WHEELING’S SCULL and SHELL BOAT RACING and WHEELING BOAT CLUBS 1865 – 1900 by John Bowman

In 1865, the Civil War had ended, soothing the entirety of America’s humanity.  What was one to do now? Wheeling had the river, the magnificent Ohio River, and it would fit into the thoughts of “something to do now”. The colleges of Harvard and Yale in 1843 made use of the river, racing rowboats; making this a popular sport that in the 1860s would find its way to Wheeling.

Fun on a Boat Club, the Public library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Ohio

We find this from the “Wheeling Daily Register”: Wednesday Morning Jun 29, 1865.

Smith & Co. Brewery add photo from the John Bowman collection

“The New Row Boat ‘Kennet’- The new rowboat presented by Mr. George W. Smith to the ‘Maple Leaf Club’ is a handsome craft.  She has just been handsomely painted and neatly fitted up, and given the name of ‘Kennet’ an appellation given to a celebrated ‘Ale’ manufactured by Mr. Smith’s Wheeling Brewery.[i]  The ‘Maple Leaf Boat Club’ has been thoroughly organized, and comprises many of our leading businessmen.  The racing mania is already beginning to develop itself, and we shall not be surprised if at an early day we are able to record great feats performed by the Wheeling Boat Clubs.  ‘The Maple Leaf’ boat went to New Martinsville last night, and was highly complimented by spectators upon the skillful manner in which the boat was handled.  They feel quite confident that alter a few weeks practice they will be able to compete successfully with all other clubs in this vicinity in grace and speed.”

Wheeling’s first boat club was the 1865 Maple Leaf Club.  The second boat club was the 1870 North Wheeling Clarkson Boat Club that in 1878 was renamed the Hegner Boat Club.  Third was the 1872 Centre Wheeling, Nail City Boat Club moored at the foot of Twenty-Third Street.  Fourth was the 1872 Wheeling City Boat Club.  Fifth was the 1874, C.P. Brown Boat Club moored at the foot of Fourteenth Street, and sixth in 1876 was the John Wright Boat Club that was inactivated in 1877.  Sixth was then claimed by the 1877 South Wheeling J.W. Schultz Boat Club.  In 1877, sixteen East Wheeling boys organized the eighth Boat Club, and named it after the Wheeling City Clerk, George Crumbacker.  In South Wheeling, the ninth club was established, the 1877 H.J. Leasure Boat Club, and tenth was the 1877 A. Rolf Boat Club.  Eleventh was the 1878 Standard Boat Club.  Twelfth was the 1878 F.A. Britt Boat Club.   In 1879, the thirteenth, the Crescent Boat Club was started.  In 1880, the fourteenth club, the Woodruffe Boat Club was established.

Wheeling Boat Club photo from the Herb Bierkortte collection

Other clubs in this vicinity in this period was the 1869 New Martinsville, West Virginia boat club, the 1870 Martins Ferry, Ohio ‘Dardine Boat Club’, and newly organized boat clubs were being established in Steubenville, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not meaning to leave any local city out, we include Bellaire, Ohio’s course and prominent scull racing stars; among these oarsmen was Henry the “Kid” Heil aka “Butcher Boy”, John “Stony” Ritz, John Muth and Dan Cochran.

This from the Wheeling Daily Register Nov 12, 1870 “Boat Race – The race this evening at 4 o’clock between the row boats Spivins and Pocahontas is attracting more than ordinary attention, and exciting considerable interest.  The two crews are in full trim and keen for the contest.  The Spivins crew is Thomas Shelly, stroke oar, John Hague, bow, and of the Pocahontas, J.H. Sweeney, stroke oar, and Thomas Charleston, bow.  Her length is 24½ feet, width at bottom ten inches, across the top, three feet. The Spivins is 24½ feet long, width at bottom, fourteen inches, across the top, three feet nine inches.  The race will be a red-hot one.”       

For the most part, boat racing was a spectator sport.  America was wanting for a spectator sport, and along came another, baseball.  Baseball made its debut in Wheeling in 1866.  West Virginia’s first recorded sports event was an 1866 baseball game played in Wheeling.  The game was played between Wheeling’s newly formed ‘Hunkidori” Baseball Club and the Union Baseball Club of Washington, Pennsylvania.  The Union Club crushed the Hunkidoris 45-12 before a rainstorm ended the game.  

