Riverside: A Rowing Club for Workers

By Richard Garver, 2011

Riverside Boat Club, ca. 1892 (Courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission)

Riverside Boat Club was founded in 1869 as a trade-based rowing club by workers, predominantly Irish, from The Riverside Press, which was located between River Street and Western Avenue. Its first boathouse was a disused press building.

Rowing was one of America’s most popular sports at the time. Boston’s July 4 regatta in 1869 attracted 40,000 spectators. During the decade that followed, working men from waterfront neighborhoods formed a profusion of rowing clubs. A competing Cambridgeport club, the Bradford Boat Club, located at the foot of the Brookline Bridge in 1875. Riverside soon began accepting members from outside the print works, but it continued to consist of working and middle class men and its leadership remained consistently Irish. It competed with great success not only in rowing but boxing, track and field and other sports.

Its membership growing, Riverside built a new boathouse on a site wedged between the press and the Cambridge Electric Company in 1891. Its rowing facilities were on the first floor. The second was a hall for entertainments of all kinds. A neighborhood social institution, it was also a political club. In 1902, its president, Cambridge’s Democratic Party chairman, registered so many immigrants that John H. H. McNamee, the club’s treasurer, was elected the city’s first Irish mayor.

The 1891 boathouse burned in 1911. The club replaced it with its present facility, built on parkland leased from the City, in 1912. Riverside entered a period of decline following WWI, but it has recovered to become a vibrant institution with 200 active members, roughly half of them women, making it the only one of the Boston area’s many neighborhood-based workingmen’s rowing clubs still in business. A training center for United States Rowing, it contributed four women, each of whom medaled, and three men and to this year’s World Championships team, as well as two to the U.S. Under-23 team.