HISTORY OF THE HALIFAX RIVER YACHT CLUB
1890s THE QUEEN OF THE RIVER
The Halifax River Yacht Club, incorporated as a private club on 19 May 1896, is believed to be the oldest yacht club on the eastern seacoast still on its original site. In the Daytona Beach area, it is known to be the one private organization in continuous operation from 1896 to the present — spanning three centuries.
An author once wrote, eulogizing the Club: “The Queen of the River, she balances on her spindly legs in the brackish water of the Halifax River, as though she had just tip toed from the shore. She is old and shows her age, but has withstood lightning, hurricanes, and floods, all these years. She is the Halifax River Yacht Club, one of Daytona’s earliest landmarks.” She also has been called affectionately, “Heaven on the Halifax”.
With the Club’s founding in 1896, five men drafted the Constitution and Bylaws. These documents, though faded, are preserved and seen in the Club’s Historical Cabinet. The Club’s first meeting was held on 8 January 1896, attended by 13 prominent townsmen who were its founding fathers. All were avid sailors with a common sport, racing their gaff-rigged catboats on the Halifax River. Victor Vuillaume was elected the first Commodore with five members to the Board of Trustees.
Thirty-one members were elected to membership in February and committees were appointed. Treasurer E. G. Harris was instructed to collect a $10 initiation fee and 50 cents dues per month (about $500 and $25 today). Among these early members were R. S. Maley, Parker Wilder, Chas. E. Burgoyne, Charles Ballough, James N. Gamble, and Carl Knapp, many of whose names are well remembered by longtime residents. All worked to make the Yacht Club a reality that has prospered to this day.
During the first year, members met in the large Atlantic Building across the street where balls also were held. In March 1896, Laurence Thompson, a founding father of Daytona and one of the original 13 members, gave permission to construct a wharf from his premises on Beach Street, including the “riparian rights”. It was built 8 feet wide and ran out 150 feet with a T-structure at the end for a cost of $225. In February 1897 the original clubhouse, about 25 by 40 feet in size with porches on the south and east sides, was built by S. H. Gove for $1,367 — about $65,000 in 2003 dollars. This first building is now called the “West Room” and contains the Historical Cabinet with pictures and stories of the Club’s history. Chas. Burgoyne became our 4th Commodore in 1899 and initiated dredging a 4.5’ deep channel from the Club’s dock into the natural river channel, sharing the cost, and generously helping in other ways.
1900 THE NEW CENTURY
In 1902 Mr. Gove built a 30-foot addition to the east end of the clubhouse that included our landmark square cupola.
In 1906 a second story addition was made to the clubhouse, including today’s “Bridge” with a porch on the east end. A tall flagpole stood at the southeast corner with the Club’s burgee flying from a shorter pole atop the square cupola. This configuration, without significant change, stood proudly for more than half a century!
The first HRYC regatta in 1896 was held on Washington’s Birthday and was continued in later years, often followed by a grand ball. During those early years, regattas for yachts, sailboats and launches were held on New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and other holidays — with lesser races in between. Cruises were also organized to nearby points of interest on the waterway.
Just as the automobile replaced the horse and carriage on shore soon after the start of the 20th century, so did powerboats come to greatly outnumber sailboats at the Club. In 1905, Commodore Allen gave the HRYC the Commodore Allen Trophy for long distance motor races. This large and beautiful trophy cup, adorned with Spanish coins from the Spanish American War, stands proudly in the trophy case. By the 1920s sailboats almost disappeared at the Club docks as powerboats dominated. Many northern members brought their large motor yachts down for the season. Powerboat races on the Halifax became more popular, reaching a peak in the late 1930s before World War II.