In 1876, the National League, a league of professional big city baseball teams was founded and in 1877, the Minor League serving smaller city teams was established.  In 1887, Wheeling’s ‘Green Stockings’ became West Virginia’s first Minor League baseball team.  The ‘Green Stockings’ third baseman was Sol White, a black man, who would be the only player from a Wheeling baseball team ever inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Newspapers in the 1870s gave a lot of coverage to boat racing, sometimes devoting as much as two columns to this sport.  Baseball was barely mentioned only receiving a small amount of column space.  But of course all this in time would change.  Who knew then, that this spectator sport, ‘Baseball’ would one day become “America’s Favorite Pastime”?   Wheeling had fourteen boat clubs established over a fifteen-year period.  These boat clubs had boathouses.

Boat Club Boathouses’ Wheeling’s Boat Clubs had a ‘Boathouse’ where they housed and worked on their boats.  These boathouses in the usual were built up on a recently retired steamboat hull.  The customary or standard hull used was roughly 100 feet in length and 20 feet in width.  To take for instance…we use the C.P. Brown Boat Club. This club was organized August 1, 1874, with eleven members, and during the spring of 1875, the club expended about $1,000 in the erection of a boathouse. The hull, on which the house was built, was 120 feet long and 22 feet wide, and the boat room was 80 feet long by 20 feet wide.  The 20 x 20 feet reception room was adorned with numerous handsome paintings, the gift of friends to the club, which were valued at $150.  The reception room was carpeted and furnished with tables and chairs, checker stands, a handsome oval mirror, a water cooler, et cetera.[i]  The club boasted of having within the boathouse a first class gymnasium for the use of the members in the winter, in which can be found dumb bells, Indian clubs, an improved pulling machine and numerous other articles necessary for such an institution.

Boats’ The Brown club has one six-oared barge, named in honor of James Hamilton, the manager of the Opera House; (Barges have names too) one four-oared shell named Hugh Sterling; five single oared shells named as follows: Geo. R. Tingle, J.R. Campbell, Jas. A. Chambers, Frank Denmarsh, R. E. Lee.  A single oared shell uses one oar, an oared scull uses two oars.  A four-oared shell has four rowers each using one oar and a coxswain who steers the boat.  The Brown club has four working boats and two skiffs.  The Brown club has participated in many races since its organization. [i], [ii] The typical or conventional racing scull was thirty feet long, twelve inches wide and weighed twenty-nine pounds.  Each boat had a pair of sculls (oars), which weighed seven pounds. The scull had a sliding seat.

An eight-oared shell boat and crew–race between Harvard University and Cambridge (England) University, Cambridge, Mass photo courtesy Lib. of Cong.

Not everything concerning Wheeling’s Boat Clubs happened on the river.  These clubs were social clubs; this was advertised in the Wheeling Daily Register August 19, 1872.  “The East Wheeling Boat Club will give a Grand Social Ball at Turner Hall the evening of August 19, 1872 with music by Birch’s Quadrille Band.”

Wheeling’s Boat Clubs saw their heyday in the 1870s, with but a few clubs lasting into the 1880s as evidenced in reading the following paragraph. 

This appeared in the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Dec 21, 1884 under ‘Local Aquatic Notes’ “The Wheeling City Boat Club the only organization of its kind now in the city, will give a grand benefit Ball Christmas Eve at Turners Hall.  The intention is to raise a sufficient sum of money to pay for the new scull boat ordered by John Ritz.  There is no doubt, but that a large crowd will be present as “Stony” has numerous friends in this city.”  However, notwithstanding this fact, for the most part, here is what boat clubs were all about.                            

Scull Boat Race

Boat Racing’

Boat races were well witnessed by patrons lining the banks of the Ohio River intently watching and rooting for their favorite.  Wheeling’s boat races took place in two courses, the “upper course”, extending from a point above the tip of Wheeling Island, just opposite the Top Mill blast furnace racing one-mile and one-half up the river.  The turning point was at the present site of the south end of Centre Foundry, and there returning to the starting point.  The “lower course” started from the Belmont Iron Works riverbank-beach at the end of Division Street, (Twenty-Sixth Street) Centre Wheeling directly across from the southern tip of Wheeling Island.  They raced south one-mile and one-half down river to below Benson’s Ferry Landing at the northern tip of “Boggs Island” opposite the Forty-Fourth Street Ferry landing in South Wheeling, and this is where the Bellaire course began.  From here, they raced south, depending on the determined distance, to a point opposite the mouth of either McMahon’s Creek or Pinch Run.  The problem with the Bellaire courses was not enough access to the river for spectators to view the race.
Crews would look at the two Wheeling courses very differently in their strategies to win.  The first one-half of the race rowed in the “upper course” (the Top Mill course) was going against the current.  The opposite effort was required in the “lower course” as you were fighting the current in the second one-half of the race. 

