The Schuylkill Navy began in 1858 with nine clubs and approximately 300 members. In 1983, its 125th year, it boasted a membership or ten clubs and more than 1200 participating rowers. The ten clubs (with dates of joining) are the University (1858). Undine (1858), Bachelors (1859-70, 1882-date), Malta (1865), Crescent (1868), Vesper (1870-71, 1819-date), college (1875), Fairmount (1916), Penn Athletic (1925), and Philadelphia Girls (1961). At least 23 other clubs have belonged to the Navy at various times.
The Schuylkill Navy and its member clubs still host many races. In 1953, the Navy convinced the Dad Vail Rowing Association to move its regatta to Philadelphia. It has remained since. The Dad Vail is probably the largest collegiate regatta held and usually signifies the end of the spring rowing season for most collegiate teams. The 45th Annual Dad Vail Regatta (1983) had participating teams from 67 colleges. Other major regattas held each year include the Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta (sponsored by the University Barge Club) and the Frostbite Regatta. The Navy also sponsors other athletic endeavors including a basketball league and an annual cross country race. The latter has been held since 1899, with a few interruptions during World War II.
Boathouse Row Clubs
Fairmount Rowing Association was formed on September 17, 1877, by a small group of workingmen from the Fairmount neighborhood. They were able to purchase a six-oared barge, which was stored in an old building at Brown and 17th Streets. To row, the members had to carry the boat six blocks to the river. The club was incorporated on October 23, 1880. Fairmount found a permanent home on July 1, 1881, when they took up residence at #2 Boathouse Row, purchasing the building and equipment from Pacific Barge Club.
Fairmount joined the Schuylkill Navy in 1916 and has a long and storied history of successful competition, winning numerous national championships in sweeps and sculls at every level: junior, intermediate, senior, elite, and masters. Among Fairmount’s more recent feats, a pair of Fairmount members was recognized as the 2007 Masters Athletes of the Year during the 150th Anniversary celebration of the Schuylkill Navy. Red and Sara Sargent are accomplished scullers in their won right but, in keeping with the standard of 1904, Fairmount continues to dominate and elicit fear in the masters double at the national level. FRA web site »
Pennsylvania Barge Club has a proud heritage, dating back to its founding in 1861. Joining the Schuylkill Navy in 1863, Pennsylvania Barge had 359 race entries and 106 victories. Its teams represented the United States in the 1920 (four-with-cox), 1924 (four-with), 1928 (four-with and four-without), and 1932 (pair-with), Olympic Games. The 1932 Pennsylvania Barge pair, representing the United States, won the Gold Medal. Charles Kieffer of that pair was a LaSalle University graduate.
As a result of World War II, the club suffered a drastic reduction in membership and was disbanded. Successor organizations continued to maintain the building and serve as an administrative center for rowing, including serving as headquarters for the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, which later became USRowing. In 2009, the Club was reactivated and reinstated as a member of the Schuylkill Navy and continues to be an administrative center for rowing in Philadelphia with the Schuylkill Navy, the Philadelphia Center for Adaptive Sports, the Dad Vail Regatta, the Frostbite Regatta, and LaSalle College High School being its tenants. In 2010, extensive renovations were completed to the building exterior, boat bay, first and second floors. Pa Barge Club web site »
Crescent Boat Club was organized in 1867, when the Pickwick Barge Club and Iona Barge Club merged membership. At this time they occupied space in what is now Fairmount Rowing Association. Crescent joined the Schuylkill Navy in 1868 and incorporated in 1874.
Since the 1970’s, Crescent has experienced membership growth through novice, junior, and masters programs. In particular, the juniors continue to flourish with many summertime victories and solid representation at the Canadian Henley. Crescent is proud to host the Roman Catholic High School and Merion Mercy Academy rowing programs. Crescent Boat Club web site »
Bachelors Barge Club is the oldest of the 12 existing rowing clubs in the Schuylkill Navy and the oldest continuously operating rowing organization in the United States. Created on June 27, 1853 “to establish a boating club for the cultural benefit and the enjoyment of those concerned,” the gilded age of Bachelors Barge athleticism coincided with the Roaring Twenties Legendary financier Edward T. Stotesbury, who was president of Bachelors from 1927 to 1939.
The current boathouse is the fourth structure to house The Bachelors Barge Club. The Club’s first home was an 1853 shack on a dock opposite Fairmount Rolling Mills. In 1854 construction began on a brick house that was shared by the Philadelphia Club. That club disbanded after 1859 and Bachelors became the sole occupant of the boathouse. Bachelors received permission to demolish the brownstone structure in its current location and replace it with a two-story Pompeiian brick building in 1893, becoming the first structure allowed to use brick as its primary building material.