Florida experienced a second boom after the War, and the Yacht Club grew with it. The membership increased to twice its prewar number within the decade. In late 1945 the Club hired its first general manager. In 1950, Steward Earnest “Brownie” Brown was hired, serving faithfully until 1982 and still well remembered by many members. The new Municipal Yacht Basin was completed in 1951, and the following year the Yacht Club made a major effort to relocate to a proposed new clubhouse on leased City property
Many improvements were made to the clubhouse during the 1950s, culminating in 1960 with the addition of a closed-in porch with glass-paneled sliding doors and a walk-around deck built at the east end where finger piers had previously provided dockage for several boats. It was called the River Room, and later became today’s Flag Room.
Two events of 1960 are most noteworthy. First, a group of ladies known informally as the “Ways and Means Committee” because of their valuable assistance in many ways, was re-christened as the “First Mates”. Today we know them as the “Commodears.” Second, Commodore Ellenwood established The Binnacle as the official Club publication.
The decade of the 1960s was remarkable for several achievements. Clear title to the Club’s real property with riparian rights was acquired with quitclaim deeds from the descendants of Laurence Thompson — and was thought to be final. Air conditioning was provided in the clubhouse. The first dining room tables and chairs were acquired for food service other than at the bar. A Long-Range Planning Committee was formed. Under Commodore Stuart Lee the Daytona Beach Chapter of the International Order of the Blue Gavel was organized at the Yacht Club with Lee as its first president. Its name was soon changed to the Halifax River Yacht Club Chapter of the Blue Gavel, and it has been of great assistance over the years. Commodore Lee also started the Yearbooks that provide so much useful information for members. Of course, there were also fishing tournaments, cruises to various other clubs, as well as just sailing and the dinners, parties, and social events at the Club.
Most important, the decision was made to bulkhead and fill the parking lot as recommended by the Long-Range Planning Committee in early 1966. At a cost equivalent to about $194,000 in today’s money, the area on both sides of the entrance pier from the present bulkhead on the east and south to the fire station property on the north was bulk headed, filled, and paved for a parking lot. This was a monumental improvement that brought much opportunity. For the first time the clubhouse could be entered from the west end, the docks could be rebuilt, and additional office space could be added. Lack of sufficient parking had been a major problem.
As the 1970s began, the Bylaws were amended to limit the number of Active members to 500 persons. The interior of the clubhouse was renovated and computerized accounting was implemented. In 1974 the Commodears were organized, evolving from the First Mates — these ladies continue to assist the Club in numerous ways. That year the bar was moved from the west end to the east end of the clubhouse. In 1975 a large addition was made to the north side of the clubhouse, and the kitchen was moved down from the second deck. This marked the end of a rebuilding program and expansion.
Most notable during the 1970s was the rebirth of ocean racing. Sailing yachts all but disappeared before the Second World War, but made a comeback afterward and soon were numerous again, perhaps an equal number of powerboats and sailboats being seen. In 1972, the Club sponsored the HRYC Invitational Race, running from Ponce Inlet to Cape Canaveral, with trophies provided and pre- and post-race festivities. In 1975, Don Shaw, energetic chairman of the Racing Committee, began to promote ocean racing. The climax of that very successful racing season came at the Awards Banquet at which Dave Russell was the overall winner with four firsts. He earned the distinction of being the first person ever to win the Club’s 70-year-old perpetual trophy, the Commodore Cup that was given in 1905 by Commodore Allen originally for motorboat racing. In 1976 came the introduction of the Lady Helmsman Race and the first running of the Daytona Challenge Race. Other races were in conjunction with the East Coast Cruising Association. Promoted by Shaw, these races were meant to be family affairs with a variety of craft competing for the fun and joy of racing and the chance to learn. The boats were handicapped to give each a fair chance, and soon different classes evolved.
The great event of the 1970s was the first Daytona to Bermuda race that came to be known as the TransAt. It was co-sponsored by the St. George’s Dinghy and Sports Club of Bermuda and would continue so in future years. Conceived in 1977 and well planned, this first race left Ponce Inlet on 27 May 1978 for a run of about 860 nautical miles to Bermuda. The TransAt put the HRYC on the map, nautically speaking. It was the first time a sailboat race to Bermuda had originated from a southern port, the first time a major ocean contest had started at Daytona, and the first time a local yacht club had sponsored such an event. It was a great success!
