History of Club - Vermilion Yacht Club

History of Club

Based on history by Commodore John G. Robinson* and later additions by Mrs. Robert M. Henshillwood

The history of the Vermilion Yacht Club and how it came to be founded is intimately tied to the development of the low-lying area between Linwood Park and the Vermilion River, known as the Vermilion Lagoons.  In the early part of this century this area was a swamp owned by the Linwood Park Association and Mr. Patrick Smith neither of whom were interested in the land's development.  However, in 1928, Mr. Lou Wells, the owner of the LA Wells Construction Company, saw the possibilities of developing the property into a residential community with houses, waterways, a fine beach with a beach pavilion, and a yacht club with docks for boat owners.  Mr Wells purchased the land in 1928 with the idea that he could keep his dredge busy in the winter months, by dredging the channels for the new lagoons.  After considerable planning and arrangements for financing such a project, the dredging was begun and before 1929 was passed, the beach pavilion was built, and the bulkhead around the end of Anchor Way was constructed.  The present entrance along the foot of Linwood Park was not developed until about 1931, so the Lagoons were entered from the Lake Road (Liberty Avenue) and Park Drive with a bridge connecting Park and Portage Drives at the point where Willow Lane begins.  The bridge was removed in 1931.

With the dredging of the lagoons completed and three houses built on the land, Mr. WeIls felt it was time to promote the sale of the lots on the islands developed.  In 1929,  Mr. Wells approached Mr. John Robinison who, at that time, was Editor of the magazine Power Boating and in the January 1930 issue of the magazine there appeared the first announcement of the Vermilion Lagoons.  This was followed by the first advertisement of the Wells Realty Co. in the February 1930 issue.

Early in the winter (it was a bitterly cold night) Mr. Robinson went to Vermilion with Mr Wells, Mr. Hank Thomas and Mr. Donald Comstock to address a public meeting on the opportunities for investment in the Vermilion Lagoons and Mr. Wells' offer to donate land for a yacht club if the citizens of Vermilion would build a clubhouse.  Despite their best sales talk and the blandishment of free refreshments there were no takers!

The Wells Realty Co. did a Small amount of advertising in Power Boating in 1930, but nothing much was done about establishing a Yacht Club until the fall of 1932. At that time the Cleveland Yacht Club was in financial straights because of the excessive rent demanded by the Max Seiber Realty Co., which had taken over the title to the Yacht Club Island after the bankruptcy of the original Cleveland Yacht Club in 1923. Mr. Wells approached a number of Cleveland Yachting Club members with the suggestion that they move the headquarters of the Club to Vermilion and if they would build a clubhouse and docks he would donate the necessary property. The idea was to have a sort of country branch of the Cleveland Yachting Club and abandon the Rocky River Island site until such time that better terms could be secured by the yacht club from the Max Seiber Realty Co. At the annual meeting of the Cleveland Yachting Club that fall, the proposition was placed before the membership and was defeated by the close vote of l6 to 15. which gives some ideas of just how small the Cleveland Yachting Club was at that time.

A few weeks later Mr. Wells approached a number of Yacht club members and made the suggestion that they should form a new club and take over his Offer of property in the Vermilion Lagoons.  And so it was that on January 19, 1933 a number of members of the Cleveland Yachting Club met at the office of the late W.P. Hurford on West 9th Street, Cleveland and formed the Vermilion Yacht Club with William H. Thomas, Commodore; C. R. Warner, First Vice Commodore; W.P Hurfurd, Second Vice Commodore; John G. Robinson, Rear Commodore and C. L. Chafee, Secretary-Treasurer.  Commodore Thomas had been Commodore of the Cleveland Yacht Club the previous year.  There were only 12 charter members, but these twelve went boldly ahead with plans for a new clubhouse and the acquisition of additional waterfront property for dockage of their boats.  One of the first moves made was the formation of two incorporated companies, the Vermilion Yacht Club and the VYC Co. Inc., the latter to hold the title to all properties in the name of appointed trustees to prevent any possible chance of loss of property by club mismanagement.

Plans for a clubhouse were drawn up by Emory Rhodes, one of the new members, and weekly meetings were held by the rapidly growing group of enthusiastic yachtsmen.  A contract was signed with Rasmus Hanson of Cleveland for the construction of the new clubhouse and Commodore Thomas arranged with a client of his for a loan to cover the entire cost of construction which was $3,000.  Imagine a clubhouse for this small amount - but this was a depression year and money was tight.  Twelve of the members signed notes pledging a share for the amount borrowed and all of these notes were met in full a year or so after.  The members themselves painted the inside and outside of the clubhouse and the wives of the members ran parties and lectures to pay for the furnishings.

Although a small club in number of members, the Vermilion Yacht Club has been highly successful as a closely knit, friendly, family club and a credit to those who had a part in its founding back in the hard days of the depression.  The tremendous success of Vermilion Lagoons as a residential center for yachtsmen, and its influence on the growth of Vermilion from a village to a city is in itself a testimonial to the Vermilion Yacht Club and the men who founded it.

*John G. Robinson, Inter-Lake Yachting Yearbook (1965), p.67


The following videos were commissioned for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of VYC in 2008.  The membership viewed these videos, which captured the club's history, at the Commodore Dinner.  That evening we had more Past Commodores in attendance than any other known club event.  Throughout these videos, 24 Past Commodores reflect on their tenure at the club.

After starting the video, click the icon in the lower right to view the video in full screen mode.  The Early Years video is 7 minutes long with each of the remaining videos approximately 15 minutes each.

VYC Early Years

Commodores 1968 to 1982

Commodores 1984 to 2000

Commodores 2001 to 2008


In 2008 we had an old 16mm Cine-Kodak Panchromatic film clip digitally restored.  This short 3 minute video shows the construction of the clubhouse and docks by members.  The film clip also shows what the club grounds were like in 1933.  A member's sloop tacks up the river and into the docks in a spectacular fashion.

Vermilion Yacht Club in 1933

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