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  • Bonnie Hawk Barney

Part 5: The golden age

A recurring problem plagued the Keuka Yacht Club at the turn of the century: how to revive interest in competitive sailing as the former generation of racers waned. It’s no wonder that their plan did the trick...several prominent businessmen from Penn Yan, whose hearts were with sailing, staked a competition off Branchport for $1000 a heat! The old club became again a very active organization, purchasing the former Keuka Sanitorium (a Keely Cure sight). The Holmeses, who later ran Holmes Inn, were installed as stewards, serving up meals of fine reputation and obliging members who took any of the 19 rooms by the season, $35 to $50 the summer.


Additional cars were put on the Penn Yan-Keuka Park-Branchport Electric Railway for the run out to the club to accommodate the dinner business, and to allow the Holmeses to make quick runs to the butcher as dinner orders were placed. There wasn’t adequate refrigeration to keep meat stocked, so the delay of an hour to shop for your dinner was necessary. Membership mounted to a high of 675, including almost every cottager on the lake. This was the club’s Golden Age.



At first a rather miscellaneous congregation of sailing craft participated in the racing, ranging from Allie Wagener’s "39" Lawley-built defender Recruit, the largest hull and largest sail area ever on the lake, down to fragile little batwinged canoes. A landmark in future direction of yacht racing at the club occurred in 1905 when the first Class A Scow appeared on the lake. Purchased by a syndicate of Penn Yan businessmen, and raced by H. Allen Wagener, the Tecumseh aroused great interest due to its speed and ease in handling. Additional A’s were brought on until nine were racing in the teens. W. J. Tylee, Penn Yan trolley company manager, had Clahosa, which he sold to the Shoemaker brothers of Elmira in 1913. He replaced it with No-No, which likewise went to the Shoemakers a few years later. Dr. Cox of Penn Yan had Heledia, the Short brothers of the Penn Yan Ice Company had Mercia, Allie Wagener bought Skidoo, and the Tecumseh was sailed by Potter and Decker of Penn Yan.


The Tecumseh caused a few misgivings as it was unloaded from its flatcar, brought from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. How frail, with half inch cedar planking, deck scarcely three-eighths thick, and with hollow spars! The centerboard was substantial, of 3/8 inch boiler plate, and the single rudder was a steel plate instead of the thick iron-bound wood construction of the fleet. But Tecumseh proved to be very fast, and was favored in the handicapping system over Juno.


Excitement ran high in the village when a challenge for a match race was received from Cayuga Lake. They had a sloop of 2 tons burden, yet very fast by virtue of a tall mast, named Old Glory. This craft being patently too bulky to bring to Keuka Lake, the yachting buffs at KYC called upon Owen Hoban, Jr. to determine if a portage by lo