Edgar S. Van Olinda, old time columnist of old times, told us that rowing in Albany began in earnest with a number of clubs around 1857. “Rowing in Albany began with the Pioneer club in 1857, the Knickerbocker club in 1858, along with the Hiawathas and the Excelsiors. That was only the beginning.” He said the first regatta was in 1860.
An 1868 article in the Albany Morning Express supports that contention, quoting an article in the New York Leader that said the Pioneer Club was one of the oldest rowing clubs in the country at the time, having been formed in 1857.
“In 1857 it won the championship of Albany, which it held two years, losing it in a race in which an oar was broken just after turning the stake-boat. Since that time it has not participated in a race as a club, though its members have pulled in every Albany regatta which has taken place. It was literally the ‘pioneer’ club at ‘Sturgeondom;’ and after attending the funeral of all its contemporaries, is still flourishing and prosperous. In 1858 the club built a model floating boathouse. The boats floated into it by a canal, and were stowed on each side; while the dressing room above was ornamented by some 30 pictures, among which was one by George Boughton, representing the ‘Phantom,’ [one of the club’s noted boats] pulled by a skeleton crew on a moonlight [sic] night. In 1861, during a spring freshet, their house broke from its moorings, sailed majestically over the pier, carrying away a pile of staves, and was hopelessly wrecked eight miles down the Hudson. Since then the club have lost two floating houses. [The next time was in 1862] During the war, more than half its members were in the Union army, and one, Major Chas. E. Pruyn, was killed in action.”
The officers of the club included R.V. DeWitt, D.G. Curtiss, Charles W. Lord, W.H. Ten Eyck, R.L. Annesley, and S.W. Rosendale.
Unfortunately, the club went under in July of 1870. “The Pioneer Boat Club, of Albany, once a distinguished and noted rowing organization, has ceased to exist. For several years past, in fact ever since that crack aquatic association, the Mutual Boat Club, of Albany, came into being, the Pioneers have been in the shade, evincing scarcely a spark of life or animation.”
In 1892, the Pioneers held a reunion meeting:
“The surviving resident members of the old Pioneer Boat Club, an association that was organized for exercise and pleasure before the war and continued for several years after, held a meeting Wednesday for the first time in 20 years. Mr. John H. McElroy was elected president, Mr. A.V. DeWitt secretary and General Rufus H. King treasurer. A committee was appointed to make arrangements for a reunion and banquet. After an hour’s pleasant chat, during which many amusing reminiscences were related, the meeting adjourned subject to call of the president. The following gentlemen answered the roll call: R.L. Annesley, G.N. Collier, John D. Capron, D.G. Curtiss, W.W. Crannell, Richard V. DeWitt, John H. Farrell, B.M. Hamilton, William Headlam, Rufus H. King, George Low, A.B. Lathrop, John E. McElroy, John L. Newman, James Newman, S.W. Rosendale, Ed B. Ten Broeck, T.V. Wolcott, S.W. Whitney.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Sturgeondom” was a somewhat commonly used term for Albany that often appeared in the Troy papers in particular.