• Bonnie Hawk Barney

Part 6: Return of the A's

In the November 1928 issue of Rudder magazine appeared an article by Lyman J. Seely of Hammondsport. It began with reminiscences of KYC’s Golden Age.

About a generation ago train riding was the popular Sunday sport. Those of fabulous wealth went buggy riding, but the masses found their sport in Sunday excursions. For $1.25 you could go to Niagara Falls and return almost any Sunday during the summer from any city within two hundred miles of that diverting spot. If that was beyond your means, you could go to Charlotte, on Lake Ontario, for $.75 to $.90; and the grubstake required for a Sunday excursion from anywhere in western New York or northern Pennsylvania to Lake Keuka was something like half a dollar.

Hundreds of thousands came to Lake Keuka. It was churned to a constant froth by the propellers of a large fleet of excursion boats, decorated with empty popcorn bags and floating pop bottles. The Keuka Yacht Club was a popular rendezvous for the idle rich, enjoying incomes of say $25 a week and up. It had a fleet of eight or ten Class A Sloops as well as many cabin cruisers, the fastest steam yacht in the world, and plenty of putt-putts.

There’s no holding the crest of a wave forever, and by 1920 the Keuka Yacht Club was again in a trough. The club building was sold to a genial couple, Frank and Maude Alley, who opened it as Alley’s Inn. The racers were welcomes there, but also sailed from the Ark and from Keuka Hotel, at the hearty invitation of Bessie Young. The A’s were being retired, and the schedule of competition was light. Continuing from Rudder:

The automobile left it (Keuka) flatter than a frozen pond, for one thing the Finger Lakes region did not have was roads. Of a sudden people began motoring on Sundays. Railroad excursions ceased to be of interest, were suspended. Where the macadam roads were, there the people were. And that was nowhere near the Finger Lakes, where the roads were mostly of clay, deeply rutted ten months of the year. The yacht club withered and died. Even so thoroughly seasoned and enthusiastic a sailor as Commodore Wagener took to high speed motor cars...Glenn H. Curtiss, Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, and their aeronautical experiments combined with the champagne cellars to keep Hammondsport somewhat in the public prints for a decade, but the World War drew Curtiss away, and the Volsted Act ended the free distribution of gladsome bubbles.

All in good time, the automobile which had robbed the Finger Lakes of the one-time popularity began to bring it back again. The isolated hill country was threaded with new concrete roads because the motorists wished to explore its beauty in comfort. Keuka was the last of the lakes to be made accessible. A new federal highway had been completed along its west shore and three men in a car were driving over the new concrete. What a waste of good material, that twenty mile stretch of beautiful water seemed! Not a boat in sight! At least, not on the water. But on the beach near Gibson’s landing rested the hull of an old, nearly flat-bottomed sloop.

‘There’s a chance to have a lot of fun for very little money,’ said one of the travelers. ‘That old sailboat has been lying there for a couple of years.