering the information superhighway with the introduction of an internet site on the World Wide Web.
During the years 1995 through 2001, the Yacht Club saw great strides in its evolution with many capital investments made into the facilities—with dock expansions, a redecorated Members' Room, Commodore Room, and the addition of a 30’ water-view deck to the Clubhouse.
In 1997, the Yacht Club developed a new plan to address the worsening problem of the silting-in of Stillhouse Cove, where the Yacht Club's marina is located. Over the years, erosion to the nearby shoreline had resulted in increasing shallowness of the Cove to the point where a number of Yacht Club slips were unusable. Although a plan to dredge had been in the works since the 1980’s, under the new proposal the Yacht Club would dredge approximately 30,000 cubic yards and return the deep water that the Cove had not seen in decades. It was a bold plan and would set an aggressive strategy into motion requiring a myriad of federal, state and local regulatory approvals. In addition, substantial capital investment by the members was committed to undertake what was expected to be the largest financial project in the Yacht Cub's history—but one that was necessary to ensure Rhode Island Yacht Club's future survival.
In 1998 the Yacht Club purchased the adjacent real estate to the Club's facilities as part of its long-range plans to expand its position and equity on Ocean Avenue. Also in 1998, a new entity was formed by the Board of Directors: The Rhode Island Yacht Club Educational Foundation. Established as a tax-exempt charitable organization, the Foundation was created to provide boating education and instruction and to further the public's understanding of boating safety and marine related skills. During this year the new Foundation ran several events including a community-wide Safe Boating Day in conjunction with the United States Coast Guard and Auxiliary and an expanded bay-wide renewal of the Ladies Cup Regatta.
The latter years of the nineties and the first two years of the new millennium saw the Yacht Club make great strides in upgrading and modernizing its equipment and property both to the docks and in the Clubhouse.
In November 2003, for the first time in its history, dredging of the Yacht Club's marina began. After forty-eight elapsed days and fifty-six trips to the dumping ground with the dredged material, January 2, 2004, saw the dredging 99% complete. For eighteen years many different members served and departed the Dredge Committee. Yet they all contributed to the Committee's initial commitment to fulfill the goal of dredging. It was a job well done by all.
A Dock Committee was formed in March of 2005 to oversee needed maintenance and replacements to our docks, walkways and finger-piers. These dedicated members spent untold hours of labor to accomplish this task at no cost to our Yacht Club.
The members on the committees mentioned above are without a doubt the Yacht Club's unsung heroes.
Rhode Island Yacht Club is proud of its history, listed as the thirty-seventh oldest registered Yacht Club in the United States, ninth oldest in New England, and the oldest continuing incorporated Yacht Club in Rhode Island.* Mindful of the preservation of its past 142 year history in yacht racing, the Rhode Island Yacht Club will carry into the twenty-first century its 142 years of tradition in supporting and sponsoring regattas on the bay, battling adversity and challenging the odds.
Under the leadership of its Commodore and the Board of Directors, supported by an active and involved membership, Rhode Island Yacht Club stands ready and able to face the challenges of tomorrow.
*Source: Registry of American Yacht Clubs, Yachting Club of America