The Columbia Yacht Club


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The Columbia Yacht Club at the foot of West Eighty-Sixth Street, is the most up and coming yacht organization on Manhattan island. Though the New York Yacht Club at the foot of East Twenty-Sixth Street may be a trifle more Social Registerish, the Columbia, on the whole, draws about the same crowd. Its club-house is in active use, while that of the new York Yacht Club is more a point of departure and arrival, than a tarrying place.

It was a bright, crisp autumn day when we stepped from the filled-in ground above the Columbia Yacht Club property, to the trim, grass-edged walk that leads to the private landing of the club-house. We weren't supposed to be there, but "No Admittance" signs had not stopped us yet, so we kept on going.

The Columbia Yacht Club was founded in 1867. Headquarters were then at the foot of West Fifty-Seventh Street. In 1874 the club moved up to the foot of West Eighty-Sixth Street and the Hudson River, its present home.

At that time, every one thought fashionable New York would follow Riverside Drive. Physically it was the most beautiful section of the city. For a time, the Drive did go Fifth Avenue.

Jim Fair, father of Mrs. Graham Fair Vanderbilt, erected a magnificent home in the West Seventies on Riverside. Amelia Bingham had a red house with white marble statues at Eighty-Third Street and the Drive. Bishop Henry Codman Potter, stepfather of Ambrose Clark, lived at Eighty-Ninth Street. Mathews, the soda-fountain man, had a house not far from the Bishop's; Charles Schwab erected a huge mansion on Seventy-Fourth and the Drive, and Mrs. Isaac Rice built that great big maroon and white brick mansion where Mrs. Leon Schinasi lives now, on the south side of Eighty-Ninth and the Drive.

Mrs. Rice founded the Anti-Noise Society of New York. She was one of the few people who practice what they preach. A feature of her residence was a huge cave, cut out of the rock at the rear of the house, where she could retreat to a noise-proof room. She spent most of her time in it. I wonder if it is still there?

In short, it was the smart district in which to live.

And then, for some reason, Social Register New York shifted to the East Side. But, though Fifth and Park rank high socially, Riverside Drive is still the most attractive residential portion of Manhattan island.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which old Mr. James Dwyer of the Marble Mansion put up, had not been completed when I was little. The white marble shafts used in the building of it lay lengthwise on the ground, like the ruins of a Grecian temple.

The rows of fine homes that ran the length of the Drive were detached, with landscaped grounds about them.

The house that stands out in my memory, is that of Mr. Mathews. His residence held a peculiar fascination for me as a child. It was a rambling light brownstone mansion and it stood on the northeast corner of Eighty-Ninth Street and Riverside Drive.

Rumor swept round among the children of the neighborhood that Mr. Mathews had installed a private soda fountain in his own home. None of us knew him, although we longed to make his acquaintance.

I lived at 588 West End Avenue. Whenever my family missed me, they eventually located me in front of the Mathews house trying to learn further details about the soda fountain.

Among the early settlers of West Eighty-Ninth Street was Charles Starbuck, Commodore of the Columbia Yacht club. His home was on Eighty-Ninth Street and West End Avenue in an English basement house with an elaborate black wrought-iron and crystal-glass canopy over the entrance.

Mr. Starbuck's life-long friend was a Mr. Chaffee who shared the Eighty-Ninth Street house with him. Mr. Chaffee died very suddenly. The night he died, Mr.Starbuck left the house. He never put foot in it after that.

Some of the better type of old New York mansions, built when Riverside Drive was a fashionable section of the city, linger on.

From our water-front point of vantage at the river's edge and One Hundred and Eighth Street, we could see the white cupolas of the Semple School, formerly owned by Schinasi, the tobacco king. Hundreds of debs of this and other days who have graduated from Mrs. Semple's Academy are familiar with the big wedding-cake-like structure, that boasts plumbing washed in gold, Italian mosaics on the bathroom floors and rooms done entirely in Circassian walnut.

In contrast to this marble palace above us, was the straggling Patchtown settlement at our feet.

The Columbia Yacht Club House is a charming little spot. The exterior looks like some pleasant summer seaside cottage of stained shingled wood with sloping roof and dormer-windows.

A private foot-bridge connects it with Riverside Park.

I often wonder if there isn't a great waiting list of members. It's such a nice place to go. When the weather is warm, bright canopies are stretched over tables along the shore, where one may sit and have light refreshments. The interior of the club-house is old-fashioned, but it's very pleasant. The walls are paneled in dark wood and there are some fine old prints of early sailing ships in the big front room.

