Key dates in University Barge Club’s story:
1854 – The Club was founded by ten members of the University of Pennsylvania’s freshman class, who purchased the four-oared barge “Hesperus” from Bachelor’s Barge Club. Their pursuit of rowing as a club was Penn’s first official organized athletic activity. Membership in the Club was initially restricted to Penn students. As time passed, Penn alumni and then others not affiliated with the University also joined, an indicator of the spirit of camaraderie at the heart of UBC. Student membership in University Barge Club declined and eventually moved to College Boat Club, founded in 1872.
In the early years, the Club rented part of the Philadelphia Skating Club (now Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club) where the two UBC boats – the four-oared Hesperus and six-oared Lucifer – were stored. Races and barge outings along the Schuylkill and Delaware were primary activities.
(For more detail about the early days, see below from the Penn University Archives and Record Center below)
1858 – University Barge and several other clubs founded the Schuylkill Navy on October 5th. The oldest amateur athletic governing body in the United States, the Schuylkill Navy today oversees several regattas and governs the conduct of rowing on the Schuylkill. Its first regatta was held in June 1859.
Civil War and after – Rowing by the Club essentially ceased during the War. Half of the clubs that had founded the Schuylkill Navy did not survive the period, but after the Civil War, rowing returned as a tremendously popular sport – for both participants and spectators. When Harvard raced Oxford on the Thames in 1869, more than half a million people lined the banks to watch the four mile race. In Philadelphia – the epicenter of American rowing – regattas were well-attended, attracting thousands of people to the river for a day of cheering their favorites as well as betting on the races.
1871 – Together with the Philadelphia Barge Club, University Barge built its own boathouse at No. 7 Boathouse Row, where it stands today. The architect is unknown, but thought to be the Secretary of Philadelphia Barge Club. The two clubs shared the space, each occupying half of the building, and enjoyed a healthy rivalry with many races against each other followed by celebratory dinners at their upriver social clubs – UBC’s The Lilacs and Philadelphia’s The Anchorage.
UBC used the boathouse for stowing the boats and equipment, while almost all social activities took place at the Lilacs. The Club owned several “lady boats” of varying sizes which were used to ferry passengers up the river. The Marguerite and the Cyrene are still owned by UBC.
1891 – Team rowing was at first conducted primarily in four- and six-oared boats. In the 1870s, Ivy League colleges adopted the eight-oared shell. As the use of “eights” became common, University Barge and Philadelphia Barge decided to add matching bays to accommodate the larger boats. The additions were designed by Baker & Ballet.
The War Years and Between the Wars – The demands of two World Wars and the Depression took a toll on active rowing. In 1932, the Philadelphia Barge Club ceased operation and merged with UBC.
1954 – The Schuylkill Navy recognized the centennial of University Barge Club with a commemorative resolution that remains on display in the Club.
1968 – Chestnut Hill Academy, a boys’ independent school, began its crew and sculling program at UBC. CHA has rowed continuously from the club since then.
1968 – The Club organized and sponsored the Graduate Sculls Regatta, a masters-only event that developed into the inclusive Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta. Open to scholastic, college, club and masters rowers, the Regatta has grown from entries of a few dozen boats to over 1,400 today.
1987 – The National Park Service designated Boathouse Row a National Historic Landmark.
1990 – A men’s club from the time of its founding, UBC voted to admit women as full members, and reconfigured its floor plan to accommodate a locker and shower room in 1994.
1996 – Springside Academy, a girls’ independent school, joined CHA in rowing from the Club. In 2012 Springside and CHA merged to form Springside CHA.
1999 – The Lea Balcony was added to the riverside portion of the boathouse, returning the façade to its historic design. The new balcony, which allows for social gatherings of 75 and sit down dinners for 40, was designed by UBC member Jeff Walker.
2004 – University Barge Club celebrated its 150th anniversary.
2004 – To recognize and preserve the historic nature of the building that houses University Barge, the Club organized the UBC 1871 Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization which raises funds for preservation of the boathouse and oversees all maintenance, repair and improvement of the house itself.
2009 – The Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta was organized as an independent entity, separate from the Barge Club, and granted 501(c)(3) status.
ROWING AT PENN: THE EARLY YEARS, 1854 – 1901
University Barge Club (founded 1854)
The sport of rowing began at the University of Pennsylvania in 1854 with the founding of the University Barge Club. This initiative was taken by students, specifically ten members of the freshman class: George H. Waring, John W. Williams, J. Ashurst Bowie, J. Beauclerc Newman, Horace G. Browne, James H. Peabody, Alexander B. Coxe, Edmund A. Robinson, Pemberton S. Hutchinson, and Chas. I. Macouen.
These young men, like many Penn students at the time, were in the habit of frequenting Tom Barrett’s Gymnasium after classes were done for the day. Here on the upper floors of a building near 8th and Market Streets they learned sparring and fencing. The sport of rowing was becoming increasingly popular in Philadelphia, so when the weather turned warm, these freshmen went out to Charlie’s boathouse on the Schuylkill River near the Fairmount Waterworks; before too long they purchased a “barge,” a boat named the “Hesperus,” from the Bachelor’s Barge Club for one hundred dollars and formed the University Barge Club.
In these early days, club members wore uniforms and participated in drills. The daily drills included tossing and storing the oars, handling the boat hooks and lines, practicing pushing away from and landing at the boat slip. The required sailor’s uniform consisted of a white shirt cut low at the neck with a wide, turned-down collar, bell-bottomed white duck pants, a pea jacket with brass buttons, a wide belt, and a straw hat trimmed with long ribbons. All was purchased from clothier Jacob Reed; both the hat and the belt were monogrammed with “U.B.C.”
The club’s rowing activities included competitive racing, regattas and also pleasure trips to various destinations on the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The University Barge Club was not listed as a student organization in the first yearbooks of 1863 and 1865, but in 1867 the yearbook mentions that the University Barge Club had won the championship flag of the Schuylkill Navy after a lull in competitions while many rowers were involved in the Civil War. According to the 1867 yearbook, the University Barge Club at that time rented part of the Philadelphia Skating Club house where it kept its two boats, the four-oared shell Hesperus and the six-oared outrigger barge Lucifer. It was common for club members to launch their boats here and then travel to their upriver house, “The Lilacs.”
At first, membership in the University Barge Club was restricted to Penn students, but when the Club began to open membership to alumni and even those not affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, student enthusiasm for the Club declined. By 1871 when the University Barge Club built its own boathouse on the Schuylkill River’s Boathouse Row, there were few Penn students on the membership rolls.
The University Barge Club and its members, including some students, many alumni and others, were included in the yearbooks of 1868 through 1870. Penn students, however, were seeking an alternative. Thus, the College Boat Club was founded in the fall of 1872, a year after the University Barge Club built its own boathouse on Boathouse Row. While College Boat Club members are listed in the yearbooks from this year forward, members of the University Barge Club were omitted from the 1871, 1872 and 1873 yearbooks. When the University Barge Club members were found again in the 1874 yearbook, the following comment also appeared:
“The University boasts of two boat clubs, viz. the University Barge Club, one of the most flourishing clubs on the river, composed chiefly of graduates; and the College Barge Club [College Boat Club], a young, energetic organization, engaged at present in putting up a boat house at Fairmount Park.”