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Rutgers Rowing in the Nineteenth Century, 1864-1900

Rutgers Crew is Rutgers’ oldest and most prestegious athletic team. During the 1860s the Raritan River, was dotted with various boating clubs populated by city residents along its banks. Witnessing the development of rowing at other institutions, Rutgers students expressed the desire for a way to row. The pleas from the undergraduates were heard and in 1864, the Rutgers Boating Association was founded. With the creation of a team, rowing became the first organized sport at Rutgers.  Section two of the original constitution stated the original purpose of organization. It read that the “object of this organization shall be the promotion of health by means of exercise in rowing and also to extend the advantages incident to such exercise to all member of Rutgers College and the Rutgers Scientific School.” The constitution limited membership to undergraduates.

As in other schools, oarsmen rowed in vessels known as barges, which resembled small whale boats. In addition, many of the early oarsmen, as other collegiate rowers during the 1860s, likely did not take the sport seriously. It was more of a social activity for them. However, only a year after the original organization was formed, the Rutgers crew became ambitious enough to take part in an official race against one of the local New Brunswick teams.

The first official race that a Rutgers boat competed in took place in the spring of 1865. The crew rowed a six-oared shell which was named the Zephyr. The race took place over a six-mile course in choppy water. The Rutgers boat evidently clung to a boat-length lead for most of the race. During the last few hundred meters of the race, the Rutgers boat took a powerful move just as the New Brunswick crew momentarily scrammbled in the choppy water. The move allowed Rutgers to break for open water, winning the contest convincingly.

From that first race until 1867, membership in the Rutgers Boating Association grew considerably to forty-two active members along with twenty-seven honorary members. It had raised enough money to purchase a boathouse along the Raritan and boasted an impressive fleet of five working shells. By 1869, the club boasted two rival class crews and a varsity boat.

In the sping of 1868, the varsity boat raced another New Brunswick boat again. For a second time, the Rutgers boat was victorious. The Rutgers newspaper, the Daily Targum praised the Rutgers men who had again defeated a rival crew. “No flattery seemed too generous for the lads who pulled the oars.” During the late ninteenth century, crews often raced for flags. This meant that if the Rutgers boat defeated the New Brunswick boat, the New Brunswick club would be responsible for sending a “New Brunswick Rowing Club” flag with their insignia on it over to the Rutgers boathouse. When the New Brunswick club was late in sending over its flag after the 1868 victory, the Targum “managed to work itself into a virtual paroxysm of indignation” over the affair as did the students. Eventually, Rutgers received the flags. In doing so, rowing became the most popular sport at Rutgers. “Football never had a stauncher following, nor one more ready to fight at the drop of an adverse cap.” By 1870, the Rutgers crew felt confident enough and ready to take on their first intercollegiate opponent.

By soundly defeating the New Brunswick crews annually and with solid student support, the Rutgers varsity boat competed in its first intercollegiate race in 1870 at New Brunswick against Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School. The Rutgers crew comprised the following oarsmen: Ezra DeLamater (1871), Winfield Lasher (1871), William Leggett (1872, also captain of the Rutgers football team the previous year), George Stevens (1872), John Van Nest (1872), Madison Ball (1873), and coxswain Edwin Williamson (1871). The distance of the course was three miles. It was a mile and a half from the Albany Street bridge to the Landing Lane bridge. The race would run a mile and a half between the two bridges and return for a total of three miles. Entering the race, the Lawrence Scientific School was heavily favored to win. However, for the first half of the race, the boats remained nearly even, bow to bow. When the two crews rowed on the return legs, the Harvard crew brought up their cadence several strokes a minute. Seeing the increased stroke, the Rutgers coxswain called up his cadence as well. However, as the crew prepared to shift up, one crew member caught a “crab” and Rutgers lost by two lengths.

While class rowing continued to be active and popular, the loss to Harvard discouraged Rutgers oarsmen from competing against other colleges until 1875. In 1875 Rutgers applied to join the Rowing Association of American Colleges (RAAC). However, Rutgers was rejected. Despite this setback, interest in rowing continued to grow at Rutgers.

In 1876, the Rutgers Boating Association purchased a new floating boat house. This impressive structure was erected at the foot of the Albany Street Bridge. In 1877, Rutgers returned once again to intercollegiate racing. Stevens College came to New Brunswick and was defeated by the Scarlet crew. Rutgers raced a third intercollegiate race in 1881 against Princeton University. That race, coupled with several other events, would proved the temporary downfall of Rutgers rowing.

In 1881, Rutgers faced Princeton on the Saturday before Rutgers’ Commencement. Most likely the race was the three-mile distance from the Albany Street Bridge to Landing Lane Bridge and back. The Rutgers shell, the Henry Rutgers, shot off the starting line and was holding its own against Princeton. Moving, the Rutgers pulled slightly ahead. Then, disaster struck, the coxswain cut the turn too tightly and ran the boat aground. The nature of this loss demoralized the crew and the student body.

The following year, New Brunswick was hit with severe rain storms. The Raritan crested so high and the current became so strong that the boathouse was washed away. Had the boathouse only been washed away, possibly part of it could have been salvaged. However, the boathouse floated down the river and collided with a small shed that served as a storage house for dynamite. When the two buildings collided, the dynamite exploded and the boathouse was totally destroyed. All that remained were several fragments and several damaged shells. Overwhelmed by the Princeton loss and destruction of the boathouse and unable to compete with the rising football and baseball programs, Rutgers withdrew from intercollegiate rowing competition.

