The Mutual Boat Club of Albany

We’ve been talking quite a bit about the early rowing history of Albany, from just before the Civil War and on into the 19th century as rowing grew in popularity. It would help to understand that rowing was once, indeed, very big sporting news. Major races frequently made the front pages of major newspapers, at a time when baseball hadn’t even been organized yet. The Mutual Boat Club of Albany got a fair amount of ink at the time, particularly in a sports newspaper called Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times – The American Gentleman’s Newspaper.” In 1868, the Spirit noted a contest between the Mutual and the Nassau Boat Club of New York on September 3 of that year. It was rowed near the “Pleasant Valley” course on the Hudson, about eight miles north of New York City; the race of three miles was won by the Albany crew. They had previously raced in Albany on August 31, when “the Nassaus touched on a sand-bar, and her bow oar was obliged to get out of their shell and push her off. The Nassaus claim that this had a great deal to [do] with their losing the race.” The Spirit noted that the Mutuals ranked, “deservedly, as one of the best rowing clubs of the country.” That race was just prior to the fourth annual regatta of the Hudson Amateur Rowing Association, which took place on September 5; the Mutuals rowed there again, along with the Beaverwyck Boat Club. “The oarsmanship of the Beaverwycks attracted special attention from the fact of their being a new club, and the latest one to join the association.”

An article from 1870 in the Spirit noted the inauguration of the Albany rowing season on June 6, 1870, by the Mutual Boat Club, on a fine but windy day that made the water “quite lumpy.” The committee in charge consisted of Commodore J.R. Lindsley, J.H. Girvin, and Charles Piepinbrink [sic: Piepenbrinck]. “After the race the Mutuals mutually entertained their hosts of friends at their elegant club-room on Pearl street, where many a race was rowed o’er again.”

On July 27, 1871, there was a three-mile single-scull shell race between William S. Mosely of the Mutual Club and J.H. Girvin, which Girvin won by three seconds, with a time of 24 minutes. It was noted that Mosely was 5 feet, 10-1/2 inches and weighed 150 lbs., rowing a paper shell called the Sylph, 30 feet long and 12 inches wide. Girvin was 5 feet 1 inch, weighed 115 lbs., and rowed a paper shell 28 feet long and 12 inches wide. Those paper boats came from the Waters, Balch Company of Troy.

That same summer, the Mutual and Beaverwyck clubs agreed to row a three-mile double scull race over “the lower course, with a turn,” for a prize of $100. The same article noted that the Beaverwycks had just received a Waters, Balch paper six-oared shell that was 49 feet long and 19-1/2 inches wide. Piepenbrink, captain of the Mutual Boat Club, and J.H. Girvin were also to row a three mile match for $100.

The Albany Morning Express reported a time when the rivalry between the two clubs grew heated, in 1876.

“Rowing men seem to be very much exercised these hot days. Beaverwyck adherents loftily imagine they can clean out all before them as easily as Sitting ‘Bull’ ‘cowed’ Custer’s troops. The Mutuals are doing their utmost to present a god front; the Olympics are talking with their usual boyish enthusiasm, and the Wolvenhooks are in mourning and amazement over the sudden loss of the Wilsons and of Bowers. In a communication which appeared in the Express yesterday morning from a member of the Mutual Boat Club, these words were used, ‘In the recent regatta it seemed apparent to the majority of those who witnessed the four oared race, that had it not been for the washing received by the Mutuals the race would probably have been theirs.’ In reply to this, we are authorized and requested by the Captain of the Beaverwyck Club to say that the Beaverwycks will row the Mutuals over again any pleasant evening within two weeks, and that the Beaverwycks will give the Mutuals a start of half a minute, which enormous advantage the Beaverwycks believe they can overcome before the course is gone over.

‘Several letters have come to hand about rowing clubs and rowing men, but as they are unpleasantly personal we must decline to publish them. One gentleman sends a long communication extolling the Mutuals, but, like a wasp, it has a sting in its tail for concluding his laudatory notice. The writer says: ‘The Beaverwycks, it is currently reported, will give our boys half a minute start in a race. We ought to accept that, for I tell you Mr. Editor, and don’t you forget it, the Mutuals can beat the Beaverwycks every day in the week if they get half a minute start and the Beaverwycks will agree to make the distance to be rowed sufficiently short.’”

The Mutual Boat Club was also in something of a tiff with the Olympic Boat Club, which also wrote to the Express to complain of the Mutual group’s disdain for what they considered junior clubs.

“We learn from a communication addressed to you by one who signs himself ‘J.’ that the ‘Mutual Boat Club is not accustomed nor inclined to win races by means of printer’s ink.’ We were aware before that they were not accustomed to win races by means of printer’s ink, or in fact, by any other means, but to know their inclinations is a source of great pleasure … The fact that we have no handsomely furnished boat house with swimming bath may class us with the junior organizations … A club composed of old and experienced boating gentlemen, as is the M.B.C., should rather encourage a youthful organization like our own, and allow us to row with them, at least every two years.”

In 1879, arguments were still going on between the Olympics and the Mutuals, with the Olympics complaining that the Mutual club hadn’t shown up to arrange races, and calling attention to Captain Piepenbrink’s failure to agree on a referee. We haven’t yet been successful in determining how long the Mutual Boat Club lasted, or where its “elegant” club-room on Pearl Street was.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *