Georgetown Time Machine: Long Gone Boathouse

This week for Georgetown Time Machine, GM is exploring a long gone boathouse. The image above is from the Daily Graphic Newspaper out of New York from June 19, 1874. It is of the Potomac Boat Club.

The Potomac Boat Club (or PBC) was founded as a rowing club in the middle of the 19th century. Some sources, including Wikipedia, peg the club’s founding to 1859. But according to the club’s own history, what was founded in 1859 was somewhat of a precursor organization known as the Potomac Barge Club. PBC itself was formed July 6, 1869.

PBC built a small boathouse at the foot of Congress St. (which is now 31st St.) This structure was soon replaced with the structure seen above. Here is another sketch of the building from 1870:

This boathouse was replaced on the same spot in 1875 by this stunning building:

According to contemporary news accounts this new boathouse was:

a model of its kind in America, and even today is the envy of many of the rich clubs of the North….[it housed] seventy-three private crafts, thirty-three of which are the beautiful canoes that are now so popular on the river.

The last bit about canoes reflects the canoe-craze of the late 19th century. In fact, a group of PBC members broke away to help form the Washington Canoe Club in 1908 to pursue that interest.

While this boathouse was beautiful, as you can see from the photo, the location wasn’t. Industry surrounded the boathouse on both sides:

This situation may hep explain why the club was looking for a new home 30 years later. It settled on a lot just east of the aqueduct bridge:

PBC constructed its new home there in 1908, and it is still the building used by the club today.

As mentioned in the article above, the arrival of PBC to this spot in 1908 (and Washington Canoe Club’s construction of its own building in 1904) brought focus on Three Sisters. This group of islands was (and remains) a bit of an obstacle for rowers and paddlers. It was hoped that they could simply be removed, and then this stretch of the Potomac could become the “Henley of America”:

Obviously the effort failed. And sixty years later, a similar attempt to destroy the islands failed. To this day, rowers going up the river have to negotiate the narrow stretch of water around the islands. Although it hasn’t prevented regattas from using the river, even if they’re not quite as grand as the “Henley of America”.


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