The Housatonic Boat club is in its 128th season – the oldest active yacht club in the state! In January of 1887 seven prominent Stratford men met to form a club for, as our charter reads “ …social intercourse, and to promote and encourage an interest in yachting.” By April of that year its two-story clubhouse was raised on pilings at the edge of the river channel, at a cost of $1,204, and a 200-foot catwalk stretched across the marsh to the riverbank, on property of Alfred Ely Beach, publisher of Scientific American. The site was chosen for its commanding view of the river, and an easy reach up or down the river in the prevailing southwesterly breeze. On 21 May forty-one members held an organizational meeting, and at the official dedication of the clubhouse on the Fourth of July membership in the Housatonic Club totaled fifty-one. John Benjamin, a founder of the New York Stock Exchange, was elected first president (commodore) – the only one ever elected by the general membership – and held that office until his death in 1906, when Frederick Converse Beach succeeded him.
At the start the fleet included cats, cutters, cat-ketches, and sharpies berthed in slips, with kayaks, canoes, and Whitehalls on the floats. In 1888 James Leavitt introduced the first naphtha launch, and soon the beaches owned one, too. Naphtha launches were popular for a while, but few remain today because they boiled gasoline to generate steam, a risky process. Bedell Benjamins’s steam yacht, with five-man paid crew, was too large to keep at the Club, so he tied it up at his own dock, upstream from Bond’s. Soon the first gasoline launches, with noisy, smelly, one-lung engines, appeared.
The Club’s facilities were intentionally spartan. In 1891 a bathhouse and a sandy beach, reached by a 160-foot plank walk along the edge of the marsh, provided a spot for swimmers. In 1893 John Beach’s studio was floated in for use as a men’s bathhouse. A winter project to lengthen the clubhouse was com-pleted in time for the 9 May 1896 Club opening. Until 1933 oil lamps provided light. Running water came in 1946, when pipes were laid across the fields to Elm Street every spring, and taken up each fall. A one-hole privy, with a view down to the river, was hidden in a closet beneath the clubhouse stairs – a true water closet.