Image (most likely Minnesota and Western Canada Assn. Regatta - 1909) from a collection of Upper Mississippi Photos. Gift from Mr. N. P. Langford Jr. to the Minnesota Historical Society 1944. 

September 20, 2018

In 1872, the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen was formed to more clearly demarcate the boundary between professional and amateur oarsmen. The Minnesota Boat Club (MBC) prided itself on upholding the 'amateur ideal:' embracing the sport of rowing exclusively for its beauty, pleasure, and need for refined technique--not as a means to make money. As the club grew throughout the 1880s, it came to be associated as much with the social as the athletic status of its members and was ever vigilant that its members adhere to the tenets of amateurism. After a glorious winning streak in 1893 attributed to the dedicated coaching of ex-professional John A. Kennedy, the club began to falter. When faced with seemingly inevitable defeat by larger, stronger, men they took another look at the definition of amateur.

I'd like to thank Ramsey County History for publishing Upholding the Amateur Ideal at the Minnesota Boat Club in its Summer 2018 issue (Vol. 53 No. 2...

April 15, 2018

In 1875, The Red Wing Boat Club challenged their upstream rivals in Stillwater to a two-mile, out and back, four-oared race for a $100 purse. It turned into one of the biggest days for betting and sport that Red Wing had seen and one of Minnesota's best stories. Hear the Boat Sing shared my article, Out-Foxed in Red Wing, as their 30 March 2018 blog post.  

Hear The Boat Sing 'covers all aspects of the rich history of rowing, as a sport, culture phenomena, a life style, and a necessary element to keep your wit and stay sane.' This engaging blog, found at, is one well worth following.

Photo of the 1875 Stillwater Crew curtesy of the Washington County Historical Society.

March 1, 2018

In the spring of 1894, Schlitz Brewing of Milwaukee donated a stunning three-foot, gold-lined, silver challenge cup to the University of Wisconsin’s fledgling varsity crew to shore up support for the team and spur on a rivalry. The trophy was to be given to the winner of three consecutive races between the Badgers and a team of their choosing. At that time, the American Midwest was a collegiate rowing desert leaving Wisconsin with no choice but to engage one of the regional amateur rowing clubs. The men of the Minnesota Boat Club (MBC) were the obvious choice. The Minnesotas were still basking in the afterglow of a spectacularly victorious 1893 racing season, during which their junior and senior fours enjoyed an unmitigated winning streak earning MBC a national reputation as the fastest club in the Northwest. The Men of MBC accepted Wisconsin's challenge and agreed that the two-mile straightaway eights race would be held on June 23rd, 1894 in front of the Hotel Lafayette on Lake...

February 28, 2018

Students at the University of Wisconsin initiated their first rowing club in 1874,[1] the same year the University hired John Bascom to serve as president, and this was an unfortunate coincidence.[2] Bascom arrived in Madison with an actively unsupportive stance toward college athletics, and while he tolerated the presence of a student-run rowing club, he offered nothing in the way of resources or encouragement to the athletically-inclined students. Competition with other clubs was out of the question; Bascom harbored concerns that if he opened Wisconsin’s storied doors to outside crews the vices of betting and drinking would waft in and corrupt his upstanding student body. Bascom underscored his dislike of collegiate sports by devoting a substantial passage of his baccalaureate sermon, ‘The Seat of Sin’ to the condemnation of athletics, specifically college regattas and ball games.[3]

Bascom’s student body was well-heeled and interested in popular trends, often taking social cues...

August 8, 2017

Only once in the history of the North-Western International Rowing Association (NWIRA) has a ‘foreign,’ non-Association, club walked away with the treasured Sir Thomas Lipton Cup. In 1966, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Boat Club made off, some would say like bandits, with the prized trophy.

