“Boathouse Row” over the past quarter century, as depicted in the watercolor paintings of Nicholas Santoleri.
Sketching, painting or drawing by a river is a peaceful experience for me. In returning to the banks of the Schuylkill River many times over the past twenty five years, I experience the realization of the changes over time both in the vista, and in my personal life. Unless exposed, the bones of the buildings, like the bones in our bodies, remain intact. Only the flesh shows the changes over time. To really understand the changes, you need to know a little of the history behind this iconic Philadelphia attraction; of the city’s rowing culture and of the clubhouses it spawned.
The Fairmount Dam
The fifteen houses of Boathouse Row fringe the east bank of the Schuylkill on Kelly Drive, below the Art Museum. Named after the famous oarsman John B. Kelly Jr, the row originated at the Falls of the Schuylkill with the construction of the Fairmount Dam in 1810. Built-in order to bring coal downriver and provide clean water to the city, the dam submerged the rapids and thus transformed the Schuylkill from a tidal river into one resembling a long freshwater lake.
The placid man-made surface was ideal for ice skating in winter and rowing in summer. But in taming the Schuylkill, the calm water provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes, thus driving the wealthy residents from their riverside mansions. The abandoned estates were subsequently purchased by the City of Philadelphia.
By the mid-1800, rowing was the city’s main sport. As a result, a group of friends organized the 1835 Bachelor’s Barge Club, so named because member rights were lost upon wedding. A decade later, the City purchased the Lemon Hill Estate. Subsequently, the leaseholder of Lemon Hill opened a beer garden, allowing the rowing and barge clubs to build frame structure boathouses along the Schuylkill on Estate property.
Twenty years later, the City converted the Lemon Hill Estate into a public park, naming it Fairmount Park. During this time, the larger clubs began to regulate the sport of rowing to prevent unscrupulous practices and fixed races.
The Schuylkill Navy
By 1858, the proliferation of clubs required a governing body. The Schuylkill Navy was founded in houses #2 and #14, currently the Fairmount Rowing Association and the Philadelphia Girls Club, transforming rowing into an amateur sport. The City condemned the frame boathouses along the Schuylkill and passed an ordinance in 1860 to permit construction of three new boathouses for the Pacific Barge Club, the Schuylkill Navy, and the Philadelphia Skating Club. Afterward, 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.
The Changing Row
Between 1869 and 1871, the Pennsylvania Barge Club and the Crescent Boat Club erected a double boathouse at #4 and #5. The Fairmount Park commission allowed the University Barge Club and the Philadelphia Barge Club to build a double boathouse at #7-8 in 1871. Additionally, the Malta Boat Club and Vesper Boat Club built a double boathouse at #9 and #10 in 1873. The following year, the College Boat Club built the boathouse at #11. Five years later, the West Philadelphia Boat Club built #12.
Five years later in 1883, the Undine Barge Club constructed #13. In 1892, the Pennsylvania Barge Club tore down and replaced their half of the double boathouse at #4. The Bachelors Barge Club replaced its 1860 building at #6 in 1894 and in 1902, the Sedgeley Club built #15. And in 1904, Fairmount Rowing Association demolished and replaced the stone building at #2, leaving #3 and #14 as the only remaining boathouses dating from 1860.
Boathouse Row hosts several rowing regattas, including the Dad Vail, the Stotesbury Cup, the Navy Day and The Head of the Schuylkill.
Many of my numerous painting and drawings of this beautiful row are still available in print. Click the above images for more information. Additionally, I hope to finish my 8th detailed painting of the row and put it into print in the Spring of 2020.
Newest print by Santoleri – Still Available “Boathouse Row 7”
For more information on seeing Wikipedia Boathouse Row’s History
Nick Santoleri ~ Artist | Pine Ridge Productions, Inc.
1515 West Chester Pike Unit A-6, West Chester, PA 19382
In Historic Chester County, Pennsylvania
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