The Huron Yacht Club History

By Dr. Carl Swanbeck

The Huron River was a commercial port for years. Fish, ore and coal boats were the only marine activity coming and going, with an occasional small boat for recreation using the harbor. The first organized yachting activities started in the early 1930s when the Southern Lake Erie Star Fleet held two races a season, off the old Harbor Pier, the race course extending to the west of the pier. The first race was in May and the last in October. During those years, several regattas were organized and more or less sponsored by the old Chamber of Commerce. Several classes of sailboats from ports along the south shore raced, and a few powerboats took part in a “bang-go-back” race. The Coast Guard would send one of the large cutters and it would be used as a committee boat. There was no formal yachting organization. Several merchants donated trophies and prizes, one of which, the Roswurm Trophy, was still being raced for by the SLE Star Fleet as recently as 1976. However, in recent years the Roswurm Race has been held in Vermillion.

The late 1930s and 1940s saw the establishment of marinas on the Huron River, devoted to pleasure craft, one of which was “The Boat Harbor” managed by Joe Weingart and owned by Paul Stephens. By the early 1 950s, most of the pleasure craft on the river were moored north of the bridge, and the Huron River was well on its way as a port for large numbers of non-commercial boats.

I purchased my first Lyman in 1952 and docked it at the “Boat Harbor Many of the boat owners were interested in establishing a formal organization, but some were afraid they might lose a dock at the “Harbor” if a yacht club took charge of the facilities. The summers of 1953 and 1954 saw many conversations about the desirability of a yacht club, but nothing came of it until late summer of 1955. I had many talks with Joe Weingart that summer and one day, late in August of 1955, we asked a number of people to meet and lay plans for an organization.

We met at the “Boat Harbor’s” sandwich bar (three stools), but only a handful showed up. The result of that meeting was that we would incorporate the name “Huron Yacht Club”, publish the fact of its existence, and invite people to join. At that point, none of us knew how to go about it, so a quick phone call to Nick Catri was made, who was the city solicitor at the time. Nick laughed when I called and said he would do it for $25.00. Five of us kicked in $5.00 a piece and one day in October 1955, I received a Certificate of Incorporation from the State of Ohio. That certificate still hangs on the wall of the club. Joe Weingart, John Wade, Al Cawrse, Jack Dutt and myself being the incorporators. Now we had a club, but only five members. We called a meeting and something like 15 or 20 people came. It was obvious that we had problems on our hands. We had to have a home, money to pay for a home, members to furnish the money, and a formal constitution and bylaws to make it a viable organization. The first decision was to charge $10.00 a year dues and $10.00 to join for a kitty. Joe and Paul came up with an offer to rent the front part of the building as a club house, and they would use the back part (now the bar) for the business, and following year would move over to a building on the north side of the lot, which they did. The rent was nominal and based on 100 members, a point we didn’t reach for several years. I obtained copies of the constitutions and by-laws of several yacht clubs along the lake, and using those, we drew up a formal constitution and by-laws which were accepted at our next meeting. Some changes have been made since then, but those documents should be reviewed as they were written by rank amateurs.

I was elected as the first Commodore, mainly by default, as none of us knew exactly what to do. Al Cawrse was Vice-Commodore. We were underway, leaky at the seams and sadly undermanned. That winter we decided it would be a family club and liquor on the boats only! When we moved into the back part of the building, we built small bottle lockers, with strict rules about using the back part only for drinking, as so many children were around. Several years went by before a liquor license was obtained and the present bar developed. Our first parties were family potluck suppers and occasional Saturday night dances. The first big formal social gathering was the Commodore’s Ball early in the summer of 1956, which became a yearly event.

The early years saw many changes in the building. The front part was used for meetings and sandwiches. The bar was finally established and decorated. The patio was enclosed and what is now the dining room was enlarged. Members would volunteer and keep the club open during all lay-up and spring outfitting, selling sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, etc.

