Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

A Tale of Two Clubs…

Motorboats to sailing yachts - 100 plus years of CYC!

Today’s Clayton Yacht Club recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary; yet the history tells us that there was a previous Clayton Yacht Club founded in 1905. It was the time of the fabled Gold Challenge Cup motorboat races and area yacht clubs sponsored their own entries. Some of the clubs were the Thousand Island Yacht Club, Alexandria Bay Yacht Club, Frontenac Yacht Club, Chippewa Club, Thousand Islands Park Yacht Club, Crescent Yacht Club, St. Lawrence River Yacht Club, and several Canadian Clubs including the Kingston and Gananoque Yacht Clubs.

The American Power Boat Association was formed in 1904 by forty-five yacht clubs; the association’s Gold Challenge Cup was a perpetual trophy awarded each year. The Clayton Yacht Club was a member from its inception.

The organizational meeting of the 1905 CYC was held at the then new Clayton Opera House. The first officers were: Commodore Dr. James H. Stebbins, Vice-Commodore Captain H. E. Johnson, Rear Commodore Lodi Smith, Secretary-Treasurer Horace Morse, Fleet Captain F. L. Hall, and Measurer Ernest Sorrell.

One hundred yachtsmen signed on as charter members of the Clayton Yacht Club, at its formation on August 4th, 1905. James H. Stebbins, Jr. of New York was elected Commodore; the meeting was held in the Clayton Opera House. The clubs objective was to promote motorboat racing and sponsor races on its triangular course. One month later the club’s first regatta was held; the Cherokee Challenge Cup was up for grabs and would be awarded by S. H. Vandergrift, a charter member of the Clayton Yacht Club.

Samuel Henry Vandergrift was the second child of J. J. Vandergrift, a partner of John D. Rockefeller. The Vandergrift Family sold their refinery to the Standard Oil Trust. They continued to operate a network of oil pipelines, which carried about 25% of all the Standard Oil’s oil. Samuel was a strong supporter of the CYC’s formation in August 1905;[1] he presented the club with “a deed for a perpetual challenge cup to be raced for members of the club and held only one year by each winner. The cup will be known as the Cherokee Challenge Cup.”[2]

Dr. Stebbins, a well-known chemist, is noted for the 1903 discovery of a microbe which makes people lazy.[3] Horace Morse was cashier of the Clayton National Bank. Ernest Sorrell, a marine engineer,[4] was the measurer for several yacht clubs in the area.[5]

Walter E. Duryea of New York presented the Clayton Yacht Club with brass signal cannon in 1906; it can be seen today at the new Clayton Yacht Club. Duryea was the heir to the Duryea starch fortune. In an accident at the Glen Cove Yacht in 1899 he broke his neck, but lived until 1911. Duryea’s summer home, Norembega Terrace, was on Bartlett Point; in the vicinity of the new CYC. As the 1905 club had no known club house, it could be construed that some events were held at his home or even at the Monatauck Hotel, although there is no direct evidence for either location.

A racing organization was formed to coordinate the racing season and establish rules of engagement. G. W. Reeves, of Watertown, NY, was elected the first president of the newly organized Eastern Lake Racing Association in April, 1908.

The membership of the association included clubs in Clayton, Oswego, Kingston, Picton, Napanee, Belleville, Bay of Quinte and Gananoque. In 1938, it would be reorganized into the Eastern Yachting Circuit.

The Clayton Yacht Club organized races every year, leading up to the First World War. A rather curious incident occurred at a CYC race in 1910 when Flaming Arrow caught fire just short of the finish line; her pilot and engineer jumped over board when the flames were spotted. That same year the May Irwin Invitational Cup race was held on the Clayton course.

After the war to end all wars, World War I, the activities of the CYC greatly diminished, at least in terms of publicity in the local papers. However it does not appear to have disappeared entirely as various vestiges remained. The 1917 “Lloyd’s Register” listed the CYC with annual dues of $3.00 and the Commodore was John L. Cummings, with a Post Office address of Box 353, Clayton. “Motorboating” magazine of October 11th, 1921, reported that the CYC had elected James H. Stebbins as Commodore and that “Some interesting motor boat races were held over the club course on August 22 [1921], the races for St. Lawrence skiffs being the feature.” Again in 1930 “Motorboating” listed the CYC as a place to stop if cruising in the Thousand Islands.

The old Clayton Yacht Club appears to be a victim of the tumult, caused by the Depression. Many clubs of all sorts disappeared as their members lost the financial ability to pay their dues.

A farsighted group, in 1936, led by Merrill Youngs, of Trenton, NJ, Harry S. Lewis of Beaver Falls, NY and Charles G. Emery II of Pasadena, CA decided to revive the Clayton Yacht Club, in the process creating a new corporation.[6] Youngs would purchase Zenda Farms, just a stone’s throw from the new club in 1939[7]; while Lewis and Emery owned neighboring islands just in front of the Club, Governors and Calumet respectively. The new club would have a club house on Bartlett Point, also known as Prospect Point.

