A History of Manchester Yacht Club
by Gordon Abbott, Jr.
It has always intrigued me that the original club house of the Manchester Yacht Club was built in little more than a month. The corner stone was laid in mid-June, 1895 and on Tuesday, July 16 of that same year, the property was open for use and dedicated in ceremonies much like these today.
As The Manchester Cricket reported: "The day was a stormy one, but the best cheer prevailed inside. Tea was served at five o'clock, a table being spread with many delicacies." The Club, of course, was organized, if not incorporated, in 1892. Its original members were yachtsmen from Manchester and members of the Beverly Farms Yacht Club who had been using a bath house at West Beach as their clubhouse.
In 1895, the Town of Manchester purchased what is now the some six acres of public land at Tuck's Point from Dr. Cyrus A. Bartol, a Unitarian minister who had a sharp eye for real estate and who at one time owned Norton's Point and much of Smith's Point as well as his own substantial dwelling at Glass Head.
The town paid Dr. Bartol $5,000 for the property at Tuck's Point and an additional $1,000 for an existing wharf. It then conveyed to two MYC members, Gordon Prince and William A. Tucker, the wharf and a parcel of land about 30 feet wide at its northern and, pending the incorporation of the Manchester Yacht Club. This took place at a meeting on June 10, 1895. Members then immediately voted to buy the land and the wharf and to authorize a mortgage on the property in the amount of $3,000. Architect Ernest Machado of Salem was chosen to design the club's new headquarters and to supervise its construction. The dry stone wall under the new club house is a part of the original pier. Built prior to 1890, this sturdy foundation which holds us up today, has withstood without damage more than a century of winter storms and hurricanes.
By 1903, additions were already being proposed to the original buildings. Back of the "Boat House" (the small structure on the left as you then faced the old club from the water) a room was built which housed a galley with a kerosene stove, a sink and two Murphy beds which folded up against the wall. They were still there when I was a kid in the 1930's and were then used occasionally by Henry Hall who served as Club Captain for 49 years, from 1911 to 1960.
In the early part of the century, of course, until use of the automobile grew just prior to World War 1, members arrived at the Yacht Club by horse and carriage. Whether there was a problem with parking as there is today, history does not reveal, but the Club's records do show that in September, 1895, a railing some 40 feet in length was erected "for hitching purposes."
Attempting to encourage the use of the club house in 1897, the Executive Committee on August 12, voted to authorize sale on the premises of such refreshments as "brandy, whiskey, beer, ginger ale, cheese and biscuits." Eighteen days later, however, on August 30, the Committee apparently thought better of its commitment, nullifying the motion, and repealing and declaring null and void its earlier action "concerning the sale of intoxicating liquor at the clubhouse." There has been no deviation from the policy ever since. Except at special events and private parties, the Club has wisely refrained from ever continually operating a bar or a restaurant.
Through the years, however, there have been plenty of pleasant opportunities to "bring your own bottle."
By 1901, the club had installed a telephone and in June of that year it was decided that tables in the Reading Room which was housed in the larger structure on the right as you viewed the old club from the channel, should be equipped with pitchers of "ice water." Indeed, the Reading Room from which the By Laws specifically stated "no publication shall be removed," offered members, according to an old bill from Floyd's News Store, the enjoyment of perusing copies of "Harper's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly, Puck, Judge, Life, Forest & Stream, Outing and Rudder" magazines.
As early as 1897, the Club initiated its popular, annual day devoted to "Water Sports." Up to 300 people, dressed in their finery, gathered on the porches and at the floats to watch their children, grandchildren and other youngsters walk the pole, in costumes of their choice, to reach the miniature MYC flag at its tip. Other events for boys and girls included tub races, canoe tilting, and swimming and rowing races. Often, a string orchestra played on the porch and tea was always served as the afternoon ended. Water Sports lasted through the 1950's when somehow life began to accelerate in other directions.
Up to the arrival of World War 1, the Club thrived, winning boat races locally, elsewhere on the East Coast and even abroad, and gaining a respect for its sailing abilities which was remarkable for its size. But in January 1918 with war still raging in Europe, use of the club had dropped to a worrisome low. Finances were also a major problem and the Executive Committee, with perhaps a bit too gloomy an outlook for the future, asked the membership "for permission to wind up the affairs of the club, provided that they can effect a sale of the property at a price which, in their judgement, is adequate."
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the meeting voted "that the Club property should not be sold." The premises were opened again that summer "on a reduced scale of expense." When the war ended, a special committee, appointed by the Commodore, successfully increased the number of members and encouraged a new interest in yacht racing. The buildings, then 23 years old, heaved an appreciative sigh of relief and once again in the Reading Room, tea was served in the afternoons "on Saturdays, Sundays and on Race Days,"
The Great Depression also took its toll on club activities. Pressed financially, a significant number of members resigned and for a while it was difficult to know whether funds could be found to pay Henry's salary. Fortunately, for all and for the future of the Manchester Yacht Club, they were, but these were still desperate years. As the economy improved, again in an effort to attract new members, construction of a swimming pool was proposed. Connolly Brothers of Beverly Farms designed one for the club and estimated its cost at $24,000. It was never built and only heaven knows where it might have been put!
Between the wars, the Club offered its members the opportunity to fuel their boats and there were two SOCONY gas pumps located near the bathhouses on the east side of the buildings. Those were the days of professional skippers, and I well remember many of them around the Club in khaki uniforms, black ties and yachting caps, who each day rowed out their boats to shine brass and to varnish hatches and trim, all of which glistened beautifully in the summer sun.
