The Skaneateles Yacht Club

In 1907, the Skaneateles Yacht Club ran aground, on purpose.

Earlier sailing clubs had expired on the water: The Skaneateles Model Yacht Club, organized in 1854 as “a model of excellence,” held its last race in 1857. Forty years later, the Skaneateles Yacht Club tried again but was becalmed; reorganized in 1905, it held a race followed by a “club run” to 10 Mile Point for a shore dinner, where members may have enjoyed the dining as much as the sailing.

By 1907, as Sedgwick Smith noted in his Sailing on Skaneateles Lake, the average member of the Skaneateles Yacht Club had “lost interest in the water” and many of the newer members didn’t even own a boat. The local paper reported, “The Skaneateles Yacht Club will hold a clam feast and smoker at The Packwood, Thursday evening, March 7th, 8 o’clock sharp. A large attendance is desired as several matters of interest are to be considered.”

“Matters of interest” for the club’s 150-plus members included a place to call home, with a billiard table rather than a dock. The new “club rooms” were established on two floors over the Post Office in the Rawlins block (at the northeast corner of Jordan and Genesee). The painting and papering were done by J.E. Palmer, who owned a local paint store, and the rooms were wired for electricity by Shotwell, Tucker & McGinn.

The furnishings included Mission Oak chairs and a davenport, cane-seated maple chairs, tables for playing cards and chess, iron parlor stoves, Brussels carpets on the floor and ornamental chandeliers on the ceilings. There was also a kitchen and an office with an oak roll-top desk. The club steward was Ralph “Dad” Strong, a former hotelier from Syracuse, who contributed not just his managerial expertise but also “a fine specimen of a white owl, mounted and enclosed in a glass case.”

SYC-Card-WEB

In 1908, to refresh the club’s coffers, a benefit concert was given at Legg Hall; singers Stephen J. Murphy (tenor), Mae Hall (contralto) and Lucy Taylor (soprano), accompanied by Mrs. Alexander Brown, all of Auburn, were  “most enthusiastically received.” The same singers held forth at another Yacht Club benefit that year, this one at the Odd Fellows temple on State Street, with the addition of F.W. Weedon of Marcellus singing funny English songs (he “brought down the house several times”) and Mrs. W.B. Ward, Jr., whose performance of “Annie Laurie” on the harp prompted a demand for an encore.

The club rooms themselves were often the scene of more informal “stag smokers,” and in 1909 the club made extensive improvements to its rooms in the Rawlins block, which included the removal of a wall on the third floor to make room for a second billiard table.

In 1910, a Yacht Club Ball was held at Legg Hall on December 27th; those who responded to the 200 invitations were entertained by Hickok’s University Orchestra (six pieces) and nourished by Mrs. Howland, a cateress.

More typical was the Skaneateles Yacht Club stag party of 1911; Fred Krebs catered “a most bountiful luncheon” for the 125 guests. The entertainers included C.T. Thompson with his Victrola, the Skaneateles Mandolin Club, and Richard Manning Shanahan of Syracuse who entertained with recitations of Kipling’s “Gunga Din” and “The Old Man and Jim” by James Whitcomb Riley. Mr. Shanahan also played the piano and sang “Wearing of the Green,” “Under the Rose,” “What’s the Use of Saving Money?” and Tannhauser’s “Song from the Evening Star.”

Sam-Kane-WEB

Samuel A. Kane

The newspaper account also mentioned a member who would mean much to the village in the years to come: “S.A. Kane, who is a hustler, raised nearly enough money during the evening to buy an elegant new Crane piano, which will grace the club rooms in the future.” Samuel A. Kane came to Skaneateles in 1907 to serve as Treasurer of the Skaneateles Railroad; he bought it in 1920, and served as President/Mayor of Skaneateles for 19 years (1923-1943). Kane Avenue (the village portion of West Lake Road) is named for him.

The Crane piano was installed the week after the party. It was made by the W.T. Crane Piano Co. of Syracuse, which made uprights in both regular and piano-roll player styles. I don’t know if the club’s new instrument was simply an improvement on the one played by Richard Shanahan or a player piano that could provide music for the members in the absence of a musician.

During his era, the club had more than 150 members and was flourishing. A few of the members were still sailing, and in 1914 they formed the Skaneateles Sailing Club. Sedgwick Smith noted, “We had nothing in common with those who chalked their cues in the rooms over the Post Office.”

In 1915, during the village’s Old Home Week celebration, an evening water carnival was supervised by Walter Cavell, commodore of the Skaneateles Yacht Club. The Skaneateles Press reported:

“The lake was dotted with rowboats and motorboats carrying scores of Japanese lanterns which swayed to and fro. The feature of the carnival was the two Smith yachts, which bore a myriad of colored lanterns suspended from their masts. The sails had been removed and the craft were towed by the power boat Lotus, operated by George Barber. During the evening, a negro quartet from Syracuse entertained the crowds with popular airs. The songs which floated up from the water were frequently applauded and the singers were not permitted to desist until a late hour. About 9 o’clock, a huge blaze appeared about half a mile up the lake. This came from a raft covered with barrels of pitch, paper and other combustibles. The illuminated craft circled about the glowing pile.”

Food continued to be a priority. After the annual meeting of 1916, “sweet cider, doughnuts and pumpkin pie” were served. In April of 1919, magician E.R. Warner held forth at the club rooms and refreshments were served afterwards. However, all was not well. In December of 1920, the newspaper reported, “Officials of the Skaneateles Yacht Club have found it necessary to call a halt on the frequent use of the clubroom and its privileges by persons who are non-members. They feel that those who benefit by and appreciate the many fine features of the club should be willing to help sustain the same.”

The next year saw an auction of “surplus furniture” and a move to the third floor of the Goodspeed block (on the west side of Jordan Street). The entertainments became more modest; in March of 1923, the newspaper reported, “The Skaneateles Yacht Club will be ‘at home’ next Monday evening at its rooms in the Goodspeed Block. Hot dogs and other eats will be served.”

In 1924, Charles M. Goodspeed was re-elected as Commodore at the annual meeting. “Treasurer’s report showed the club in good financial condition. After the business session a pleasant social hour was spent and a substantial lunch served.” Charles M. Goodspeed was a ginseng tycoon, editor of Special Crops magazine and owner of the building where the club rooms were maintained. When he died in 1927 at the age of 73, he was noted as the “former Commodore,” and it appears that the club died with him.

In 1931, the Skaneateles Mid-Lake Sailing Club was formed with E.N. Trump as Commodore and organized sailing returned to the lake.

* * *

My thanks to Robert K. Hydon who first mentioned the existence of the land-locked yacht club to me, and to the Skaneateles Historical Society for the photo of Samuel Kane and the SYC membership card.

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