April 24, 2018
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Powerboat culture gave rise to new Bangor club

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN

Bangoreans already had a canoe club, a bicycle club and a horse club a century ago. The rise of the gasoline-powered motorboat gave them yet another reason to found a club devoted to locomotion. The Bangor Yacht Club held its first meeting in the fall of 1908. By June, members had opened a new clubhouse on the banks of the Penobscot River.

Power and speed ruled any discussion of motorboats back then, even though the vessels of the day were grossly underpowered by today’s standards. Newspaper stories about events on the river frequently speculated about who had the fastest boat.

The outboard not having been perfected for popular use yet, these early motorboats were powered by small, inboard engines. The din must have been terrible. Maine didn’t pass a muffler law until that spring, according to the Bangor Daily Commercial on April 30, 1909.

The first meeting of the new yacht club was held Nov. 24 at W.H. Robinson’s law office on Exchange Street. Twenty motorboat owners were there. Committees were formed to draw up a constitution, solicit more members and determine where to place a clubhouse with facilities for mooring boats. Such spots were hard to come by on Bangor’s waterfront, where commerce was the chief priority.

At a meeting in January 1909 at City Hall, officers were chosen and given impressive titles. They included Fred A. Porter, commodore; Harry A. Chapman, vice commodore; William Smith, rear commodore; William McCrillis Sawyer, fleet captain; and Alfred W. Veazie, fleet surgeon. Porter was a laundry owner, while Chapman was one of the proprietors of the Bangor House, the city’s premier hotel. Veazie was a medical student. Sawyer, an electrical engineer, went on to become a prominent Bangor businessman and a University of Maine trustee.

The details of the club’s triangular pennant also were determined at this meeting. It had a “blue body, red point, bearing white letters in the blue,” said the Commercial on March 20. The club membership fee was set at $5, which was worth more than $100 in today’s money.

Members were planning to build a clubhouse on land leased from the Maine Central Railroad below the Tin Bridge just beyond the city line on the riverbank in East Hampden. A long float with numerous “berths or stalls” for motorboats, a marine railway and a canoe house were included in the plans.

The latter may have caused some concern for the members of the Conduskeag Canoe Club, who had been making expensive improvements, including tennis courts, to their noted country club. Located south of the Souadabscook Stream in Hampden, the organization also catered mainly to Bangoreans.

As the season approached, the Commercial published several stories about the boats that were being prepared for launch on the river. The most space was devoted to a new speed launch being built in Belfast for the Fairbanks Co., a hardware supplier on Exchange Street backed up to the Kenduskeag Stream. It was going to be “the fastest boat to fly the pennant of the Bangor Yacht Club and easily queen of the Penobscot River fleet of power boats,” proclaimed the Commercial on March 20.

J.H. Dickinson, manager of the company’s gas engine department, was in charge of the vessel. Dickinson “has nothing to say regarding the speed that she will make. It may be said that there are few boats, if any, owned in the state that can show her their stern,” said the newspaper.

At 40 feet in length, the vessel was powered by a 100 horsepower, six-cylinder engine, making it one of the largest and most powerful members of the Bangor fleet. Planked with California cedar, decked in solid mahogany with copper rivets and brass fittings, outfitted with aluminum chairs covered in leather in its dual cockpits, the Fairbanks’ latest vessel was a model of power and luxury. Bangor racing boat owners probably breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced late in May that the boat had been sold even before leaving Belfast.

The official opening of the club’s headquarters was held on June 29. The clubhouse had been decorated with bunting, flags, Japanese lanterns and flowers. “An automatic piano was busy all the evening turning out everything from a slow drag to a lively clog,” said the Commercial.

Downstairs was a big living room with a fireplace and “lockers running around the sides” where presumably, as at other men’s clubs, members could keep personal liquor stashes free of police surveillance. There was also “a room for ladies” and a kitchen. Upstairs were two “observatories” commanding views up and down the river and “still more lockers for the members.” A large verandah in the front of the house contained comfortable wicker armchairs and benches.

At the float, all the motorboat slips were filled. It would be necessary to build more to accommodate the boats owned by the club’s 142 members. Owning a boat was not a requirement of membership.

The crowning event of the Bangor Yacht Club’s grand opening was a cruise down the Penobscot to Islesboro. Owing to stormy weather, only 15 boats headed out Saturday, July 3, with Commodore Porter in the lead. The group landed at Ryder’s Cove on Islesboro before dark. Bangor cottagers predominated in this section of the exclusive summer-colony on the island.

Other boats arrived as the weekend progressed, including Edward H. Blake’s large steam yacht. Races and other exercises were held. Upon the return trip Monday, “many of the members are looking forward to the time when it can be repeated next year.” The club was last mentioned in the Bangor City Directory in 1927.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column can be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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