Scull Boat race participant

The boat racing sport required a very fit person.  Compare one’s fitness with a prizefighter’s fitness.  Top oarsmen were strong, robust, and, sometimes rowdy.  The boat-racing oarsmen champions were in training continuously.  In the mid-1870s, Louis Felsing of the Hegner Boat Club and George Weisgerber of the Nail City Boat Club were Wheeling’s Champion oarsmen.  In this sport liking to a prizefighter, there was prize money at stake, big money. 

Let us look at the prize money.  A wining oarsman could pocket $500, in today’s money that would be $9,000.  We will see some other money amounts quoted…$25 today would equal $450, $50 today equals $900, and $250 today equals $4,500.  We see a wagering figure of $15,000 quoted that today is over a quarter of a million dollars wagered $280,000.  Wow!  In a news article, we read; the race between the two oarsmen is for $500 a side, over a three-mile course.  We suppose the “a side” means the winning oarsman would divide the money with his handlers (trainers et cetera).   

From this point on, we will chronicle Boat Club happenings using “quoted” excerpts from newspaper articles gleaned from the Belmont Chronicle, the Bellaire Daily Independent, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, the Wheeling Daily Register, and the Pittsburgh Sunday Leader, and at times using abbreviations. 

The Wheeling Daily Register Jul 19, 1869 “The Boat Race – A Fizzle – In company with a goodly number of our sport loving citizens we were delightfully sold on Saturday.  It was announced that there would be a boat race from the big elm tree above Marshall’s coal bank to Martin’s Ferry, between the West Wheeling boat, Indian Queen, rowed by Messrs. Low and Wolf, and the New Martinsville boat Joe Bell, rowed by Messrs. Wise and Hill.  On reaching the terminus of the course, we found a very large crowd of persons considerably excited over the announcement that the wager had been reduced from $250 to $100 a side to accommodate the Martinsville folks, and that they had not added a dime to their $25 forfeit money.  After waiting an hour or more, it was announced that New Martinsville had paid the forfeit and would not row.  So, the crowd, cheated of their anticipated sport, grumblingly broke up and cursed the Fizzle.”

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Dec 19, 1870The Dardine Boat club of Martin’s Ferry, last Friday evening visited the residence of a North Wheeling gentleman for whom the club is named, and presented him with a set of glassware comprising fifty-eight pieces.  The affair passed off very pleasantly.”

The Intel. Jun 17, 1872Todays Boat Race – takes place over the lower course this afternoon.  The Briceland-Clator Race this afternoon is looked forward to with no little interest, Briceland being the favorite.  The race is for $1,000 a side, and there is a good deal of wagering money up in addition.  The stakes are in the hands of William Entler.  Townsend Adams was chosen as referee, and Clator’s judges at the buoys will be Dan Cochran and Billy Humes.  Briceland will wear a white shirt and red trunks, and Clator will wear his favorite blue.  By the terms of the agreement between the parties, the race must be rowed between the hours of 3 and 6 o’clock, p.m.  Smooth water is required subject to the decision of the referee.
It is also stipulated that the men shall toss for choice of position before the starting of the race, and the race shall be started by the word “Go” to be given by the referee.  The men shall start from two buoy boats not less, nor more than twenty-five yards apart and row to their respective buoy boats and turn from right to left, the said buoys to be moored twenty-five yards apart.  A gamey race is anticipated, and whatever the event may be, it will stimulate local oarsmen to such a degree that the aquatic season will be a lively one.”

The Wheeling Daily Register Mar 28, 1874 “An exciting contest is now going on in the city between the Nail City Boat Club of Centre Wheeling and the Hegner Boat Club of North Wheeling, for a beautiful pair of silver mounted boat oars, to be presented to the most popular club of the two, by the B.O.F. League No. 1. at a ball to be given by the League at Turner’s Hall, on the evening of the 17th of April.  The oars can be seen at Mr. Lawrence Heiler’s saloon, on Market Street.” 