The Monatauk Hotel was located on Bartlett Point; part of the property was sold and provided a location for the new Clayton Yacht Club. Merle Youngs, the first Commodore of the new Clayton Yacht Club, announced the intended purchase on 26 August 1936 by the Thousand Islands Yacht Racing Association. He indicated that the membership had raised $7,500 including donations from many Clayton businesses.[8]

The new Clayton Yacht Club Inc. was incorporated on August 14th,1937 as a “Domestic not-for-profit corporation.” Motorboats were replaced with sailing yachts. The club adopted the Frontenac Yacht Club Burgee; Emery’s grandson, Charles G. Emery II, one of the new club’s charter members, may have influenced that decision. The Frontenac Yacht Club disbanded shortly after the New Frontenac Hotel burned, in 1911.

On  August 18th 1938, CYC Commodore Dr. John T. Fowkes of Clayton “christened the attractive new clubhouse”[9] constructed on the newly acquired property. Added to the excitement of the new clubhouse, was the fact that the CYC did well in the day’s regattas.

The club would elect James P. Lewis of Beaver Falls, Commodore in 1939, with E. D. Corsan as Rear-Commodore and Gilbert Mercier as Secretary–Treasurer. While William Bielby served as the Club Steward. Saturday afternoon lunches were served by reservation at 1PM, preceding the races for the convenience of the membership.[10]

The new CYC emphasized sailing regattas over motorboat racing, which had been the old club’s main activity. In 1948 the new CYC hosted a regatta that included over 85 entries! The curved cabanas were added to the clubhouse, including an upper deck, under the leadership of Commodore John B. Foley Jr.[11]

A number of non-boat events have been held at the new CYC clubhouse. Clayton failing to find a “Miss Thousands” in 1951, elected instead an “Adonis” Lawrence Balcome of Clayton at a meeting of several hundred people held at the club.[12]

Forty underprivileged children from Watertown were hosted at the club, in July 1968, under an experimental program sponsored by Trinity Church in Watertown.[13] The Twelfth Step Group of Alcoholics Anonymous met at the club in July, 1974 for a dinner meeting.[14]

The weekend of September 25-26, 1971 saw the revival of racing in Clayton after 26 years at the “Fall Rendezvous,” which was to be an annual affair. There were twenty-three sailboats in three different classes. In addition, a race around Grindstone Island was planned for October 23rd , for local sailors.[15]

The Clayton Yacht Club finished a complete remodeling in 2014 of its Bartlett Point facilities. The Club has two clubhouses and offers many amenities to the modern yachtsman, including a restaurant, tennis courts, washer and dryer, restrooms with showers, a sand beach, picnic area and a new family recreation room. Some members berth their boats at the club, while others use designated docking areas. The members represent a wide range of boats, including sail, motorboats and even a houseboat. Racing is no longer the main interest instead the club facilities are dedicated to family fun.

Harking back to the early days of the new Clayton Yacht Club, the docking facilities are a popular stopping point for the many yachts transversing the St. Lawrence from the Great Lakes. The Club has reciprocal arrangements with a number of Lake Ontario yacht clubs.

Visit the Club’s website for more information.


[1] Watertown Re-Union 4 August 1905

[2] Oswego Daily Times, 1 August 1905

[3] Gloversville Daily Leader, 20 October 1903, Page 5

[4] Oswego Daily Palladium, 16 June 1921

[5] New York Herald, 7 August 1905

[6] Cape Vincent Eagle, 18 February 1937

[7] Cape Vincent Eagle, 30 March 1939


[8] Advance-News, 26 August 1936

[9] Cape Vincent Eagle, 18 August 1938 Page 1

[10] Cape Vincent Eagle, 13 July 1939 Page 1

[11] Watertown Daily Times, 26 July 1948

[12] Watertown Daily Times, 16 July 1951

[13] Watertown Daily Times, 25 July 1968, Page 30

[14] Watertown Daily Times, xx July 1974

[15] Watertown Daily Times, 29 September 1971, Page 25

By Rexford M. Ennis,

Copyright 2014 Rexford M. Ennis All Rights Reserved

Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life.  His bio is recorded in Contributors, in December, 2008. In the past two years Rex has published two important books on the Thousand Islands.  The first, published in 2010 is Toujours Jeune Always Young, the biography of Charles G. Emery.  It was reviewed in the June 2010 issue.  The second, Saints, Sinners and Sailors of the Gilded Age: A compendium of biographical sketches, centered on the Gilded Age in the Thousand Islands, which describes the biographies of every name appearing on a 1889 map, published by Frank H. Taylor called: Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, Parks and Cottages.  See the book review in our July 2011 issue and you will find the map described in the July issue, in the August 2011 issue.  Luckily for TI Life readers, Rex is hard at work on a new book – so stay tuned.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Kearney Bennett
Comment by: Kearney Bennett
Left at: 10:49 PM Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Sitting on the mantle in my "camp" on Hungerford Point in Clayton is a silver cup engraved with "CYC," the name "Arthur J. Bennett"(grandfather), and either 1904 or 1906---I can't recall writing this from home in San Diego. It also has the boat name "Marguerite." I have for some time tried to find out abut the earlier CYC and you have apparently done it for me unless there are 3 CYCs. I know nothing about the cup or the boat, but am very pleased to see the results of your research. Thank you.