A History of Red Jacket Yacht Club
(Culled from old texts, documents and members)
The Red Jacket Yacht Club started quite informally in the middle thirties. A few Seneca Falls folks owned sailboats and they started racing at the North end of Cayuga Lake.
There was a series of boat houses by the lake, down behind the Bridgeport Cemetery at Bridgeport, (north end of Lower Lake Road). They rented a stall to store their gear and met at a nearby cottage owned by Dr. Henry Williams who became their very first Commodore. The boat houses were called the “Red Jacket Boat Houses” and from this was derived the name “Red Jacket Yacht Club”. There was an active fleet of Comets and ice boats that were renowned throughout the state.
Later they rented a vacant lot about halfway between Bridgeport and the State Park, put in a dock and sailed from there.
After that, Dick Morehouse said the group could sail in front of their family owned business – “Morehouse’s”, a summer restaurant and boat rental place (later to become the Morehouse Boat Company showroom) just north of the State Park. The docks were already there, and a club room was set up downstairs in the building for their use.
They sailed from there until the present clubhouse and property were purchased for $20,000 in 1946. E.R. Smith, President of the Seneca Falls Machine Company, was gracious enough to loan the group the money and he took a mortgage, which over the years was paid off. In the year 1947, Dr. Robert Knight became the first Commodore of Red Jacket Yacht Club, Inc. at its present location on Cayuga Lake.
The land on which Red Jacket Yacht Club currently stands is an area through which the Sullivan-Clinton (military) Campaign passed in 1779. Under orders from General George Washington and the Congress, the Continental Army sought out and destroyed the villages of the Iroquois Indians who had allied themselves with British forces, and were terrorizing frontier settlements. After the Revolutionary War, the land was divided into land grants and awarded to veterans who had served in the area under General Sullivan.
Farms were established, and sometime around 1850 a spacious home was built on the property. It was an impressive Gothic Revival structure, with steeply pitched roof, quasi-ornamental chimney pots and tracery window in the imposing front gable which was embellished with gingerbread trim.
In 1928 it was known as the Stables at Rathsmere, a horse farm. Below is the barn and bunkhouse at that time.
When acquired by Red Jacket Yacht Club In 1946, the Nugent Farm, a horse farm, consisting of 58 acres with 1100 feet of Lake Frontage and six buildings. (One large 12 room house, one large barn, one smaller barn and three cottages fronting the lake). The stated purpose on the original Prospectus was “To supply adequate and needed recreational facilities for club members, their families and guests. The club will endeavor to provide accommodations for the diversified interests of the members….Boating, Hunting, Fishing, Sports, and Social Activities”. Estimated income from dues of $25 each from 150 members was $3750.00. Proposed layout suggested: clubhouse with lounge & restaurant, Quarterdeck & signal mast, dock, anchorage with buoys, race course, diving float & swim beach, 2 summer guest houses and a caretaker’s cottage, tennis courts, boat storage & locker rooms, paddock, ladies’ archery range, men’s’ archery range, badminton courts, croquet field, junior clubhouse, parking area and picnic area.
The sailing fleets grew to include Comets (15’long), Lightnings (19’ long) and Stars (21’ long) as well as other classes of boats. Each fleet consisted of 10-15 boats. Races were held every Sunday, as well as some Wednesday evenings, during the spring, summer and fall. The club owned a committee boat (power) responsible for setting the ‘marks’ and starting and ending races. In the late 1950’s, a fleet of about 18 Bantams (15’ long) was added. Many regattas (state and regional sailing competitions – 1-3 days of racing) were hosted by the club with sometimes as many as 125 boats and 1000 to 3000 attending.
The land between the barn and Rt. 89 was cultivated with crops and had very few trees. Club member John Webb owned a fir tree farm in Pennsylvania and planted hundreds of Christmas trees on the land with the intent that they would be sold in coming years.
Many of the club members were local Seneca Falls folks, employees of Sylvania and Gould Pump and other businessmen. In the 1970’s and 1980’s those businesses began to downsize and the Club lost many members and sailing began to peter out. At its highest point, the club had 200 members – 150 active and 50 associates – with a waiting list. There was no camping fee and there were only a few campers, all local residents. At its lowest point club membership had dwindled to 80 (others estimate it was below 50).
Originally, the kitchen was where the kid’s room is now. The first bar was just a few tables, set up where the men’s room is now. The members decided the cellar would be the best location for a permanent bar, and they dug out the cellar to give it at least 7 feet of head clearance. It was the place to be for a good time.
Over the years north and south wings were added to the clubhouse. The cottages were sold. For a while the club employed live-in stewards to help maintain the bar and physical facility. They lived in an apartment upstairs in the clubhouse. The mole was added in 1961. In 1966 the old north room was removed and it was replaced by the “New Vista with View Room”, the current North Room. Swimming pool and pool house were added. Tractors for club use were purchased. As membership from outside the Seneca Falls area increased, more campsites were added. The clubhouse was sided. The barn was reinforced, repaired and painted. In 1972 the members installed a new roof on the clubhouse. City water was installed in the early 90’s and electric was supplied to campsites in 2009. A new sign at the road was installed in 2006 and a more permanent one was placed in 2014. The club has been well managed and financed over the years with three mortgages, each time for necessary purchases, repairs and upgrades. Much of the work has been, and continues to be, done by club members, working hard while building lasting friendships.
Red Jacket Yacht Club is a wonderful place for members, their family and friends. With thanks to its current and former members, the club continues to meet its stated purpose of 1946: “The club will endeavor to provide accommodations for the diversified interests of the members….Boating, Hunting, Fishing, Sports, and Social Activities”. Well done! Our founding members carved out a gem in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York and its membership, past and present, continue to nurture and polish it. Thanks to all.
With much assistance from former Historians Andy & Betty Batty