The Daily Reg. September 1, 1875 “Pittsburgher Ed Powell’s new scull boat in which he rows a race at Wheeling with Frank Denmarsh, on Saturday next, was taken in one of the coaches of the express train his afternoon for Wheeling.”  The Pittsburgh Chronicle.

The Daily Reg. Monday Oct 2, 1875 “The Felsing-Manton Boat Race – The boat race on Saturday afternoon between Louis Felsing and James Manton attracted an immense crowd of people to the riverbank in the vicinity of the Top Mill.  The race was over what is known as the “upper course,” extending from a point opposite the Top Mill blast furnace one-mile and one-half up the river and return.  Felsing is a member of the Hegner Club, and Manton, who is better known than his opponent, having had two or three pulls lately, belongs to the Nail City Club.
The stakes were $200 a side, and were in charge of Mr. W.H. Taney, of the Register, who was chosen stakeholder.  Manton won the choice of position, and at 4:30 p.m., both men were in their boats in the middle of the river ready to start.  The referee, Mr. I.C. Van Fossen, gave the word “Go”, and a few moments later, both men pulled rapidly away.  Manton took the lead slightly, and after he had proceeded about one hundred and fifty yards from the stake boat Felsing began to gain on him.  The boats were even until the buoy boats were turned, and Manton lead.  When the bend was reached, Felsing spurted past Manton, and continuing to gain rapidly, came in at the stake boat about five lengths in advance.  Felsing won the race in twenty-one minutes and fifty-five seconds, which is considered excellent time.
Ed Powell trained Manton for this race, and Billy Scharff handled Felsing, both are Pittsburghers.  Felsing rowed a new boat built for him by Noffsinger especially for this race.  Mr. Van Fossen, the referee, was pulled over the course in the barge “Longfellow”.  The race was very exciting, and the presence of a number of noted oarsmen added to the interest of the occasion.”

The Intel. Feb 17, 1876 Louis Felsing stabbed while at work at Top Mill.  A man named David Buchanan, with whom Felsing had-previously had some trouble, yesterday, about noon, seriously stabbed Louis Felsing, of the boiler room gang at the Top Mill.   Buchanan went to the mill to see Felsing, and accused him of talking about him.  When the two quarreled, the former drew a pocketknife, the blade of which is about three inches long, and stabbed Felsing twice in the region of the heart.  Felsing is expected to recover.  He is a member of the Hegner boat club, and is quite a prominent oarsman and well known in boating circles.”

The Daily Reg. July 29, 1876, “a Single shell race between George “Fatty” Weisgerber and James Johnson, of the Nail City club, rowed one-mile straight away, $100 a side; won by Weisgerber.”

The Daily Reg. September 10 1876, “a Single scull race rowed for $260, one and one-half miles and return, over the lower course, between Nail City’s George Weisgerber and August Hanke was won by Weisgerber.  The Nail City club, which numbers thirty-two active members, has the finest boathouse on the Ohio River, which is valued at over $2,000, and boasts of several first class oarsmen.”

The Daily Reg. Sept 23, 1876The boat house of the Leasure Boat Club was left by the high water with the bow ashore and the stern sunk below the water, so that it is practically worthless.”

The Daily Reg. Sept 23, 1876 “a Club Dance at Steubenrach’s Hall, Saturday Evening, Sept. 23, 1876, will be given by the John Wright Boat Club.  Best of order preserved.”

The Daily Reg. Mar 8, 1877The Schultz Boat Club of South Wheeling is contemplating building a boathouse, they have purchased a hull 115’ long 17’ wide.”

The Daily Reg. Mar 29, 1877 Sporting News – “The present season in the way of the boating sport looks well for Wheeling. The boat clubs are making active preparations for several brilliant contests.  Efforts are being made by several of the Wheeling boat clubs to have a regatta, free for all, in this city, on the Fourth of July next.   If successful, fine sport may be expected.” 

The Intel. Apr 24, 1877 A Boat Race – “Some few days ago a challenge was issued by Charles Stephens, of the Brown Boat Club to Robert Johnson, of the Nail City Club, to row a single scull race.  Mr. Edward Clator, of the Brown Club was matched against John Barrett, of the Nail City Club for $200 a side, to row on the 26th day of May.”

The Daily Reg. Jun 27, 1877 “Work on the new Nail City Boat Club shore house will commence this morning.”  The Nail City Club built a two-story building corner 23rd Street and Water Street.

