“Boathouse Row” as seen through the watercolor paintings of Nicholas Santoleri over the past quarter of a century.
Sketching, painting or drawing by a river is a peaceful experience for me. My enjoyment in returning to the banks of the Schuylkill river to paint, is impart do to the strange and surrealistic feelings it now evokes in me. When I sat in the same place that I sat over 25 years ago and started to sketch I experience the realization of what changed and what had stayed the same, both in the vista and in my personal life. It was almost as if I was unstuck in time (like Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five).
Boathouse Row consists of 15 boathouses all on Kelly Drive. Kelly Drive was named after the famous oarsman John B. Kelly Jr. The history of Boathouse Row begins with the construction of the Fairmount Dam. The Dam was built in 1810 as part of a lock at the Falls of the Schuylkill to bring coal downriver. The Dam submerged rapids and transformed the Schuylkill from a tidal river into a river that resembles a very long freshwater lake. The placid man made surface was ideal for ice skating in winter and rowing in summer. In 1835, the first regatta took place between the Blue Devils and the Imps Barge clubs. The excitement from the race sparked the formation of several barge clubs.
A secondary effect of taming the Schuylkill was that the calm water provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which drove wealthy residents from their riverside mansions. The abandoned estates were then bought by the City of Philadelphia. In 1844, the City purchased the Lemon Hill Estate. The leaseholder of Lemon Hill operated a beer garden and allowed rowing and barge clubs to build frame structure boathouses on the Estate’s property along the Schuylkill.
In 1855, the City founded Fairmount Park by converting the Lemon Hill Estate, upon which the frame boathouse were built, into a public park. At the same time, some of the longer lasting clubs wanted to regulate the sport of rowing to prevent unscrupulous practices and fixed races.
The Schuylkill Navy
As a result, in 1858, the Schuylkill Navy was founded transforming the professional sport of rowing into an amateur sport. The Schuylkill Navy consists of Boathouses #2 and #14. Which are now the Fairmont Rowing Association, and the Philadelphia Girls Club. In 1859, the City condemned the boathouses along the Schuylkill.
Although the City condemned the frame boathouses, it passed an ordinance in 1860 to permit construction of three new boathouses for Pacific Barge Club, the clubs of the Schuylkill Navy, and the Philadelphia Skating Club. After 1860, without city approval, several clubs constructed one-story boathouses similar to the frame structures that the City had previously condemned and removed, but these newer boathouses were built with brick and stone. In 1868, following an expansion of Fairmount Park, the City ordered the removal of all of the one-story brick and stone boathouses except for buildings belonging to the Philadelphia Skating Club (#14 Boathouse Row), Pacific Barge Club (#2-3 Boathouse Row), and Bachelors Barge Club (#6).
Between 1869 and 1871, Pennsylvania Barge Club and Crescent Boat Club erected a double boathouse at #4 and #5 Boathouse Row. In 1871, the Fairmount Park commission allowed the University Barge Club and the Philadelphia Barge Club to build a double boathouse at #7-8 Boathouse Row. In 1873, Malta Boat Club and Vesper Boat Club built a double boathouse at #9 and #10 Boathouse Row. In 1874, College Boat Club built the boathouse at #11 Boathouse Row. In 1878, West Philadelphia Boat Club built #12 Boathouse Row.
Five years later, in 1883, Undine Barge Club constructed #13 Boathouse Row. In 1892, with Crescent’s permission, Pennsylvania Barge Club tore down and replaced their half of the double boathouse at #4 Boathouse Row. In 1894, Bachelors Barge Club replaced its 1860 building at #6 Boathouse Row.
In 1902, the Sedgeley Club was allowed to build #15 Boathouse Row. In 1904, Fairmount Rowing Association demolished the stone building built by Pacific Barge Club at #2 Boathouse Row and replaced the 1860 structure with a new brick structure, leaving #3 and #14 Boathouse Row as the only remaining boathouses dating from 1860.
I have created numerous painting and drawings of this beautiful row of buildings, many of which are available in print. Click on any of the above images to see more information. This fall (2015) I hope to finish my 8th detailed painting of Boathouse row and put it in print. it shall be titled “Boathouse Row 8”. I am working on sketches now (June, 2016). Thank you.
Newest print by Santoleri – Still Available “Boathouse Row 7”
For more information on see Wikipedia Baothouse Row’s History
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