Around the 1840’s Harlem and New York City was the birthplace of rowing in the United States and continued to be the center of rowing activity until the 1950’s.
The first documented race in American history rowing history took place in 1756 between a New York City crew and a whaleboat traveling from Cape Cod to Albany, as recorded in Gaine’s York Mercury News on April 26, 1756. The first international boat race was in New York Harbor. A Britsh Frigate, the Hussar, arrived in New York Harbor in 1824. It’s Captain George Harris, was a fan of rowing and brought with him a boat that had raced on the Thames and a crew.
In their heyday, uptown was a rowing center with numerous rowing clubs located from Harlem up to Washington Heights/Inwood. A grouping of boathouses called “Scullers’ Row” (or “Sculler’s Row”) a small tributary along the Harlem known as Sherman Creek (from Sherman Creek to 145th Street) was a popular location for boathouses. “Scullers’ Row” on the Manhattan side of the Harlem River (see photo above), and those in Macomb’s Dam Park on the Bronx Side, rivaled the extant Boathouse Row in Philadelphia. There were many boat clubs located there like the Atalanta, Friendship, Nassau, New York Athletic Club, Nonpareil, Wyanoke, First Bohemian, Harlem Rowing, Lone Star, Metropolitan, Dauntless, and Union. The Knickerbocker and Waverley Clubs remained on the Hudson River side of the island. The rivers played host to some of the greatest races and scullers in the early history of rowing.
Competitive crews flashed past in their eights, fours, pairs, and singles, and at other times and in other parts of the river, gentlemen and ladies took to the water for a relaxing row. Back then, the Harlem River was to New York City what the Charles River was and still is to Boston and the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia: the center of city rowing.
East River Crew reports that in 1937, Robert Moses The Power Broker” of New York City started evicting Row boathouses “to build tennis courts for the people living in Harlem.”
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By the 1950’s all of the Row boathouses were gone.
Photo credit: by Harlem River Community Rowing via source.