One hundred years of the Dayton Canoe Club
By Melissa Markham
Off of Riverside Drive in Dayton, a quiet clubhouse sits inconspicuously on the bank of the Great Miami River. For the past hundred years, members of the Dayton Canoe Club (DCC) have smoked earthy cigars on its veranda, played hours of poker around the same small table and celebrated countless couples’ first kiss as husband and wife in the all-pine ballroom. Time has been passed here. Generation after generation has filled this clubhouse with memories. And on Saturday, June 7, 2014, as is tradition, the club’s annual regatta will be held here for people of all walks of life with one commonality – a love of the water.
“You can really get away,” Robert Hock, Dayton Canoe Club member, said as he stared across the water. “Sometimes, you forget you’re even in the city.”
Beginning with 14 charter members in 1913, the Dayton Canoe Club currently boasts 106 members with unlimited access to the clubhouse and its bank. Though there were at one time five canoe clubs along the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad Rivers, the DCC alone has successfully weathered two major floods and countless storms without irreparable damage, and is now one of two active canoe clubs operating out of its original building in the United States.
“It’s nice to be able to come down, shoot some pool and not hear anybody yappin’,” joked Clyde Collins, a fellow DCC member.
Though rich with history, the DCC still provides plenty of cookouts and social events for active members. The club hosts at least one large dance per year, and continues traditions like moonlight floats, hosted on every full moon Friday – weather permitting. A good crowd is still present every Fourth of July to watch the fireworks from the water, and of course, the club’s annual regatta is also well attended.
A tradition as old as the club itself, the DCC’s annual regatta calls together all club members looking to compete in events testing the participants’ speed, dexterity and group cohesiveness on the river. The war boat race, Collins says, is the premier event, when 11 people – ten paddlers and one coxswain, or guide, in the back – settle into a larger canoe and race other war boats around Island Metro Park. Already affiliated groups, such as members of city fire departments and local Boy Scout troops have participated in the past. Other events such as the 1,000-meter race, the sail canoe race and the “upset canoe” race – where participants are able to tip other canoes to gain an advantage – are also popular regatta events.
The price of membership is around $137 a year, and provides a master key to the clubhouse and a locker to store your canoe. While canoes themselves are not provided, extras like kayaks and canoe sails may be used with permission and tender care. Unlike canoe rental locations around Dayton, Collins said, there is no open and close date for the season.
“We’ve got some pretty skilled people in our club,” Collins said. “If you’re comfortable enough to go out there, we certainly won’t stop you.”
The clubhouse itself is accessed from the street with steps leading up to the main clubroom, complete with a pool table, additional seating, a table for cards and a
roaring fireplace. Every element of the clubhouse is dated, from the mossy green carpet to the original leather-netted pockets of the pool table. Walking by the card table, Collins drags his finger across its well-worn surface.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been won and lost at this table,” he laughed.
Every corner of the clubhouse is filled with history. Case after case of ribbons, trophies and plaques from regatta champions past line the walls. Grainy black and whites display once young club members with beaming smiles and quite conservative bathing attire. A 1924 description of proper dancing etiquette for the ballroom serves as yet another reflection of the dance floor’s age.
Though a piece of history in and of itself, the responsibility for the necessary upkeep of the clubhouse has rested solely on the club members and other volunteers throughout the years. Those who value the club and have a vested interest in its survival take weekends, days off and hours away from home to pour into the maintenance the building has needed over time. This summer marks the beginning of a new, much-anticipated update to the club: the construction of a new dock.
“It’s taken almost a year just to get all the permits,” Collins said. “Our club members do most of the work, because we don’t have the budget to hire anyone.” There’s a certain amount of pride, though, he said, in having a group of people you can count on, and who all want to keep the club alive. “How you keep going is the volunteers and the community,” Collins said.
After months of patience, construction on the new dock is set to be completed by summer’s end.
Though a private club, the DCC is always open to new members and prospects, Hock said. Don Aughe, a long-time member of the club, recently had his grandson, Dylan Aughe, sign up as a third generation member – keeping the tradition alive. Prominent members of Dayton such as Orville Wright and Charles Kettering have also sought solace upon these waves, and were at one time members of this canoe club.
With so much history and so many people’s support, this landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places will continue to contribute to Dayton’s present as much as it has shaped its past.
“What made [Americans] different from Europeans was we were able to create little societies like this – a group of like-minded people sharing an interest,” Collins said.
Surrounded by the soft echo of the ballroom, Hock took a slow look around the room, shrugged and smiled.
“It’s our own little society,” Hock said.
The Dayton Canoe Club is located at 1020 Riverside Dr. For more information, please call 937.222.9392 or visit daytoncanoeclub.org.
Reach DCP freelancer Melissa Markham at MelissaMarkham@DaytonCityPaper.com.