The traditions of the sea are many and strong. These traditions pass along the valuable experience of the past and shape our approach to the future. They do not oppose change; rather, they form a framework against which to test new ideas.
For these reasons the Portland Yacht Club takes special care to preserve the heritage of those who went before us (such as James M. Churchill, pictured at right, the first Commodore). We maintain a history of the Club, complete with original documents, photos, and artifacts. Our Heritage Committee, currently chaired by Past Commodore Phil Sargent, continues the tasks of organizing the past and integrating it with the present. We hope you find valuable learning in these pages.
A Proud History – A Summary
In 1868, two years after the city of Portland was leveled by a fire that was the largest man-made disaster in American history up to that time, twenty-one sailors met in the office of W. W. “Whisker Bill” Thomas Jr. to discuss the formation of a yacht club. They decided that if they could attract 100 members they would go ahead. Evidently they found them, for on April 26, 1869, the Portland Yacht Club was founded, with 121 sailors on the roster. Shortly thereafter it was incorporated under the laws of Maine; the original charter hangs in our Great Room. The Initiation Fee was set at $2.00 and annual dues at $1.00.
The initial Club anchorage was on the Cape Elizabeth shore — the part of the Cape that later split off to become the city of South Portland. The first Club House was a rented room on Custom House Wharf in Portland Harbor — rental $8.30/month.
As the years passed the Club grew and shrank and grew again as it survived booms, depressions, wars, a fire that destroyed the Clubhouse, and other joys and sorrows. In 1946, with Portland Harbor still a mess after World War II, the members began consideration of a change of venue. In 1947 a cottage on the water in Falmouth was purchased, and the first of a continuing series of renovations began. The House has grown, the Dining Room and Kitchen were added, the pier and floats expanded, and more land was acquired for parking and boat storage.
As we approach our 150th anniversary, the Club is blessed to have a full membership, sound balance sheet, a plethora of volunteers, and an embracing community spirit. As we move confidently into the future, we do so with pride in the heritage left to us by those who went before, and a commitment to leave the Club better than we found it for those who will come after us.
The Club has benefited several times over the years from the work of various Club historians. This section describes several of these histories. To read or download each one in PDF format, click on the title. Note that most downloaded PDFs are searchable.
- “Stories from the Man who founded Handy Boat Services“ Listen to Tony Jessen’s 2016 inteview with Merle Hallet.
- Race History 1869-2015. Interesting and colorful, this write-up tells the amazing story of early sailboat racing at PYC.
- PYC Condensed Chronicle 1869-1960. As the name states, this history was compiled by Ralph Gould out of many pages of records, meeting minutes, and a myriad of other sources. The version we have was written on a typewriter. The author and perhaps others entered written notes and corrections to be made on a final typed edition. We have never found that final version.
- PYC History 1960-2009. Author Phil Sargent notes, “It has been prepared primarily from extensive notes completed by Bud Singer, PC & Club Historian combined with Minutes of Annual Meetings, Minutes of Board Meetings, comments from Past Commodores and personal memories of the writer (1976-2009).”
- 2010 Annual Summary. This is the first of the Annual Summaries that will be compiled by the Heritage Committee going forward.
- 2011 Annual Summary
- 2012 Annual Summary
- 2013 Annual Summary
- 2014 Annual Summary
- 2015 Annual Summary
- 2016 Annual Summary
- PYC – A Short History. Past Commodore and Club Historian of the time Bud Singer prepared this history covering the period up to 1991. Bud’s attention to detail and his wicked good sense of humor come through nicely.
- PYC and the Foreside Yacht Club. Jane Moody has prepared a delightful summary of how the Portland Yacht Club, at the time no more than “a men’s gathering club,” and the “very young and upstart” Foreside Yacht Club, “formed by a ragtag group of young people, sailors all,” came together to form the Club we know today.
- 1984: “We May Have To Change To Remain the Same.” Look back to when Ted Bernard was looking forward, and see how some things have changed but some things, including issues, remain the same.
- PYC Annual Highlights 1960. Bud Singer captured key points for each year. Some years were obviously more interesting than others.
- History of PYC Falmouth Property. How did “Old Powerhouse Road” gets its name? Heritage Committee member Don Ryan and helpers trace the history of the land the Club now occupies, along with the story of the road. This version contains only the narrative. The full version contains copies of deeds and other official documents. However, the full version is so large in electronic size that it cannot be uploaded. If you would like the full version, send a note to .
- PYC Facilities History. Long-time member Don Ryan compiled this history, going back to 1860.
- History for New Members. For many years, new members were welcomed to the Club by long-term member Lindsay Lord, pictured at right. He shared his experience and knowledge of the Club as a way of bringing folks into the PYC community. We believe these are his hand-written notes.
- Cruising History of PYC. A cruise to Boothbay Harbor was the seedling for the founding of the Club.
- History of the Junior Sailing Program. How did we get started teaching kids to sail?
- A First for PYC. Leigh Palmer takes over as the first female Commodore of PYC, 2001.
Other Valuable Documents
Broadside, the Maine State Museum Newsletter of Summer 1994.
Click here to read about the great story of a speedboat race sponsored by PYC in 1928. The trophy now resides in the Maine State Museum.
PYC Constitution – The year of this document is uncertain, but the format and language indicate a date prior to World War II. Note the specific inclusion of “both sexes,” though female membership was rare. There is no mention of joint membership.
First Constitution Cover Page
Act of Incorporation – This may have been the first time the Maine Legislature approved incorporation of a private club.
PYC Moves To New Quarters – Even the local newspaper thought the move from the Portland Waterfront to Falmouth was big news.