During 1977, under Commodore Roy Kinsey, the Yacht Club purchased the lot across Beach Street that is today’s overflow parking lot. It was purchased both for additional parking and as a potential site for a future clubhouse should anything happen to the old one. Known as “Kinsey’s lot,” the purchase was recorded in December 1977 and by March 1978 an existing building was removed and the lot cleared.
Although the Daytona to Bermuda race, or TransAt, was originally planned as a biennial event, the race was sponsored again in 1979 in order to make the race a biennial event in the off year from the traditional Newport-Bermuda race. The 1979 race schedule for the Club included 15 races with 92 boats registered, 79 from the local area. At the Awards Banquet, 48 of 108 trophies went to Club members. Once again, the main event was the 2nd TransAt that departed on 26 May. And again the Governor of Bermuda welcomed all competitors, noting that last year’s event had been a great success. The Minister of Tourism noted the tremendous amount of goodwill generated by the yachtsmen and their families who came to Bermuda for this regatta. Nineteen yachts in three classes and ranging in size from 30 to 67 feet were registered, with 14 starting and all but one reaching Bermuda.
During this period, three small Kingfisher class sailboats were kept at the Club for the use of members or their guests. These had been acquired four years earlier and provided members and their children the enjoyment of both rigging and sailing the craft. In 1987, by then little used, these small boats were given to the Sailing Center just down the river that encouraged sailing in the area.
The decade of the 1980s would be another one noted for its ocean racing with a dozen or more races each season and these provided the most excitement. Of course, the TransAt was raced in odd numbered years. In 1981 the name “Trans-At” was first suggested and formally adopted as indicating a blue-water race from the east coast, comparable to the Trans-Pac from the west coast to Hawaii. That year the Commodears Cup was awarded to the female skipper whose boat had the best overall corrected time. Thirty boats entered and finished that race. Dr. Bob Keyes was the first Commodore to sail the TransAt.
During 1982 the clubhouse underwent much needed renovation and the parking lot across Beach Street was paved. In 1983 a fire protection sprinkler system was installed. The TransAt was said to be the best ever. In 1984 the Club reached an Active membership of 500 with 146 Associate members, thereafter operating under a cap of 500 Active members. Many cosmetic improvements were made thanks to the Commodears. In 1984 the initiation fee was raised and an assistant manager position created. The TransAt brought a record number of entrants with international attention. All of this activity and a full social schedule through the years.
During 1986 the new Administrative Offices were completed and the kitchen was expanded and modernized. That year the old Flag Room was completely removed, new pilings driven, and a new Flag Room built to provide greater usability and comfort below and an upper deck for activities above. The highpoint of the year was a Recommissioning Party in November to display the new bar and furnishings and new burgees for the 33 yacht clubs of the Florida Council. All of that was combined with a racing season extending from May through October.
Improvements continued in 1987 with a new canopy and a display case for historical memorabilia, and new outdoor furnishings for the Patio Deck. A highpoint of the year was a hilarious skit, “In The Beginning,” put on by various members and depicting the founding of the Yacht Club and the character of the men involved. A similar skit was provided the following year, covering a later period of Club activities.
In 1988 Commodore Frank Zimmerman, with his First Lady, “Peg,” oversaw the introduction of a new “in-house” computer system, the erection of a new decorative wall by the west end of the clubhouse, landscaping, and the introduction of Sunday evening dances. New lunch and dinner menus truly revitalized the Club, a “touch of class” being added. As the decade ended, the Bridge Room was refurbished, the office area was revamped, and the rest rooms expanded for visiting boaters.
