Yachting in Acton
Researching Acton’s July 4th celebrations, we discovered the surprising fact that Acton once had a yacht club. It is hard for us to imagine, for yacht clubs bring to mind ocean sailing and large vessels owned by wealthy individuals such as Acton descendant Francis Skinner. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, local enthusiasts brought their sailing excitement to Acton.
By the late 1800s, Lake Nagog had become a destination for summer recreation. Though Acton residents traveled to the ocean and the mountains for vacations, they also spent time at camps on the shores of their local pond. It is not surprising that they would want to spend time on the water, and races would have provided entertainment for their friends and relatives.
The West Acton Yacht Club first shows up in the local paper on August 17, 1899 as the sponsor of a race between the yachts of brothers Frank and Octavus Knowlton, the Evadne and the Wawanda, respectively. (Concord Enterprise, Aug. 17, p. 8) According to the Sept. 14 Enterprise (p. 8), the West Acton Yacht Club was officially organized on August 24, with officers Delette H. Hall (Commodore), Charles J. Holton (Vice-Commodore), and E. C. Stevens (Treasurer and Secretary). On the Regatta Committee were Frank R. Knowlton, Frank A. Patch, and Edgar H. Hall. The Enterprise helpfully listed the other members of the club, many of whom were West Acton businessmen: D. Adelbert Cutler, Sidney Durkee, Fred W. Green, James A. Grimes, Henry L. Haynes, Octavus A. and Roscoe Knowlton, Hanson A. Littlefield, Charles H. Mead, Richard Nichols, E. Wellington Rich, J. Linwood Richardson, Frank H. Stevens, and Arthur, Frank H. and Waldo E. Whitcomb.
The yacht club’s first big event seems to have been a race between three boats, Evadne, Alice and Madcap. The prize was a silk pennant (and bragging rights), won by the Frank R. Knowlton’s Evadne. After the race, a clambake was held “on the grounds of F. R. Knowlton and Hall Bros.” The menu consisted of “baked clams, baked stuffed cod, green corn, sweet and Irish potatoes, melons, coffee, lemonade, bread and cake; a bountiful spread, cooked and served a la sea shore.” (Enterprise, Sept. 14, 1899, p. 8)
The Society owns a print of a collage made from a series of glass plate photographs taken by Eugene L. Hall. It includes scenes from Lake Nagog, including “Know-Hall Grove” where the clambake must have been held. A boat was moored nearby. There are a couple of pictures of boats with sails up, but they were tucked under other images in the collage. Only a partial picture of the Madcap survives, and the other boat picture was only labelled “Wharf Lake Nagog.” Because the images are very small and come from a photograph of printed photographs, their quality is not ideal. If anyone has prints of the full images (or the original glass plates), we would be very grateful for copies or scans.
The summer of 1900 saw a series of Acton yacht races. More boats participated; one race reportedly had six entrants, O. A. Knowlton’s, F. R. Knowlton’s, D. H. Hall's, E. C. Stevens’, Jas. Grimes’ and S. T. Blood’s (Enterprise, Aug. 16, 1900, p.8 ) However, sailing on Lake Nagog seems not to have been as simple as one might expect. The July 4th race saw various mishaps, and only the Hall boat reached the finish line. (Enterprise, July 12, 1900 p. 8) In September, a good race was held in which the two Knowltons’ boats and others survived, but the Hall brothers’ boat had to withdraw, completely disabled. (Enterprise, Sept. 6, 1900 p. 8) In the only 1901 mention of local yachting that we could find, on September 4, the Enterprise reported “The yacht race at Nagog Monday was not a success, the wind not being favorable. But the dinner was all that could be desired. Steamed clams, corn and all the accessories ... About one hundred enjoyed this feature.” (p. 8)
We found no reports of the West Acton Yacht Club after 1901. Perhaps the dispiriting winds of that Labor Day race cooled enthusiasm for the venture. Sailors presumably found other sites for their boats. A few years later, Nagog water would be piped to Concord, and recreational use of the pond would eventually cease.
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