A Quaint Little Drinking Club…

Commodore Steve Harris – April, 2013

Commodore George Doyle

Among all of the activities our members enjoy at BLYC, one of the most popular is definitely having a few drinks with friends. However, this was not always necessarily the case. Up until the 1930’s, the Club’s By-Laws had strictly prohibited alcohol on Club premises and, according to Commodore Kyle Armstrong in his 1956 book, The Story of the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, “Terms of lease of Club land had always forbidden the sale of alcoholic beverages and consumption of those of intoxicating nature on the premises.” It’s probably safe to assume that members still enjoyed drinks with friends. But, the Club policed itself in this area, particularly in the early 1900s when public sentiment regarding alcohol was not always positive. As far back as 1916, records indicate members being expelled from the Club for violating these policies. With the advent of prohibition in the 1920s, the issue became even more troublesome. However, with the repeal of the 18th Amendment, public opinion regarding alcohol was changing and BLYC, too, went forward. Under the leadership of Commodore George Doyle, the Club applied for, and was issued a Class D liquor permit in 1933.

Commodore Ed Metzgar

As it had always done, the Club still policed itself and things went along as usual. It wasn’t until years later that there appeared to be any real problem. Two days prior to the Club’s annual election in 1968, BLYC was cited for the sale of liquor. Apparently, for over 35 years, the Club had been in violation as the license only permitted the sale of beer, not “spirituous liquors.” The Club’s old D1 permit was cancelled and under the leadership of Commodore Ed Metzgar, a D4 “Private Club” permit allowing the sale of liquor was applied for and granted by the state. However, this new permit restricted some of the activities allowed on the island – “no more raffles… no more gambling of any kind… no more ‘brown-bagging’ of booze onto the permit premises.” This permit excluded the docks and guestrooms and restricted sales to Club members only. However, BLYC moved forward and the problem appeared solved. For a little while at least…

Commodore A. O. Wing

In 1993, with the increased use of the Club by non-members, private parties, and opening some events to the public, it became apparent that the Club was, yet again, in violation. Under the direction of Commodore Al Wing, the Board sought to obtain the proper D5 permit which would allow for public sales. However, liquor permits are issued on a quota system in Ohio and, as we all know, the lake area is already saturated with such establishments. Getting the permit was going to be quite a challenge.

Commodore Wing asked then-Governor John Sproat (Commodore 1996) to look into it. What John discovered was that BLYC might be able to by-pass the quota on the regular D5 permits and secure a “Marina” permit. In order to qualify though, the Club had to meet certain criteria:

  • The Club had to have 25 or more docks.
  • The Club had to have a minimum of 2,500 square feet of floor space in the Clubhouse.
  • The Club had to show that it made more money from the sale of food and other items than from the sale of liquor.
  • The Club itself had to be located on a navigable river.

The first three criteria were easy, but the fourth? Buckeye Lake a navigable river? Diligently looking for a way to get this done, John discovered that “navigable river” is further defined in the code as a “navigable water used for interstate commerce.“ Buckeye Lake was originally built as a reservoir on the Ohio-Erie Canal, but at that time, the canal hadn’t been in operation for 80 years. There was no interstate commerce happening here.

Commodore John Sproat

Undaunted, John found two U.S. Supreme Court cases which established that once a waterway is deemed navigable, it retains that quality even if it is no longer used for that purpose. It appeared as though we could meet the criteria. John gathered all of the supporting paperwork and, with hope and trepidation, submitted it to the State. After a difficult, even impatient wait, not wanting to bug the State and risk the application being rejected, the word finally came down that BLYC would be granted our current D5F – Marina permit. We were now legal, but at the cost of the loss of Sunday sales. The Board went to work immediately getting a Sunday sales option on the ballot, which passed handily by a 127-75 margin in May of 1994. Commodore Sproat’s diligence and legal work had paid off.

While many Commodores of BLYC over the years have made great contributions towards the fulfillment of our the Club’s Mission Statement – “… the promotion of yachting and aquatic sports, cultivation of sociability among its members and the improvement of Buckeye Lake for boating purposes.” – we all certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Commodores Doyle, Metzgar, Wing, and Sproat for their efforts to “promote sociability.” Next time you’re at the Club, it may well be wise to raise a glass and toast them, for without their efforts, you could not.

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