The Yacht Club has had a number of good general managers over the years, two of whom deserve special notice because they both served for 15 or more years. Arthur L. “Bud” Chappell was hired in 1956 and served admirably until 1971. He is well remembered by some of our older members. Robert G. “Bob” Ginn was hired in 1972 and served until retiring in 1988. Bob Ginn served during a period of great excitement and improvements, giving his all to the activities and functions of the Club, and he is well remembered by many members today.
Commodore Zimmerman also responded aggressively to a decision by the Florida Department of Natural Resources (FDNR) that the Club did not possess clear title to the formerly submerged state land that became our parking lot. This led to compliance with a number of imposed conditions that would allow the Club to purchase said property from the state, but that effort took several years to accomplish.
In 1989, under Commodore John Moran with First Lady, “Betty,” the Bridge Room was refurbished and the office area revamped to include a workshop and expanded restrooms for visiting boaters. A word processor and database system were installed to enhance the Club’s secretarial functions and computerize member accounts. The 1989 TransAt was a huge sailing and social success. The Club also did well financially. It was a very productive and harmonious year.
1990: Commodore Robert Clarke, with First Lady, Jeanette, took the helm in 1990 and brought a final resolution of the state’s challenge of our deed to previously submerged land that came in 1988. For its first 94 years there was a question about the Club’s “riparian rights,” a situation that made planning most difficult. Commodore Clarke with staff and legal consultants managed to secure from the Florida DNR a “deed” that granted to the Club ownership of the filled-in state land that constituted our parking lot. As a result of good financial preparation, the cost of purchase (about $160,000 in 2003 dollars) was possible from the Club’s accumulated funds. The value of this achievement is obvious today as we enjoy our new clubhouse. There were the usual enjoyable social events, and the year ended with more than 200 on the waiting list to become members — clearly indicating that much was done well and the Club was highly regarded in the community.
1991: The year 1991 was unusual in that the Club had two Commodores and two Treasurers. Commodore Robert Van Newkirk with First Lady, Wanda, took the helm early. But half way through his term he suffered a severe heart attack and died, being replaced by Vice Commodore Robert Lauer with his First Lady, Rose. Both Commodores dealt with a realignment of the Finance Committee with appointment of a second Treasurer, P/C Richard Harris, who led the Committee to investigate and overhaul every aspect of the Club’s finances. The result was a monumental report, the essence of which was that the Club was quite secure but must maintain its legacy of keeping a strong cash reserve.
Again in 1991 the TransAt was a great success. Some 24 social events enjoyed maximum attendance and stretched the facility to its limits.
1992: Commodore Frank Zimmerman was re-elected to serve again in 1992 as he had in 1988 with First Lady, Peg. A major change came this year when the Club amended its Bylaws to eliminate gender as a measure of status, thus providing that women could become full voting members and could aspire to becoming flag officers and even Commodore. That year the Club hired Guido Levetto, a man of exceptional talents, as manager. Yolanda Speidel, who had served admirably while a manager was being selected, continued as Assistant Manager.
1993: Although with an ageing clubhouse difficult to maintain, the Club continued vibrant in 1993 under the leadership of Commodore Arthur Wilson and his First Lady “Jerry”. Sailing and boating activities appeared to grow, and social functions were many and well attended. It was a good year in all respects and ended with finances well on the positive side.
1994: In 1994 John Baker, Jr. became Commodore and his Marilyn became First Lady. Under their leadership everyone enjoyed the Club and its camaraderie to the fullest, and new things were tried. Among these were a monthly “birthday party” for members who were born that month, which has come to include those with wedding anniversaries, and a “bingo night” — both continue as very popular events. With dances and parties ashore, sailing continued apace offshore and many trophies were awarded at their annual banquet. The amended Bylaws of the previous year invited women to become full voting members.