The Duluth Boat Club hosted the regatta, and everyone was happy about it. A few years prior, the club had lost their boathouse and much of their equipment in a devastating one-two punch of fire and high winds. True to form, the citizens of Duluth had stepped up, generously giving their time and money to revive the sport. Duluth’s oars were finally beginning to feel some purchase on the water again when six visiting teams descended on 3913 Minnesota Avenue, the site of their spanking new Quonset-style boathouse, to race over a mid-July weekend.

St. Paul’s Minnesota Boat Club (MBC) was heavily favored to win. Karl Twedt, temporary custodian of the Sir Thomas Lipton Cup, dutifully crated and transpor...

July 10, 2017

To say that Minnesota has a strong outdoor recreational culture that revolves around its lakes is probably stating the obvious. Known as the 'Land of Lakes,' Minnesota boasts well over 10,000, and many offer ideal conditions for rowing. Yet, despite the overabundance of available 'still water,' the state's first rowers chose the mighty Mississippi River for the site of their club. The Minnesota Boat Club (MBC), the oldest rowing and athletic club in the state, remains where it has always been - on Raspberry Island - and its members continue to negotiate the unpredictable currents and river traffic as they always have (some believe this makes them stronger, better prepared for any situation they might encounter on a race course).

As the sport of rowing was establishing a foothold in Minnesota in the 1870s and 1880s, so too were the local railroad lines and resorts. Being a popular spectator sport, regattas drew people out...

June 30, 2017

In early 1874, the men of the Minnesota Boat Club finally abandoned the floating boathouse that they had moored to the foot of the Robert Street Bridge and moved into a new boathouse on Raspberry Island[1], an exceptional location with many advantages. Raspberry Island was convenient to downtown St. Paul, accessible via a short walk over the Wabasha Street Bridge. It was undeveloped and natural, with plenty of mature shade trees, offering an escape from the dust and commotion of the city. It was seen as an oasis, one that could be further transformed into something magical, which it frequently would be in the years to come, for celebrations and exclusive moonlit parties.

By 1874, MBC was positioned to be a highly competitive rowing club. Its active membership had almost quadrupled since its founding, it had 18 boats in its inventory[2], and the men were rowing and training out of a new boathouse. Everything under its control was at potential...

June 20, 2017

Dubbed ‘The Year of Triumph[1],’ 1893 was a banner year for MBC, one of unexpected and sustained victory.

By the time the 1893 Minnesota and Winnipeg Association Regatta rolled around, the Men of MBC were well into their fourth year of training under former professional oarsman, John A. Kennedy. Kennedy had a reputation for coaching his athletes’ physical form while, at the same time, instilling a strong sense of courage and determination. He was finally beginning to see results. By mid-summer, Kennedy’s boys were in top form, trained to consistently perform at potential, and keen to compete.

The 8th annual Minnesota and Winnipeg Association Regatta was held in late July in front of the Hotel Lafayette at Lake Minnetonka. The shore was teaming with fans; interest in rowing and in this particular regatta had been building for years. To meet demand, the Great Northern scheduled five commuter trains from the Twin Cities to Minnetonka. attaching extra cars to handle overflow. Even so,...

June 9, 2017

It took over twenty years for the men of the Minnesota Boat Club (MBC) to get around to buying an eight, and it was Winnipeg’s idea.

It all started with a single. The first time St. Paul set eyes on a rowing shell it focused on John W. L. Corning’s delicate paper boat. John Corning was the vector that infected the city of St. Paul with a love of rowing, an affliction that slowly spread throughout the state, eventually becoming endemic. When Corning relocated to St. Paul from New York in 1868, he shipped his new rowing shell by the safest, if not the most direct, route. He sent it down the Atlantic Coast to New Orleans and then by barge up the Mississippi River. When he was reunited with his boat in St. Paul, a crowd gathered on the Wabasha Street Bridge, skeptical, to see if he would stay afloat. When he did, everyone was delighted. Corning’s fragile boat provided a stark contrast to the rough and tumble frontier backdrop of St. Paul and the working hustle of the Mississippi River...

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Rowing in Minnesota

History and Photography

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