The following article appeared in the 2014 I-LYA Yearbook when BLYC’s own Steve Harris was Commodore.
The history of the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club is inextricably linked to the waters whose name it bears. In the late 1800’s, what was then known as the “Big Swamp” was dammed off to form the Licking Summit Reservoir on the Ohio-Erie Canal. As the canal days ended, the area was renamed “Buckeye Lake.” But changing the name did not make it a lake. A shallow, murky reservoir, it was hardly fit for navigation. But, in 1906 an intrepid group of Columbus area businessmen met to form a Yacht Club there. At 8:30 am on Memorial Day 1906, Columbus area Yachtsmen arrived on the Interurban railroad and were ferried over to Orchard Island for the inaugural activities of the new upstart Club. The day featured racing for both power and sailboats along with a wide variety of social activities. Dues were $4.00 per year with an initiation fee of $2.00. Today they are, of course, much higher.
That winter, members of the new Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, now nearly 100 members strong applied for membership in the Inter-Lake Yachting Association at the regular fall meeting in Toledo. While there was admiration for the new Club’s spirit, I-LYA’s long-standing rule had been not to admit any club not located on the Great Lakes. BLYC was, therefore, not eligible. But, I-LYA Commodore George Worthington (1896, 1905, 1908, & 1913) defended the upstart Club noting that Buckeye Lake was connected to Lake Erie via the Ohio-Erie Canal and was therefore eligible for membership. Thus, BLYC was admitted to I-LYA. The first inland club so honored.
In those early years there was much work to be done, not just in forming a new Club, but also in improvements to transform the old canal reservoir into a “real lake.” The Club was an integral part of these efforts along with the assistance of then President of the State Board of Public Works, George Watkins. Over the coming years, the Club would take a lease on a spot of “sometimes land” known as Sunken Island. The first Clubhouse, barely more than a boathouse, was constructed in 1907. It was replaced in 1913 with the current Victorian-style BLYC Clubhouse we know today. In those intervening years, improvements on both the island and the lake itself were many, transforming Buckeye Lake into what would later become known as the “Playground of Ohio,” attracting visitors from all over to its amusement park and dance halls. In recognition of his efforts and assistance in this development, “Sunken Island” was renamed “Watkins Island” to honor George Watkins.
Over the years, the Clubhouse has been expanded and remodeled, the pool added, additional property and boat docks added, and seen many other improvements. BLYC’s membership has included sailors and boaters from casual cruisers to club racers to National and World Champions. Throughout its history, BLYC has seen the many changes at our home lake – from the days of the big bands and the dance halls, to the rise and eventual fall of the amusement park – but BLYC has endured and continues to be a vibrant and successful club and active part of our lake community to this day.
One constant since her earliest days – Buckeye Lake Yacht Club has been active in I-LYA. BLYC members attended their first “Bay Week” in their first year of membership in 1907. In 1956, BLYC Junior Sailors won the inaugural I-LYA Junior Bay Week Regatta. Seven times, Junior Bay Week has been chaired by BLYC members, and numerous other members have been active over the years. Four of BLYC’s members have gone on to serve I-LYA as its Commodore; Edgar T. Wolfe in 1937, Frank Miller in 1964, Gustav Schell in 1975, and this year, 2014, Commodore Steve Harris.