The Intel. July 19, 1877 “Manton a Wheeling oarsman throws down the gauntlet and informs Phillips that he can be accommodated at $200 or any other sum named.”

The Pittsburgh Sunday Leader Jun 10, 1877 “There is a new boat club in Wheeling named the J.W. Schultz, making it the sixth for that city.  Mr. Radcliff, of the new club, was in Pittsburgh the past week purchasing boats.”

The Daily Reg. Jul 17, 1877 “A number of East Wheeling boys, yesterday organized a Boat Club, the George Crumbacker Club named after our handsome City Clerk.”

The Daily Reg.Jun 9, 1879 “The picnic given by the Leasure Boat Club, of South Wheeling, on Saturday afternoon, while otherwise a very pleasant and well-managed affair, was the scene of a disgraceful and bloody affray, in which the President of the Club, Mr. Daniel Smith, a respectable boiler room employee at the Lā Belle mill, was fatally injured.  The picnic was given at Cummins’ Grove, just below West Wheeling, on the Ohio side of the river near Benson’s Ferry.  William Clator is charged with the shooting.”

The Daily Reg. September 29, 1879 “Weisgerber Wins Saturday’s Sculling Struggle.  Seventeen Thousand People View the Match – Referee’s Time: 20:58½.  A Match Pulled By Moonlight. The boating season at Wheeling has probably closed and like Time, it’s “noblest effort was its last.”  We have had few races this season, but what was lacking in numbers was more than compensated in quality, and if George Weisgerber may be pardoned a proud feeling of victory, certainly there should be, about Louis Felsing, little of the gloom of defeat.
Early in the morning, a restless crowd began to pervade the city.  All of the principal streets bearing evidence that something unusual was about to transpire.  Never did Wheeling contain a larger crowd.  It is estimated that 17,000 people viewed the race from the riverbank-beach below First Street (Twenty-Fourth Street), Centre Wheeling to the lower end of the course; the bank was lined with an eager, betting mass of humanity.
The large crowd had assembled by 4:30 o’clock and at 5:30 p.m.; Felsing came spinning down the river from the Hegner boathouse and hitched his shell to the stake boat that flaunted his colors – blue.  Some cheers announced that Weisgerber had concluded to come out and his boat shot off from the Nail City boathouse, made a graceful circle on the water and backed up to his flag boat.
These preliminaries passed unnoticed by many. They were too busy betting.  From what passed beneath our eyes, it would be safe to say that at least $5,000 changed hands.
With the announcement that the men were in position and awaited the starting word, the crowd made a grand rush for the bank.  Precisely at 5:32, or 5:42, or exactly at some other time, according to which chronometer you swore by, the word “Go” was given and the two shells darted off.  The six-oared barge “James Hamilton”, with Referee Edwards aboard, followed down the course.
The contestants were pulling at this time about 37 strokes to the minute, a pace too great to be long continued, and which dropped shortly afterwards to 32.  When the buoys were turned Weisgerber showed nearly two lengths ahead.  Neither men seemed pulling his best as Benson’s Ferry was passed, but on reaching Whiskey Run, (I-470) both spurted, Weisgerber making as high as 38 strokes a minute. 
By this time, it had dawned upon the crowd near the finish that Weisgerber was to be the winner, and a pandemonium of howls and yells arose in tribute.  Weisgerber was the winner by about a length and one-half.  Then came the farce of hand shaking.  This is what was said: Felsing – “Fatty, I’m not satisfied yet.”  Weisgerber – “Well Lou, I can’t help it.”
We will give several times, but to say which is correct is beyond our powers.  The referee’s timer marked 20:58½; others made the time anything from 20:50 up to 21:20.  Take your choice.
The Referee, Townsend Edwards timed the race with his new Longines Chronometer Watch recently purchased from Wm. H. Turner a prominent Wheeling Jeweler.  Longines, known for its ‘Superlative’ accuracy was recently adopted as the World’s Official sports timing watch.  This ends the boat racing fever for 1879.”  

The Intel. Feb 14, 1880 “The North End boat club brought their new boathouse down from Steubenville yesterday.”

