Pirate Canoe Club

Where there is a sea, there are pirates!

Origination & History of the Pirate Canoe Club - by Diane Skwish
In 1907 a club was started on the Hudson River by J. Geisler and Louis Hall in a shed on land owned by Jacob Klein. It was known as the Pirate Aquatic Club which was later changed to the Pirate Canoe Club in 1917. The building was situated at the foot of Fox Street, otherwise known as Fox’s Point on the southern boundary of Poughkeepsie. The first canoe was constructed of wood and canvas by J. Geisler and Louis Hall. It was stored in a shed that accommodated 3 or 4 canoes. The Pirate Aquatic Club occupied these quarters until July 1910. The club then moved its quarters under the north end of Kaal Rock. Their new building was formerly used by Dick Wood for rental of row boats. At this time the membership increased to twenty two.
The club remained on the premises until the spring of 1911 which had now increased to 36 members. They then purchased the Buckhout Boathouse at the foot of Church St. for the price of $250. The clubhouse was the center of activity in 1911 to 1912. Membership increased to 38 with 17 canoes, some of them in partnership deals.

At a November meeting in 1912 the club was in receipt of a letter by Mr. F.B. Lown stating that the City of Poughkeepsie intended to purchase the property known as the Lower Furnace Co., then owned by George U.L. Spratt for a public park and bathing beach.

The letter further stated that our boathouse was situated at the foot of Church St., if we would be obliged to seek new quarters. It concluded that a piece of property was available at the south end of the Furnace property about 25 by 60 feet for the price of $500. At the finish of the letter all of the members were greatly surprised or dumbfounded. However, a quick decision was reached.

Mr. Chet Mackey, Treasurer, was appointed to take care of the property transfer. Initial payment of $50 was made and the remainder carried on a first mortgage. On Sunday, January 5, 1913, the members were on hand and started tearing down the boathouse. Members watched nightly so that material would not be carried away.

George Buckhout had erected a new boat shop just south of our land two years previous. He volunteered his services instructing the members how to lay the foundation.

During the winter of 1915-1916 the boys decided that certain improvements were in order for toilet facilities as we did not have city water. A large tank was constructed above the toilet and supplied with water pumped from the river by a double action pump.

This work was done shortly before boat race day so the members decided to have open house on Boat Race Eve – June 16, 1916. The next day the clubhouse was crowded with spectators.

During the summer of 1917, an industrial committee from the Chamber of Commerce visited the club and stated that the Moline Plow Co. wished to purchase the riverfront from the Kaal Rock south as far as the north end of their existing property. Their propositions did not go over so well.

Up to this time in 1917, the club was not incorporated and we still carried a mortgage of $350. In January 1918 the club was incorporated and known as the Pirate Canoe Club. At the time of the incorporation the majority of the members were called to service in World War I. During the conflict the club was a desolate and forsaken place.

On November 18, 1918 when the armistice was signed, it was in June 1919 before the final contingents returned home and back to work. From 1913 – 1919 the membership grew to 105 and the racks accommodated 34 canoes. In 1920 the club bought the Al Traver frame building north of the clubhouse.

Mr. Raymond Aldrich then District Attorney handled the legal end for the club for the amount of $1500. The floor of the Traver building was in fine shape so the club decided to run dances once a week during the summers from 1920 to 1930. Apart from its use as a dance hall it was served as a kitchen and mess hall for club suppers, feeds and clambakes.

Through the years of 1920 to 1928 the membership changed. Old members dropped out and younger members came in with new thoughts regarding club activities. They spoke of new and larger quarters.

Early in 1930, contractors on the Mid-Hudson Bridge dismantled certain construction forms such as 6x10 I-beams weighing 1800 lbs. The thought occurred to Jim Rankin that these I-beams could be used to good advantage that the members had in mind. These I-beams were purchased for $125.

Later in September 1930 Mr. James D’Lubach had drawn up a plan of a building. During the planning 2200 concrete blocks, hand molded, were made under the supervision of Al Campion. The big day came when the cornerstone was laid on March 15, 1931. The history of the club from 1907 to 1931 was placed in the cornerstone pocket along with 2 newspapers of March 14 & 15, 1931, old coins, a bottle of Golden Wedding and rosary beads. Commodore Fritz Meyer was in charge of this great event before a 100% membership present.

The peak of construction of the new clubhouse coincided with the Depression and the Pirate Canoe Club could not secure a mortgage to continue construction. The C.N. Arnold Lumber Company, no longer in existence, gave lumber to the club and sanctioned a mortgage. Eventually the club was also able to buy the nearby Standard Oil Company facility.

In 1944, the club purchased the Buckhout Corporation, a historic boat-building company on the Hudson. Until 1969, this Union Street location was the focal point of club activities. At this time, Urban Renewal dispossessed this property despite the club’s attempts to comply with Urban Renewal’s specifications.

Mrs. Ann Young, hearing of the club’s troubles, sold property on the Hudson River in the Town of Poughkeepsie to the club. This marked the transition from the Pirate Canoe Club’s longstanding association with the City of Poughkeepsie to its new relationship with the Town of Poughkeepsie. Club members, numbered at 150, were now to start once again from scratch. Confronted with a forest that ran from the Hudson River to the railroad tracks, they cleared the trees themselves. In 1973, the 200 members celebrated the laying of the cornerstones of the new building.

It is important to note that the Pirate Canoe Club was formed as, and still is, an exclusive boat club. It was not formed as a fraternal organization. At the time of the Pirate Canoe Club’s formation, Poughkeepsie’s predominant groups, the Polish, Germans, Irish, and Italian, each segregated themselves in their own private clubs. The Pirate Canoe Club was not an ethnic club. It was composed of working class people of various backgrounds. It has always retained the philosophy of the strength and value of the working class man. The club was built and maintained solely by the work of it members.

The Pirate Canoe Club was always sought to maintain a relationship with the Hudson River. It has always occupied quarters on the Hudson River and opened its docks to boaters traveling from other clubs on the river. It is a Poughkeepsie Club in the sense that it has always sought to maintain a positive association with the City and Town of Poughkeepsie.