By Lee Silverberg, Recording Secretary, 5/19/2008
The original boathouse on the site where Fairmount Rowing Association now sits was built by the Pacific Barge Club, founded June 15, 1859, in the year 1860. The one-story rectangular stone building with two boat bays was divided along an east/west axis. In 1865 or 1866, the northern half of the building (#3 Boathouse Row) was purchased by the Quaker City Barge Club, founded Oct. 20, 1858. In 1875, Quaker City constructed a single bay, one story stone addition to its half of the boathouse.
Fairmount Rowing Association was formed on September 17, 1877 by a small group of men. Meetings initially were held in a room at Fairmount Avenue and either 25th Street or 23rd Street. They were able to purchase a six-oar barge, which was stored in an old building at Brown and 27th Streets. To row, the members had to carry the boat six blocks to the river. The club was incorporated on October 23, 1880, and on July 1, 1881, the club purchased equipment and the southern half of the boathouse (#2 Boathouse Row) from Pacific Barge Club.
In 1904, Fairmount tore down its half of the house, and replaced it with a two and a half story Flemish bond, brick structure in the Georgian Revival style. The architect was Walter Smedley, a founder of the T-Square Club who was best known for residential architecture. In 1916, the club was finally allowed to join the Schuylkill Navy, after decades of being rejected.
The Quaker City Barge Club raced very successfully until the early 1880s. After that the club declined, although there were occasional upswings in fortune, in particular their victory in the Junior 8 at the 1925 National Championships. However, they did not race in the Schuylkill Navy Regatta after 1926, and at the end of 1932, the club declared itself “inactive” in the Schuylkill Navy. At least some members of the club persisted until the early 1940s before it became completely defunct.
In June of 1945, under the leadership of John Carlin, Fairmount RA purchased the entirety of Quaker City Barge Club, including their house and equipment. A second story was added above the original 1858 structure, connecting the second floors of the 1875 and 1904 buildings, and a new primary entrance was placed in it’s present location on the east side of the building. The new second story room became the bar room. The Quaker City bays were also extended out. During this work, the original east and west walls of the 1858 structure were demolished. With the merging of the clubs, the address “#3” disappeared. The exterior of the house has not changed substantially since then, although some interior renovations have been made.
Fairmount has a long and storied history of competing on the national level, and has won many national championships in sweeps and sculls. Here are just a few of the club’s competitive highlights: In 1886, the club won National Championships in both the Senior (what today we call “Elite”) 4- and the Senior 8, the first time any Philadelphia club had won the title in either event. They won again in the Senior 8 in 1888, and in the Senior 4- in 1891. They won the Intermediate Double in 1897 and the Intermediate 8 in 1898. Fairmount won the Schuylkill Navy points trophy in 1937. In 1941 they again won National Championships in both the Senior 4- and the Senior 8. In each of the next two years (1942-3), Fairmount won five National Championships and the Barnes Trophy for overall points total. In 1949, five men from Fairmount won four National Championships. In 1957, Tom McDonough won the Championship Single at the Nationals, made the semifinals at Henley, and represented the U.S. in the European Championships. From 1965-7, the club won the National Championship in the Senior Quad three straight years. From 1975-8, Fairmount boats represented the US at the Junior Worlds in the Double three times and in the Quad three times. Fairmount sculler James Castellan represented the U.S. at the 1976 Olympics. In 1987, the same FRA crew won both the Club and the Masters Four at the Head of the Charles. Under coach Sean Drea, John Riley rowed the single for Fairmount at the World Championships in 1989 and 1991. At the 1996 Olympics, Teresa Z. Bell won a Silver medal in the Lightweight Women’s Double. And in this decade, Fairmount has won many national championships in Masters and Junior events.
Fairmount today is a club with a very strong Masters program, as well as a small but excellent Juniors program, and even a few Elites. The club holds a number of popular annual social events. It is also filled with great people, and a pride that comes from knowing it is the best rowing club, anywhere