Yachts have their uses. Brigadier-General Cornelius Vanderbilt steamed round from the New York Yacht Club anchorage at the foot of East Twenty-Sixth Street and the East River to the Hudson River and West Eighty-Sixth Street in his sea-going yacht, the Winchester, the evening that General Italo Balbo, the Italian aviator, was guest of honor at the Columbia Yacht Club. The distance across town from the Vanderbilt home at Fifty-First Street and Fifth Avenue to Eighty-Sixth Street and the Drive could have been covered in less than half an hour by motor. I don't know how long it took the General to sail about in his yacht, but I am sure he had a lot more fun out of the trip, even if he didn't make time.

Another novelty is ham and eggs that are enjoyed by Tom Lamont aboard the Lamont yacht each morning, when the swift little cruiser conveys the financier from his Englewood residence on the Hudson past the Columbia Yacht Club to Wall Street.

A trifle less luxurious but equally famous is the large flat-bottomed side-wheeler that plies in the summer between New York and the Atlantic Highlands, and sometimes gets up the Hudson. It is called the Mobjack.

Fifty years ago the Mobjack was a swift greyhound in Chesapeake Bay waters. It trundled round-about Norfolk and Cape Charles, carrying on its decks the belles and beaux of the period. At that time a voyage on the Mobjack was considered one of the fashionable pastimes. Many Virginians now living in New York recall much talked of voyages on it.

As we skirted the front yard of the club, we saw two very magnificent yachts at anchor in the river.

"Who owns those boats?" we asked a man at work on the grounds.

"Atwater Kent owns one of them," he answered. "And I think it's a Mrs. Moran has the other." He looked at us with curious but friendly eyes.

"And where did you ladies come from?" he asked.

"We're walking around Manhattan island," we explained.

"Some walk," he said. "Well, ye'll be seein' sights below here. There's Camp Paine ye're approachin'."

He nodded at a far-off group of straggling little buildings huddled along the water-front.

The land between the club and Seventy-Ninth Street dock has been filled in recently. A jagged line of granite rocks formed the only shore-line up to a few years ago. A wide dirt road now leads directly from the foot of West Seventy-Ninth Street to the Columbia Yacht Club. This was the one that we took. The afternoon was cold and blustering. The few shanty-town shacks scattered along the river-front swayed beneath the stiff west wind.

"Cold weather's starting early for you, isn't it?" we called to some men grouped around the little buildings.

" We're trying to keep it out with tar paper," one man called back, waving a flapping length of it.

This little settlement had nothing to do with the Camp Thomas Paine group farther down, though some of the men said they were World War veterans.

One of the boys we talked to had been a sailor. His cabin and those near had little porches, new wood boxes, wind-mills and garden fences. The sailor, handy at carpentering, had put things in order. he liked to garden. Frost-bitten zinnias and hollyhocks filled the tiny space that he had marked off for a flower-bed.

A former occupant of his house had been an Indian, also an ex-soldier, they said. He had a feeling for art. His outlet had been in murals on his roof and side-walls. They were of airplanes, machine-guns and no-man's land.

While some of the men in this particular settlement were of the professional out-of-work type, the majority were a grade higher, who belonged rather to the unemployed skilled artisan class than the panhandlers.

By far the most systematically run settlement that we had walked through, was Camp Thomas Paine, just below the West Seventy-Ninth Street docks.

These docks were formally used as anchorage for boats such as the Mopelia, and Inglis Uppercu's auxiliary schooner, The Seven Seas, as well as traveling show boats, coal barges and sand scows.

A wide boarding barred the way, the afternoon we crossed the docks. They say they have been condemned. A floating lunch barge was the only craft at anchor. We stopped for a cup of hot tea and a doughnut. it was rather a cheerful place, warm and cozy after the walk against the wind. A square counter with high stools grouped around it, filled the center of the cabin. An old barge captain stood near the stove. Back of it rose a white marble column. Resting on the shaft was a bust of Marie Antoinette.

"That's a funny thing to find here," Mrs. Steinway said.

"Where did you get it?" I asked the barge captain.

He looked at it thoughtfully and gave an extra puff on his pipe before replying. "Came from some big house on Long island, that a friend of mine used to own," he said. "The fellow lost everything but Marie Antoinette in the depression. I'm keeping her for him."


Website: The History
Article Name: The Columbia Yacht Club
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Round Manhattan's rim: by Helen Worden, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1934.
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