Brief History of Holyoke Canoe
During the last quarter of the 19th century, enthusiasm
for canoeing, boating and croquet grew among people in Holyoke. The
Holyoke Canoe Club was formed through the efforts of local sportsmen
who used the backwaters of their new dam to promote canoe racing.
The first canoe club meeting house was organized and built in 1885
near the Jones Point area just above the dam and was used to launch
and store canoes. As the wealth of these men grew, they built the
present building. In 1894, the club added a second story and plans
were begun to extend the house to enable storage of 12 additional
canoes, increasing the fleet to 27.
The name of the club at this time was chosen because
of the nearby red sandstone cliffs: Redcliff Canoe House. In 1900
land was purchased on the river’s west bank near Smith’s Ferry where
a grandiose Victorian clubhouse was erected to parallel other notable
landmarks in the bustling industrial city. Members journeying to
the club could choose between a steamboat up the river or the train
to a local stop. Dances in the grand ballroom were major social events.
Two plots of land were leveled to introduce a new foreign game, tennis.
Then the war happened.
The twenties started with five new championship clay
courts where the Pioneer Valley tournament became a regular feature.
Tennis stars of the day made frequent visits. Dancing went wild.
Motorboats raced the river – canoes dwindled. Baseball was king of
the northwest corner. The latest swim fashions occasionally were
wetted in the river. Then came the depression and another war.
This was the club’s bleakest period. The generosity
of those who preserved the institution without regard for immediate
benefits became an endowment for future generations. Fortunately,
their sacrifices were not in vain. The years following the war were
expansive. A new lighted pool with bathhouse replaced the polluted
river, and the membership boomed. The Sunday barbecue following the
late Saturday bash was an every week feature. Docks were jammed with
boats. 1953 set a membership record of 350 families. Then creeping
sterility and competitive mobility.
Until the early seventies the club did not innovate.
Superhighways made remote recreation easy for all. Private swimming
pools were in vogue. Larger boats went to the ocean. Two offers to
purchase the club were received and refused. Membership tumbled to
105 families. Then tennis anyone became tennis everyone.
Lights were installed on the old clay courts. Two all
weather courts were added. Three new clay courts and a full-time
pro were added. The club started using power equipment and built
a picnic pavilion and a paved basketball court. Membership rebounded
while interest in the beauty and water quality of the river led to
improved conditions for boating and canoeing. An annual international
regatta now comes every fall with the rain g-d. Swimming blossomed
with a new pool director. Survival led to renewal.For those members
and past members who are fortunate enough to remember, let us give
recognition and thanks to our predecessors for our heritage, and
trust that we can be as provident for the future; lest we forget.