Industrialist, financier, philanthropist, A. I. DuPont’s interest in racing gave birth to the organization of the Cambridge Yacht Club (CYC) in 1911 and by the late 1930s it had became the home of competitive racing on the Chesapeake.
Through its history, CYC has sponsored more Gulf Marine Racing Hall of Fame drivers (power boats) than any other organization in the United States. CYC’s sponsorship of sail regattas parallels powerboat racing with events, including Chesapeake Log Canoes, Knockabouts, Star and Albatross and others, including the Hampton One Design. In 1946, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd presented the trophy for the East Coast Championship of the Hamptons at the Cambridge Yacht Club.
In the first year of CYC, under the leadership of Commodore A. I. DuPont, membership included 215 people. The club was located in the former home of the late Judge Goldsborough, which was located on High Street. The property at that time extended to Cambridge Creek and a pavilion was built there to house a proper dance floor. A small dock accommodated small boats and the loading of passengers.
By 1915 CYC acquired the Benjamin Brown house next door. At this time, broader participation by women in the organization was developed. When the U.S. entered World War I, activities slowed down and in 1919 Commodore DuPont resigned, allowing Henry Lloyd, Jr. to take over the leadership of the club. Soon the club was closed, and the property sold, but the charter fees were paid by Henry Lloyd, so the CYC never ceased to exist. With the war, the 1929 “crash” and the Depression it made it difficult for any small-town yacht club to survive.
By 1934, thanks to Charles J. Koch, principal of Cambridge High School, and a group of students interested in formal training in seamanship and navigation, it was decided to revive the CYC charter. That same year, a racing series was established and in 1935 Henry Lloyd resumed as Commodore. It was during these years that the Emerson C. Harrington Bridge, the first automobile bridge to Dorchester, was constructed across the Choptank River. President Franklin D. Roosevelt travelled to Cambridge to dedicate the bridge and the waterfront was “cleaned up” in preparation for his visit. The marina was dredged and bulk-headed as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, which greatly revitalized the waterfront area.
The rebirth of the CYC attracted the attention of Francis V. DuPont who spent a great deal of time at his estate at Horn Point, west of Cambridge. He gifted $20,000 to make the construction of a clubhouse possible on the site of the “Winterbottom Wharf,” located on the Choptank River. Based on the design of the pilot house of Alfred I. DuPont’s “motor vessel,” Alicia, the clubhouse featured a second floor inspired by the 160’ yacht.
The new clubhouse was dedicated by Francis DuPont in grand style on July 4, 1938 with a cocktail party, dancing and elaborate fireworks. The fireworks display was so well received that Francis DuPont endowed them for future residents of Cambridge to enjoy. They are held over the river on July 4 every year to this day.
At the start of World War II, the clubhouse was put into service as an air raid station, first aid center and Coast Guard recruiting center. Since the doors were always open to service men, all this new activity kept the CYC busy and attracted many new members, increasing membership to 750.
In 1948, CYC hosted a Gold Cup Regatta for unlimited class power boats and the Byrd Series for Hampton Class sailboats. The regattas continued for many years and then were revived in 2017 as the Admiral Byrd Regatta at CYC. The historic Byrd Regatta will be held this year on July 19-21. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-228-2141 for information on the regatta or membership.
In the years after the war, the Cambridge Yacht Club thrived and grew to over 1,200 members by the 1970s. Besides the DuPont family, actor Robert Mitchum, of Trappe, was a member and a frequent visitor to the restaurant and bar at the clubhouse. The restaurant at CYC today seats over 150 for dinner and has a marina with 132 slips, including transient slips for visitors. It is home to a popular Junior Sail program held every summer, open to members and non-members. The yacht club continues to be the home of serious sailors and boaters because of its location. The Choptank River, the largest river on the Eastern Shore, gives wide-water deep access to the greater Chesapeake Bay and provides many “lazy” cruising opportunities with 1,700 miles of shoreline in Dorchester County.
The second floor “pilot house” no longer exists on the current CYC building as it was removed during a 1960 renovation but features of the original building survive in the first floor of the clubhouse today. A restoration fund has been started to make improvements to the 81-year-old structure and revive some original architectural details. The 108-year legacy of the Cambridge Yacht Club and the building donated by the DuPont family is just one more important aspect to the history and heritage of Dorchester County, which celebrates its 350th anniversary this year.
~ Written by Margaret W. Ingersoll.