The Intel. Sep 1, 1881 “Boli Vanquishes Clator and rakes in the pot. – The race between Peter Boli, of Port Perry and Edward Clator of Wheeling, came off this evening at Pittsburgh’s Braddock’s Field, and was witnessed by a large concourse of people, a great number from the Nail City being present.  The race was very exciting but Clator was simply overmatched.  He rowed at 156 pounds while Boli turned the scales at 180 pounds.  The betting was quite spirited, about thirty or forty thousand dollars changed hands.  The time was 20 minutes 56 seconds.  The Pittsburghers are jubilant; the Wheeling boys are badly downcast, having left the snug sum of $15,000.”

The Intel. Nov. 25, 1883, “The Schultz Boat Club will hold a picnic Nov 30, at Wilbert’s orchard below West Wheeling.  Several Boat and Foot races and a regatta will be features of the occasion.  The committee will use every endeavor to preserve order.”

The Intel. February 18, 1884, “The Wheeling City Boat Club will give a Grand Ball at Turner Hall next Friday evening. This club proposes to buy a barge with the receipts of this ball so that the press and referee can be carried over the course and see the race from beginning to end.  It is hoped a big crowd will attend the ball.”

The Intel. Sep 25, 1884William Haberfield a North Wheeling oarsman of some note, is anxious for a race, so “Nicely” Adams, the veteran boatman, informed a reporter last evening, he was to make a match for a two or three mile race for $100 a side with oarsman Ed Morgan of Steubenville, the race to take place October 11.”

The Intel. Mar 12, 1884 “Local Aquatic Notes – The Schultz Boat Club’s Billy Briceland has rowed theSchultz Boathouse recently devastated by the February 4th, 1884 flood to near the upper course, where he will have belter advantages for thorough training.  He will be heard from this summer.”  Reading further, “The Wheeling correspondent of the Pittsburgh Sportsman this week had a very newsy letter in that paper, from which the following items of sporting news are clipped: There will be one good boat house less in Wheeling this season.  The disastrous flood is to blame for it, though, and not lack of interest in its members.  It is of the Schultz Boat club I write, which by the raging water of recent date were relieved of their fine four-oared boat, three fine single shells, and all their boathouse paraphernalia.  Lovers of aquatic sport in this city will sadly miss the Schultz club.  An aquatic addition, to which this city badly needs this summer, is a few more boathouses to which persons can resort, when so inclined.  The number of persons who would patronize such places is certainly large enough to make it profitable.

The Belmont Chronicle Jul 9, 1885 “Wheeling oarsman, Ed Clator, is in training in Zanesville for a $500 race with Moniger of Allegheny.”  The next we will hear of Clator, he is still rowing but now a resident of Wichita, Kansas.

The Intel. Jul 9, 1885Ritz of Wheeling seems to be the champion oarsman of this whole valley now.  He issued a challenge to row any Pittsburgh oarsman three miles, and had no takers.  Just when the aquatic sport is dying out in this section, Wheeling comes forward with a crack oarsman.” The Bellaire Independent.

The Intel.The Wheeling City Boat Club – Wednesday Nov 25, 1885 will give a masked skating carnival at the North End Rink to-night 7 to 11:30 o’clock, Admission Gentlemen 25 cents, Ladies 15 cents.”

The Intel.Dec 24, 1886 “The Wheeling City Boat Clubwill give their second skating and dancing carnivalat the north end rink to-night.  Come one come all.”

 The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Mar 31, 1893 “A Wheeling Oarsman, Ed Clator, formerly of this city, lately a resident of Wichita, Kansas, has signed articles of agreement to row John K. Corbett, the champion amateur sculler of Chicago, a mile race at Pullman, Illinois, near Chicago, on May 27, for $500 a side.  Clator’s old friends hope he will succeed in defeating the Illinois man.”

The Intel. Jun 20, 1893 “Ed Clator Will Row – On Tuesday at Chicago.  Ed Clator, the well-known Wheeling oarsman, entered into an agreement to row John Corbett, a top-notcher among the western scullers three miles on a course at St. Joseph, Mo., July 3, for $500 a side.  Clator recently rowed against Corbett at Chicago and was beaten, but his friends are confident he will this time retrieve himself.  His Wheeling friends wish him success.” Ed Clator had been rowing in boating circles for the past sixteen years, always remaining a top contender.  One other mentioned over this period of years was Billy Briceland who contended for the oarsman championship along with Clator.

This appeared Mar 21, 1899 in the Wheeling Register “Bought a Boat House.  A representative of the Wheeling Boating Club went to Woodland yesterday and purchased a boathouse for the club, which will be towed to this city to-day or to-morrow, by the steamer Leroy.  It is fourteen by fifty feet, and has accommodations for twenty boats.  It will probably be located at the upper part of the city.”