1995: In its 99th year in 1995, Commodore Thomas McQuoid and his First Lady, Betsy, stepped up to lead the Club in its continued festivities and nautical activities afloat. Sailing and social events were many and well attended. Vice Commodore Sunny Fussell with wife, Suzi, led the way at sea, taking his crew and Halleluja to victory in the TransAt to Bermuda this year. All went smoothly, including the finances, with good management and a cooperative spirit. The Club’s 1st century ended with years of happy camaraderie on land and sea. As the end of its first century approached, the old clubhouse built above the water of the river was held together by diligent efforts but kept looking regal. Even so, some wondered what we would do if the old clubhouse could not be kept up and a move to a new site and clubhouse became necessary.
1996: In continuous and vibrant operation since 1896, the Halifax River Yacht Club celebrated its Centennial Year in 1996, having grown and prospered on the same site longer than any other yacht club on the east coast. Commodore Sonny Fussell, winner in the last TransAt to Bermuda, was uniquely qualified to lead the Club as it had begun with 13 avid sailors a century earlier. His First Lady, Suzi, was herself an experienced sailor. Boat parades, regattas, parties, dances, historical reminiscing, and good cheer marked the year. Vince Clarida, of the nearby Halifax Historical Society, prepared a brief history of the Club’s first century, made available to all members and others. He came to the Centennial Ball dressed as Commodore Burgoyne with his wife as Mrs. Burgoyne. Indeed, there was much to be proud of, and much to which the membership might look forward. Among the year’s more lasting accomplishments was acquisition of property north of the clubhouse that was vital to our land title. A waiting list of over 200 showed that the Club was much admired in the community and attractive to many.
1997: Joseph Ottenstein became Commodore in 1997 with his First Lady, Audrey. The year was most active socially, with another successful TransAt setting the pace at sea. The entire first floor and Bridge were refurbished after a delay of many years. Less noticeable was replacement of the supporting pilings beneath the clubhouse, leaving it structurally sound. P/C Heesacker had worked unselfishly to acquire the legal and contractual rights from the Government to keep the clubhouse in its location above water. The clubhouse structure was thus more secure physically and legally, but a yearly stipend would have to be paid for this waterfront property. During the year, two efforts by the Board to increase the membership and dues were voted down by the membership, perhaps suggesting that less growth was desired.
As the century neared its end, renewed effort was directed to answer the question, “What should we do with our century old, historically unique Yacht Club building?” The alternatives were to build on a new site or repair and maintain the historic clubhouse, and cost was a big factor.
1998: In 1998, Paul Adamek was elected Commodore with Carol as his First Lady. The persistent question of “What to do with our century old, historically unique Yacht Club building?” demanded an answer, and Commodore Adamek gave it serious study. He looked for new sites for a new clubhouse, investigated the cost of replacing the old building with a new clubhouse, plus the possibility of repairing and maintaining the old structure. These alternatives were still being considered at the end of the year.
The GulfStreamer sailing race, another “first” for the Club, was begun in 1998. This was a 225-mile race from Daytona Beach to Charleston, SC, ending at their yacht club. It would be a biennial event held on even years to alternate with the TransAt held on odd years. A great send-off was held at the Club, making this another top social event in those years.
1999: Commodore Richard Vaughn took the helm in 1999 with First Lady, Laura. It was a year for several important changes. The dues were reluctantly raised to meet the increased cost of operations. After 103 years, the Club elected its first female director. The Commodears — the ladies’ organization that gives its time, money, and much effort for the betterment of the Club — celebrated its 25th Anniversary. To bring in new members with the cap of 500 on Active members, the rules were changed to allow Active members with 25 years of service to voluntarily change to Emeritus Membership, which offered them the full use of the Club at lesser dues and without monthly minimum, but with no voting privilege. Almost all who qualified opted to accept the new membership category, thus opening up space for new Active members. There were many social and sailing events, highlighted by the TransAt to Bermuda. But the 20th century closed with the final racing of the TransAt. It had become increasingly difficult for the crews to obtain sufficient time off from their work, and the costs were also quite high. Having begun in the 19th century, and having flourished during the 20th, the Halifax River Yacht Club now looked forward to the 21st.
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