May 1, 2021. 10:00am
4 Cliff Street
Marblehead, MA

Irish bagpipe music filled the air on the deck of the Marblehead Yacht Club as about 40 members and guests congregated for the historic plaque unveiling ceremony put on by the Marblehead Yacht Club History Committee.  At 10:00 am, the club’s cannon fired signaling the start of the event.  Commodore Bill Keyes welcomed guests and introduced MYC History Committee members: John Murray, Alan Peterson, Doug Burgess, Roger Tuveson, Kathy Garrigan, and Michael Assue.   

Committee Chairman John Murray welcomed special guests from the Marblehead historic community, then introduced 90-year-old member Jim Newhall, where he and 4 other members of his family served as commodores of the club.  Jim was given the honors of removing the white cloth and unveiling the historic plaque which was on a pedestal for all to see.  John Murray read the plaque and gave a short overview of the history of the club.

The Marblehead Yacht Club was founded on May 1, 1878 – exactly 143 years ago to the day of today’s event.  The original members first met at a clubhouse on the corner of Cottage and Commercial streets and raised money to buy boats by holding dances and picnics.  The club was originally called the Marblehead Boat Club.  At that time, the term ‘Boat Club’ referred to a rowing club, whereas the term ‘Yacht Club’ referred to a sailing and yachting club.  Rowing was the most popular sport in the country at that time and crews raced for money while spectators bet on races.  The club’s initial purpose was to race rowing boats.  They acquired several race boats each of which was 35 feet long and had sliding seats with four rowers each pulling one oar.  Marblehead Boat Club was the first of three rowing boat clubs in Marblehead, followed by the Bay View and Waterside boat clubs. By the 1800s there were five boat clubs in Salem and three in Lynn that also competed in North Shore rowing races.

In the mid-1800s, the surrounding area was a shipyard where many ships and schooners were built, and the neighborhood became known as the ‘shipyard’.  The founding members were a group of young Irish men who all lived in the shipyard, most of whom worked in the shoe industry which employed much of the town at that time.  

In the 1870s, the area where the club stands now was a wharf where ships brought in lumber and building materials to Marblehead.  A sawmill and later a shoe box factory were built nearby, until a fire destroyed the saw mill and left the shoebox factory abandoned.  We believe (based on oral history) that the early members stored their boats in the abandoned shoe box factory.  By 1880s the property was owned by Henry A. Potter, a lumber dealer who lived on Cliff Street.  In 1884, at the height of the rowing craze in Marblehead, Mr. Potter built his shipyard neighborhood a rowing boathouse—this building.  The building was long enough to store the four row boats the club owned inside, and the second floor was used as a club room. 

By the turn of the century, rowing racing had died away.  Members took to recreational dory rowing and sailing and used their dories for fishing, picnics, and exercise.  The dory represented on the plaque is a Beachcomber dory, designed and built in Marblehead in the early 1900s by William Chamberlain.  Several other local dory clubs formed, including the Alpha, Beachcomber, and the Marblehead Racing dory clubs.  By the Great Depression, these dory clubs all folded and by 1935, several ex-dory sailors joined the Marblehead Boat Club and breathed new life into it.  They incorporated the club and renamed it the Marblehead Yacht Club. They were early adopters of the Town Class sailboat, and even created the Town Class logo used today.  The club burgee with the sideways ‘M’ for Marblehead was designed and displayed on top of plaque. Dues were $10, and there were 45 members. 

Since 1884, the MYC has had five landlords, starting with Henry Potter, then Potter’s daughter Caroline Chase, then John Martin who ran a coal and lumber business next door, then Bob Cloutman who ran a boat yard. until it was bought by the Town of Marblehead in 1983.  In 2003, the club expanded into the side building which was previously the Harbor Masters Office, and Wells Yacht Sales before that, and a John Martin coal shed before that.  

In the past 143 years, the Marblehead Yacht Club hosted rowing races, sailing regattas, fishing derbies, cruises, educational programs, harbor cleanups, community service events, and countless social activities for its members.  In 2019, the Marblehead Yacht Club was named the ‘Yacht Club of the Year’ by the Massachusetts Bay Sailing Association, living up to its goal of being the ‘Best Small Yacht Club in New England’.  The members gave cheers to celebrate the past, present, and future members of the Marblehead Yacht Club then gathered for refreshments on the deck as the bagpipe music continued.   

Marblehead Yacht Club History Committee (L to R): Doug Burgess, John Murray, Roger Tuveson, Alan Peterson, Kathy Garrigan, Michael Assue

Life Member Jim Newhall unveils the plaque.  Jim comes from a family of 5 MYC commodores: Philip McGaige (1889-1892), Charles Newhall (1962), Jim Newhall (1993), John Newhall (1995), Charles Newhall III (2001)

Alan Peterson and Jim Newhall inspect the plaque

Lisa Hollis entertained the crowd with Irish bagpipe music is recognition founding members of the club who were Irish shipyarders who worked in Marblehead’s shoe industry.