In addition to the Bachelors rowing programs, the boathouse currently houses the rowing programs for Drexel University and Wharton School of Business Crew. The doors are painted to match their distinctive vertical red and blue striped oar design. Bachelors Barge Club web site »
There exists controversy over who the University Barge Club (UBC) founders were. Some sources state, on April 25, 1854, ten members of the freshmen class of the University of Pennsylvania formed UBC, while other sources describe the founding fathers as alumni of the University.
University Barge Club boasts 230 members. Having originally been a men’s only club, women were admitted as full members in 1990 and a women’s locker and shower were built in 1997. Its colors are navy blue and white, recognizable on oars and flags as a three-fold vertical striping dark, light, dark. Since 1964, UBC has been home to the scholastic rowing program of Chestnut Hill Academy and, more recently, to that of its female counterpart, the Springside Academy.
University Barge Club is the organizer and host of the annual Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, recently becoming a two-day event due to its popularity. This 2.75-mile headrace had it’s beginning in 1968.University Barge Club web site »
Members of the Minnehaha Lodge of the Sons of Malta founded Malta Boat Club (then called Malta Barge Club) on February 22, 1860. The character of the club is best described by its symbol, the royal blue Maltese Cross. The four leaves of the cross stand for prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Undoubtedly, it was these traits that allowed them to complete their many rowing adventures. In 1860 the club rowed their six-oared barge, the “Minnehaha” down the Delaware to the Chesapeake Bay and up the Elk River. The next year an outing took the men to Port Deposit and Havre de Grace on the Susquehanna. And in 1887 club members rowed a barge from Kensington up the Delaware, through the Raritan Canal, and into New York City, where the New York Athletic Club hosted them. Their fortitude continues to be felt today as evidenced by Malta’s consistent national and international presence.
The club initially used a boathouse on Smith’s Island in the Delaware River, just off Chestnut Street. In 1863 the club underwent reorganization and moved to the east side of the Schuylkill just above the Spring Garden Street Dam. In 1865 Malta joined the Schuylkill Navy and purchased the clubhouse and boat of the Excelsior Club, which stood on the site of the existing boathouse. Malta absorbed the Keystone Boat club in 1871. Eight years after arriving on the Schuylkill, Malta in conjunction with Vesper Boat Club built semi-attached structures housing the two organizations. Malta’s one and one-half story house became too small by 1872, so in 1881 they requested permission to expand. It was at this time that the large Kelly Drive-facing front porch was built, a trend Bachelors later followed. Malta Boat Club web site »
Anchored by the motto “All Together,” Vesper Boat Club has one aim: to develop champions. Producing the first Olympic men’s eight gold medal in 1900, Vesper won gold again in 1904 and 1964, the only club in the U.S. to produce three Olympic eight champions.
Founded in 1865 as the Washington Barge Club, Vesper’s commitment to winning continues. Each year more than 30 high-caliber athletes train at the recently renovated club.
Other renowned Vesper champions are John B. Kelly, Sr. and later his son, John B. Kelly, Jr. Kelly, Sr. won the Olympic single scull in 1920 and in 1924 with his cousin Paul Costello. But as a laborer, Kelly was barred from entering the Diamond Sculls at the Royal Henley Regatta. Two decades later Kelly, Jr. won that event twice, in 1947 and 1949. Thanks to Jack Kelly, Jr.’s reign and the perpetual high caliber athletes, Vesper holds the record for the most Schuylkill Navy victories and rowing records. At the time of his death, Kelly, Jr. was the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
In 1970, after a century of accomplishments, Vesper became the first men’s club to organize a women’s team. At the 1976 Olympics, six Vesper women rowed in the U.S. women’s eight. Vesper Boat Club web site »
Renting space at Quaker City Barge Club and joining the Schuylkill Navy in 1875, the first important series of intercollegiate races for the young Penn crew included a win at the 1879 Childs Cup and participation in the IRA in 1895. Based on the impressive performances, the crew was invited to Henley Royal Regatta in 1901 – the first of numerous appearances.
Intercollegiate lightweight rowing in the United States began at Penn, with their organization in 1917 of a category for oarsmen weighting 150 pounds or less. From 1919 to 1929, the Penn lightweights suffered just one loss and made their mark. The history of women’s rowing at Penn can be traced to 1934, when the sport was offered as a class. In 1967 women’s rowing returned as a club sport and since 1975 has enjoyed varsity status. College Boat Club is the only all-collegiate presence on Boathouse Row.