The first day of Spring is this Tuesday, March 20, and with spring’s arrival Buffalonians’ naturally begin to think about their plans in the warmer weather months. Although we know we haven’t seen the last snow fall, the days are starting to grow longer, and it’s increasingly difficult to not daydream about summer and enjoying Buffalo’s beautiful and revitalized waterfront. So, if you are starting to make plans, and are looking for a social community filled with history, sport, camaraderie, and beauty, then be sure to check out the Buffalo Yacht Club.
Prior to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo, NY was a small rural farming community. With its strategic position and access to the rest of the Great Lakes, it was only a matter of time before Buffalo became a great economic and transportation hub. According to New York State’s official website, the impact of the Erie Canal can still be seen today, where “nearly 80% of upstate New York’s population [still] lives within 25 miles of the Erie Canal.” Additionally, prior to the building of the Erie Canal, there was no water route to the west.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the lack of an efficient, safe transportation network kept populations – and trade – largely confined to coastal areas. The Northwest Territories that would later become Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio were rich in timber, minerals, and fertile land for farming. It took weeks to reach these precious resources. Travelers were faced with rutted turnpike roads that baked to hardness in the summer sun. In the winter, the roads dissolved in a sea of mud.
With the booming growth of Buffalo in 1825 centralized around the canal and it’s access to Lake Erie, the young city saw an influx of sailors and yachtsmen flock to Buffalo from around the country, particularly from the East Coast. On August 10, 1860, a small group officially formed the Buffalo Yacht Club. Today, the Buffalo Yacht Club is one of the oldest continuously operating Yacht Clubs in the U.S.
In 1860, approximately a dozen members paid an initiation fee of $3 and annual dues of $2. 158 years later, the Buffalo Yacht Club has over 600 members. Over the years, many illustrious Buffalonians have been members, including at one time, President Grover Cleveland.
The first of several Clubhouse structures was built in 1864 on the Erie Basin breakwall—presently the site of the Erie Basin Marina. This was also the location of the Western Terminus of the Erie Canal. This popular, and busy location was the “haunt of tough canalers and lake sailors.” Therefore, a grant was secured from the State of New York for “riparian rights” to occupy the offshore lands from Porter Avenue. It was on this site in 1861 that the members constructed their first small dock and raised the mast and gaff that flew the Club Burgee.
In 1892, there was a noticeable shift away from participation in regattas in favor of a growing feminine influence within the Club, “Accent was on short cruises and spins around the harbor and down the river with the ladies usually present. “Ladies Day” became a regular feature instead of an occasional special one. And the old, patched clubhouse began to appear inadequate for the gala social events coming into vogue.”
At the annual meeting of 1893 a committee was established to formulate plans for a new clubhouse. Architect H. L. Campbell, who designed a number of recreational structures (many in Buffalo’s parks), proceeded to draw plans for a clubhouse which would feature “shower baths, ladies’ rooms, lounges, billiard room, manager’s office, cafe, a large dance floor, locker room and sail loft with an estimated cost of $10,000.”
The clubhouse building at One Porter Avenue, Buffalo, NY was the the fifth and final clubhouse to be constructed. Although it had to be rebuilt in 1951, after a fire ravaged the building.
Unknown to many, The Buffalo Yacht Club also owns a second location at Point Abino Station, Ontario, Canada. The site is located an hour and a half from Toronto, 15 minutes from Buffalo, and minutes from Crystal Beach. In 1902 the land was generously donated to the Yacht Club by one, Mr. Allen Holloway. The originally constructed clubhouse burned to the ground just three short years after its construction. In its place, the club built a series of rustic buildings, “These buildings retain their original charm, providing a perfect setting for casual summer gatherings.” In August 1906, King Edward VII issued a special grant permitting the club to hold this property and gave the club riparian rights to a depth of six feet. Since 1960, The club has expanded the capacity of the basin from 16 boats to over 125. In the 1980’s, tennis courts and a swimming pool were added.
One unique feature of the Buffalo club’s interior is the bar in the shape of a boat. In 1953, a man by the name of Dan Kraft purchased a popular plywood cruiser hull made by Richardson Boat Company. After extensive renovations, the bar was christened, “Mary Openbottom.”
Today, the Buffalo Yacht Club still operates as a private social club, with educational and recreational activities. Interestingly, you do not need to own a boat or even know how to sail to become a member. The Porter Avenue location of the Buffalo Yacht Club in one year round and has two dining rooms, as well as a large covered deck which is open during the boating season, from May through October, “the outside patio allows members and guests to enjoy the beautiful sunsets over Lake Erie.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Buffalo Yacht Club, or in membership opportunities, check out their website at www.buffaloyachtclub.org