During World War 11, because of fuel rationing, the Club launch was put to bed at Dion's Yacht Yard. There were few adult males around and we kids were brought up by Henry, racing and sailing our own dinghies without formal instruction. There were also regular club dances attended by Naval officers, many of them British or French, from ships being repaired in Boston. These were wild parties and we used to watch from a safe distance as Water Sport tubs were used to ice down champagne.
After the war, things returned to normal and a new generation of youngsters, far larger than our small group of four, were instructed in the arts of sailing and seamanship as part of a hugely popular, well-organized, Manchester Yacht Club operated, Junior Program. Rowboats were replaced by rudimentary launch service. And in 1966, the Club purchased WHALEBACK and two years later, HALFTIDE.
Through the years, changes to the original structures designed by Ernest Machado were slowly made to meet the demands of each era. Bathhouses and lockers were built on the west side of the Club. After World War II, the bluestone driveway and parking area were paved with asphalt, the deck in front of the gangway was partially extended to provide additional space for Club functions and an office was constructed for the Club Captain.
In the late 1950's, the original architecture of the Club, which was so beautifully proportioned, was all but destroyed by the construction of much-needed quarters for the Junior Program. By the 1970's, a planning study urged other changes which included a further extension of the deck to its present size and the addition of a workshop for then Club Captain Carl Magee.
Somewhat earlier, the swimming porch (later known as the English Martini Porch, named for former secretary Bill English), was washed out to sea in an early spring storm further disturbing the integrity of the original design. Boxes and lockers were added on the deck as they were needed, as were bottles of LP gas for the galley and a container for trash barrels, both out front. Convenient -- even necessary -- yes, but still clutter on the surface and at the entrance of what was once a simple but elegant concept.
Old age, wear and tear, as well as storms and hurricanes also took their toll upon the buildings. Following the February Blizzard of 1978, Connolly Brothers was called in to pour more than 1 00 yards of concrete to form a pad under the Club to provide needed support. Mark Clemenzi, working to build this new club house, was one of those with Connolly Brothers at the time. The three-day No Name Northeaster, only a few years ago, with its huge sea surge, also lifted the porch deck more than a foot and this, too, necessitated extensive repairs to the Club's foundation. It's a wonder as well that we didn't lose the Club to fire, for each administration from Henry Hall to Carl Magee found itself forced to douse flames started by paint guns and even by vandals in the trash receptacles by the galley door.
In 1995, Club buildings quietly observed their 100th birthday. Painting, patching, puttying and some replacement -- always underway by members of the staff -- kept everything standing in good geriatric order. Plans had been discussed for some time - actually as early as 1991 -- which called for extensive repairs and restoration of the existing plant with the addition of several interesting features. An architect was engaged and, with understandable temerity about disturbing the original structures, beloved by so many generations of members, the Executive Committee edged forward. But it took an engineering survey to address the issue head on and to fire the first broadside in favor of economics and practicality.
Because of the small size and age of the facility and the condition of its outdated plumbing and electrical systems, the survey declared in October, 1996, it is recommended that the existing structures be completely demolished and that a new building be constructed. There were many in the Club who felt that such a step would brutally violate the history and traditions of more than a century. But there were others who believed, as I did, that the original buildings had been so altered over the years to meet changing demands that they had long since lost their original architectural integrity and charm. It was time to begin again.
There was a caveat, of course. The character of any new design should match the original in beauty and simplicity, reflecting the devotion to yachting and the water which has been the purpose of the Club for so many years. As the architect himself has stated: 'we tried to recreate the essence of what was there before, and yet design a building which meets the needs of the years ahead." Essence is a good word. Webster defines it as "the nature or flavor or something," and this new building accomplishes its goals, preserving the best of the old -- its scale, its general lines and its Greek revival waterside, while providing the best of the now -- more room, more comfort, more efficiency and a more contemporary richness and grace. It is still a collection of simple structures, neatly spliced together with details that reflect the past but do, indeed, offer new opportunities to enjoy the future. Not to be overlooked is that the chimney, which always anchors every early New England farmhouse to the ground, is the same that masons built in 1895. Its fireplace has warmed the backsides of many a generation of members throughout the past century.
Today, also, there seems to be a new spirit about the club, of which, in many ways, this now building is a symbol. We have a wonderful company of new members now to enjoy it. We have a new Club Captain, too, Jack Fadden, who bridges the old and the new, and who will provide the new building with the necessary tender loving care.
The House Committee, in its wisdom, will also provide ways to have the now Reading Room reflect the extraordinary traditions and accomplishments than have made the Manchester Yacht Club what it is today. For our burgee, which has flown on mastheads around the world, is much respected and admired wherever it appears.
I have only one regret connected with this happy occasion which I know that many of you share. It is that Carl Magee did not live long enough to see this building completed. That would have been a reward in itself, but many times this winter as I walked to this site, I thought of how much he would have enjoyed being involved in the details of its construction, for that was what Carl loved best.
In 1967, the Manchester Yacht Club observed its 75th Anniversary with a gala celebration which featured dinner and a special musical written by then Commodore Dick Preston. It seems appropriate to quote part of the song of the evening. It was entitled The 4th Prong on Your Trident and it proposed a new era when the ladies would to take over the Club. They would be represented by another prong added to our Trident's traditional three. The final verse, sung by the Commodorables -- wives of past commodores, including my Mother -- went like this: "We'll put a new shake in martinis, New braid for your cuff, A new shape in bikinis, An agenda that's tough. The fourth prong in your Trident, Will take in all that slack, Your problems are over, So lie back in your sack, Don't react, Just back the 4th Trident."
I won't say that our problems are over, or even that the ladies will take charge although, who knows, they are now rightfully equal to man both in membership privilege and status, but I will say that with this wonderful building, we have reached a new beginning and, as we turn the corner into a new century, the way ahead looks very bright indeed, Thank you all.
Gordon Abbott, Jr. 10 July, 1999
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