And, here it is; the ‘Wheeling Boating Clubs’ boat house seen moored to the riverbank in this 1900 photo of the towboat Ironsides North-bound passing North Wheeling. A daring boater nears the fifteen-barge tow.

Ironsides Towboat at Wheeling a 1900 W.C. Brown photo #88 from the Herb Bierkortte collection
Canoe Race at Wheeling’s Wharf 1910 photo from the Herb Bierkortte collection

As seen in this 1910 canoe boat race, there is not a shell boat in sight.  In addition to not finding any more references to Ed Clator or Billy Briceland or “Fatty” Weisgerber, James Manton, Peter Boli, William Elliott, “Kid” Heil, and Louis Felsing or for that manner to anything pertaining to boat racing, we will end this story here, giving a good history of “Wheeling’s Shell Boat Clubs”, “Shell and Scull Boat Racing, and Boat Oarsman History”.

An addendum to our story.  Wheeling is seeing a comeback of this sort in boat racing, Chinese Dragon Boat racing.   Aug 24, 2019, Wheeling’s 5th Annual Dragon Boat Race took place.  Teams of 20 paddlers, a steerer and a drummer race in 46 foot Chinese Dragon Boats.  A Chinese tradition whose popularity is becoming the thing in today’s boat-racing circles.

Chinese Dragon Boats Racing Wheeling, WV Aug 24, 2019 photo by John Bowman
Chinese Dragon Boat Race Wheeling, WV Aug 24, 2019 photo by John Bowman
Chinese Dragon Boat Race at Wheeling photo clip from YouTube

BIBLIOGRAPHY Sources

Bowman, John, “Boat Building Wheeling’s First Major Industry” Wheeling, WV 2018

Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers

 The Belmont Chronicle St. Clairsville, Ohio 1881-

 The Bellaire Daily Independent Bellaire, Ohio 1870-188?

 The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer Wheeling W.Va. 1865-1903

 The Wheeling Daily Register Wheeling W.Va. 1864-1878

 The Pittsburgh Sunday Leader Pittsburgh, Pa.

Doddridge, on The Frontier” Doddridge, Reverend, and Dr., Joseph 1769-1826, Notes, on the Settlement and Indian Wars, of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania From 1763-1783 Inclusive.  Wellsburg, Virginia 1824

Newton, J.H. Editor, Nichols, G.G., Sprankle, A.G. History of the Pan-Handle, Being Historical Collections of the Counties of Ohio, Brooke, Marshall and Hancock, West Virginia J.A. Caldwell, Wheeling, W.Va. 1879 Pages 230-231

PHOTOS

Smith &  Co. add from the John Bowman collection

Boat Club Boat House photo courtesy the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Ohio

“An eight-oared shell boat and Crew – race between Harvard and Cambridge University at Cambridge, Mass.” Photo the Library of Congress

(3) Herb Bierkortte collection photos, 1. Wheeling Boat Club, 2. A 1900 W.C. Brown photo #88 of “Ironage North-Bound at Wheeling” 3. “A Canoe Race at the Wheeling Wharf
1910”

Scull Boat race photo from the John Bowman collection

Scull Boat race participant photo from the John Bowman collection

Chinese Dragon Boats Racing Wheeling, WV Aug 24, 2019 (2) photos by John Bowman

Clip from YouTube Wheeling Dragon Boat Racing

ENDNOTES

[i] George W. Smith started Wheeling’s first brewery in 1812 brewing his famous “Kennet” Ale.  From Wheeling’s founding in 1769, everyone drank beer. This from Bowman, John, “Boat Building Wheeling’s First Major Industry” Wheeling, WV 2018 Page 43 “Doddridge, on The Frontier” Doddridge, Reverend, and Dr., Joseph 1769-1826, Notes, on the Settlement and Indian Wars, of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania From 1763-1783 Inclusive.  Wellsburg, Virginia 1824 “Their drinking water supply was usually contaminated and beer was the substitute for water.  Everyone drank beer; men, women, children and infants were fed beer.  A small lean-to was attached to every cabin; where a batch of ‘Ale’ made of pumpkin, wheat or rye grain, with hops added, was always fermenting.”

[i] iii. iv Source: Wheeling Daily Register Mar 8, 1877

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