The history of Lake Davenport is closely linked to the history of the river boat days, so it is natural that boating started early in the area's development. The earliest known ancestor of all pleasure boating groups was the Davenport Boat Club, a group of shell racers. The club was organized in July 1878 and had 150 members. In their heyday, 1878 to 1892, the Boat Club distinguished themselves in state and national regattas.
Another early group of pleasure boaters was the Irrawadi Canoe Club, organized in May 1883. The club had 25 members and was devoted to canoe sailing. The canoes were all basically the same, an indication of things to come in one design yacht racing. Lake Davenport still has one of these canoes, The Rambler, on display at the clubhouse. The Irrawadis disbanded on 1920 and there is not record of any organized yacht club for many years.
It was the construction in 1934 of Lock and Dam 15, creating a relatively quiet pool of water, that made a resurgence of interest possible on the new Lake Davenport. In 1935, eleven sailors met at Lindsay Boat Club with Burdick Richardson as its first Commodore. The founders were intent on serious, competitive racing. They soon recognized the advantages of one design racing and the Snipe class was introduced. Lew Shorey, the second Commodore, took most of the trophies, along with John Hayward.
The Second World War drastically curtailed Sailing Club activities. In 1947, Dick Duley joined the Club with only four active boats. Two years later, the Lightning fleet had seven boats. The Club was coming of age. Lake Davenport incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1951. The first C Scow, a 20-foot scow, was introduced in 1957. Tom Getz quickly became a leader in the scows.
Since its beginnings, the Club had shared facilities with Lindsay Boat Club. In 1961, the Corps of Engineers proceeded with its plan for a breakwater and public marina at Lindsay, and therefore refused to renew the sailor's permits for moorings. Moving somewhere was a necessity. It was then that the members secured from the Davenport Levee Commission a one-year lease at $25.00 for 200 feet of land at the foot of Bridge Avenue. The area was a sad and dejected looking place, a trashy weed pit several feet below the top of the seawall.
Sailing was great there, but intense work parties with backbreaking labor never ended. Bigger and better things were talked about for 1962, but most members wanted water and toilets. Membership was at 25 persons with a net balance of $73.00, but the group decided to build a clubhouse. So the structure, erected solely by the incessant labor of the members, became a reality in the spring of 1962. The improved facilities brought additional members and more land was leased from the Levee Commission. In 1965, the Club purchased committee boats so the races could be started from a starting line, instead of from shore with a white flag. The boat parking area was blacktopped in 1972 and more boat hoists were installed in 1981. The leased land included 1800 feet, extending from Bridge Avenue to the Davenport Water Works.
Almost before their clubhouse was completed, the members recognized the importance of producing new sailors. He Sailing School developed from small beginnings in 1962, when volunteers used member's boats for instruction. In 1970, the Club purchased five Butterfly class boats and hired two junior instructors. By 1980, the format was revised and three X-boats were purchased. The program had better instructors and was geared more toward the adult sailor. The school was temporarily suspended in 1986 when liability insurance could not be procured.
As a result of public interest in excursion boating, the Club entered into a new lease agreement with the Levee Commission in 1986. The M-16's were popular in the 1960's, but had disappeared by 1970. The MC, a 16-foot scow, was introduced in 1980. The MC class had 25 boats within two seasons. In 1981, the race schedule included Sunday races for Lightnings, MC's and C's, as well as races for C's and MC's on Wednesday nights and Saturdays.
The highlight of all activities at Lake Davenport is the annual Polar Bear Regatta. It is held the first weekend in October, attracting 50 to 75 boats from seven mid-western states. The Lightning fleet started the regatta in 1960, but today only MC's and C's share in the fun.
Social affairs have always been an important part of Club activities, with special parties scheduled throughout the season. The annual Trophy Dinner in November closes the season. There's always next year, because the feeling for wind and water shows no signs of going away.