After several years of discussion and many objections, a liquor license was obtained. Ray Siegel was given the kitchen and bar and a dining room was established.

Besides being a social club, the main objective was to promote yachting activities. With that in mind, we asked to join, and were accepted, by the Inter-Lake Yachting Association. The first few years we started a regatta, with activities geared to the local club and events for children established. After a very shaky infancy, a trembling adolescence, the Huron Yacht Club has emerged as a steady adult and I am proud to have had a hand in its organization and to have served as its first Commodore.

So after thirty years of good times sitting at the bar (in ankle deep water) it was decided to move the Club to higher ground. The property that is now owned by the Club consists of three parcels of land that were obtained at different times.

 In 1987, the Club purchased the first parcel of land from the Huron River Properties for $75,000. The sale closed on April 27, 1987. This property consisted of the building and the land from Huron St to the West to the centerline of the Huron River. This particular parcel of land was at one time a sort of swamp/ landfill/dump owned by the City of Huron.  A waste waster treatment plant was built on this property some time after June 1962.  The original blue prints are still at HYC.  Sometime prior to 1986 the City closed the plant when they tied into the County Sewer System.  Huron River Properties then obtained this property in 1986 or 1987 as part of an Urban Renewal Project.  HRP then sold this parcel to HYC.

The second parcel of land was purchased in early May of 1993 form Roy Earl Wardrum at a cost of $470,000.  This is the land that is now the Marina and Gas Dock.

The third parcel (which is now the upper parking lot) was deeded to the Club at no cost, from the City of Huron March 1, 1994.

In 1993 the Club also purchased the Banner building across the street from the Club.  However, we sold this property to Advance Strategies in June of 1994 for $100,000.

There were some deed restrictions attached to each parcel of land that dealt with what the land could be used or as well as a strict time table for development.  In June of 1987 all equipment from the premises was contracted to Lakeway Manufacturing.  The Club incurred no expenses for this since we gave the contractor all of the equipment that had to be removed.  We then had to remove the boat houses which were situated over what we now call the river docks.  Again we were able to negotiate a no cost contract because the contractor (Wood Deckers) was given the houses and the material that was salvaged.

In November, 1987 the Board of Directors approved Wykoff-Landing & Associates to draw the pans for a new club house.  Gene Resar, Inc. was hired to make the modifications to the former water treatment plant which would transform it into the new Huron Yacht Club.  This was to be completed in six months.  Ground breaking took place on December 5, 1987 and the dedication of the new club house was on May 27, 1988, right on schedule.

When the club opened for business in 1988, the marina consisted of six docks on the river to be used by the membership.  We also leased from the City of Huron thirteen additional docks for use by the membership.  In early 1990 the Banner Yacht Club, using the space we now call the marina, built their marina to dock thirteen boats.  While building their marina they dredged to a usable depth and used the material as fill for our upper parking lot.

The Banner Yacht Club declared bankruptcy in the early years of the 1990s.  The property was split with the City of Huron receiving the upper parking lot back and the marina and condos went to bankruptcy court.   ..   In 1992 the Club leased the marina and gas dock from the bankruptcy court for use by our membership.  In 1993 the Club purchased (Roy Earl Wardrum) the marina and the Banner Building (condos across the street) from the bankruptcy court. We purchased the area of the upper parking lot from the City in 1994 with the restriction that the space be improved as a parking lot immediately.

In 1998, the Board of Directors created a plan to improve the marina which you see now.  It can safely dock eighteen boats and we still have four finger docks on the river for transient dockage.

Since the club open in 1988, there has been the normal maintenance to keep the appearance looking good.  There have been many members that have donated time, money and belongings to keep the club updates for everyone’s enjoyment, though this is what makes HYC a family, not just a club.  A special thank you to everyone who has pitched in at one time or another to get us where we are today.  The road would have been rougher had we not been surrounded by so many friends.