Capturing Club History, One Document at a Time

William Collis, Inwood Canoe Member, made the 1940 Olympic team, but was unable to compete due to the impending war. 

William Collis, Inwood Canoe Member, made the 1940 Olympic team, but was unable to compete due to the impending war. 

     Anyone who’s ever been to the boathouse knows the Inwood Canoe Club has a long history. It’s hard to miss “Est. 1902” emblazoned proudly above the door. 
     But looking through the club’s treasure trove of old documents and photos is different. It breathes life into those 113 years.
     Take the 1913 map showing a row of five boathouses stretching southward from Dyckman Street. They are the Dyckman Yacht Club, Interstate Boat Club,  Spuyten Duyvil Canoe & Boat Club, ICC, and Weowna Yacht Club. Inwood is the smallest of all. Imagine a busy Sunday on our little stretch of the Hudson, with motorboats, sailboats, and canoes coming and going from five docks!
     All of these clubs fell victim to fire, including our own. Who would have guessed that only the ICC would still exist 100 hundred years later?Early documents show that the Club didn’t start out in its present location. A so-called “Historette,” apparently written as part of the ICC’s 20th-anniversary celebration, shows it began in a “small barn on Dyckman Street.” Its original name, Ojibway Canoe Club, was changed to Inwood Canoe Club in December 1902.
     In the early years the ICC moved around. It spent some time in a floating clubhouse, first at the foot of Dyckman St. and then in a cove near Spuyten Duyvil. In 1906 the Club bought a double-decker boathouse that sat on top of a boat. The structure was called 
“The Lemon,” and it cost $500—more than $13,000 in today’s currency. A photo from the same year shows The Lemon sitting in shallow water just offshore, listing distinctly to starboard.
     In 1911 the Club put down roots, moving to its present location and even adding gas and plumbing.
     The Historette ends in 1916, and events get a little murkier after that. But things were seemingly going well for those 20th-anniversary celebrations in 1922. Members marked the occasion with a dinner of sea bass, roast beef, and chicken at a hotel in Ardsley, Westchester County. The meal was followed by coffee and cigars.
     In those pre–George Washington Bridge days, the quickest way from Inwood to Jersey was the Dyckman Ferry. A 1936 photo shows the ferry chugging across the Hudson, perhaps full of the Sunday picnickers and hikers who used it to flock to the Palisades. A newspaper ad for the service promises “Boating, Baseball, Hiking and All Outdoor Sports” for a fare of five cents.
     Over the decades, the ICC evolved into a serious Olympic training club. The names of our Olympian competitors are displayed by the front door, spanning a period from 1956 to 1984. But it turns out even that history is richer than you might think. While cataloging the Club’s old documents, Senior Member Erhan Sakallioğlu discovered Inwood’s first Olympian: Bill Collis, who made the 1940 team.
     “Melinda Collis, Bill’s daughter, contacted me this year and sent me some very interesting documents,” Sakallioğlu recalls. They included a report from the Helsinki 1940 Olympic Committee listing Bill Collis. He’s recorded as paddling for the Pendleton Canoe Club in Yonkers. But according to Steve Kelly, a Club member who has competed and officiated at multiple Olympics, that may simply be a clerical error. Back in those days, Kelly says, the committee didn’t like listing the names of lots of different club—so all the members of the team would end up listed as belonging to the same club.
      In ICC documents from that year, Collis is listed as Inwood’s Club Secretary. Based on that evidence, the ICC has added him to its list of Olympians. This winter, Sakallıoğlu mounted a new brass plaque with Collis’s name on the board by the front door.
     Sadly, Collis never got to compete. The 1940 Games were canceled due to the burgeoning war in Europe.
     The clubhouse and the organization’s focus may have changed over the years, but one thing that’s remained constant is the way the Club identifies its members. The Historette notes that ICC adopted the Turtle as its totem in 1905. Present-day Turtles invoke a century-old tradition whenever they use the name.
     Sakallioğlu began his archiving project a few years ago when former Commodore Antonio Burr gave him two filing cabinets full of documents. Since then, others tied to the Club have come forward with more material. It’s a daunting project, but “the more I went into it, the more it grabbed me,” Sakallioğlu says.
     “You get a sense of ownership and that you belong to a serious tradition” he adds. “It’s something all Club members can easily share.” 
     For more historic images and documents, see the Club’s online History page at inwoodcanoenyc.org/history.