Spring 1933 - Rutgers’ Rowing Returns

Demand for an intercollegiate rowing program grew again in the 1930s. George E. Little, Rutgers director of physical education stated that, if undergraduates had visions of a Rutgers crew once again gliding through the waters of the Raritan, a considerable amount of money must be raised to purchase equipment and build a boathouse and an experienced coach must be hired to train the oarsmen.

To raise money boxing bouts were arranged. These events raised $300. In addition, alumni made donations. After a month of fund-raising, $375 had been raised. With these funds, an eight-oared training gig was purchased from Princeton and an eight oared racing shell and set of oars was purchased from Nereid Boat Club in Newark. The Targum, described the proposed boathouse: “The boathouse will be located on premises lent by the Rolfe Materials Company through Cassner Rolfe. The boats will be housed in a large shed and a gang plank is being built down to an old barge which will be used as a float.” With the proper equipment and storage facilities, all the crew needed was a coach.

In late April, 1933 Edward H. Ten Eyck was appointed as the new crew coach. Ten Eyck, was famous for being the first American sculler to win the Diamond Sculls at Henley. He was well known and highly respected. On April 26, 1933,the first official practice was held. At 5 p.m., the eight-oared gig was placed in the Raritan. Roughly 300 people, consisting of undergraduates, faculty, and alumni attended the ceremony. At the ceremony, Physical Education Director Little, Rutgers’ President, Robert Clothier, and Coach Ten Eyck each spoke. Coach Ten Eyck observed: “What pleases me most, is the response on the part of the students. After looking at the nucleus we have here I think we do not need to fear that we are under any handicap.” The Scarlet crew, a little uneasy at first, then took to the water and started their first practice since 1881.

During the first few weeks of practice, there was a marked difference in the number and quality of rowers. Since the first practice, almost twenty-five more oarsmen had tried out for the team. That brought the total number of candidates to about fifty. There were not enough seats in the boat for all the oarsmen to row at the same time. Practices had to be divided into two shifts that would meet three times a week. The local newspapers noted that with each trip down the river, one could see that the crew was improving. The Targum noted that even though the boats had not been rowed all that long, there was a noticeable “growing spirit of teamwork” among the rowers. The Athletes’ attitude during those first few weeks was tremendously upbeat. In early May, 1933, the Lawrenceville School loaned another gig to Rutgers. With this additional boat, the crew could hold a regatta on the Raritan. It was decided that two intramural races between the Rutgers classes would be held on Commencement Day in June 1933.

Coach Ten Eyck decided that the crews would race a distance of three-fourths of a mile. The race would start at the Albany Street Bridge and end at a point opposite of the Pell Dormitories (the “Quad”). Because there was a slight turn in this course, the Rutgers Engineering Department determined where the boats should start to ensure that an equal distance was rowed.

Before the two crews launched, a coin was flipped to determine what color each crew would wear. The crew comprised of juniors and freshman wore white while the all-sophomore boat was clad in red. After a brief warm-up, the two crews paddled to the starting line. Spectators waited anxiously on both sides of the river to witness the first Rutgers boat race on the Raritan in fifty years. At 12:30 p.m. a roar was heard from the crowd near the starting line as the starting signal was given. Roughly 500 meters into the race, the white-clad crew emerged from the middle arch of the Railroad bridge. Seconds later, one arch over, the scarlet crew appeared. From all accounts, the white crew appeared smoother. However, the huskier red crew engaged their blades more aggressively. Roughly 200 meters from the finish line, the white crew had only a slight lead. Realizing the possibility that the red crew might sprint through them, the white crew’s stroke, Hank Daum, raised the rate several beats. The rating increase increased the white crew’s lead and rattled the red boat. When the finish flag dropped, the white boat had defeated the red boat by half a length. The second race of the day was similar, however, the white crew increased its victory to three-quarters of a length. From all accounts, the races were a great success with the rowers and the spectators.

1933-1934 Rutgers Re-enters Intercollegiate Competition

The headline of the September 20, 1933 Targum, read: “Scarlet Crew to Compete in Intercollegiate Meets.” The return to competition took place in late October, 1933 against Columbia. Rutgers and Columbia would each enter a boat in two races. Since the Rutgers oarsmen were still inexperienced, they would not compete against Columbia’s varsity heavyweight boat. Instead, Rutgers entered its first and second heavyweight boats against Columbia’s JV and lightweight boats. Although this was unusual, Coach Ten Eyck and the Columbia crew coach, Dick Glendon, were excited with the forthcoming race. The first day of practice for Rutgers crew would be in late September. This gave the Rutgers crew less then a month to prepare for Columbia.

Preparation for the Columbia race proved formidable for both coach Ten Eyck and his oarsmen. The coach was faced with coaching forty new freshmen in addition to training and selecting the oarsmen to race against Columbia. By the first week of October, Coach Ten Eyck was training a total of five boats. In addition to coaching a large number boats, Ten Eyck worried that his oarsmen were not practicing long enough each day. He said that fall practice was been hindered more by darkness than any one other factor. School posed another problem for the coach. Labs etc. ran late and at least one oarsmen who was going to race against Columbia could not make it to practice on Thursdays because of a class. “It’s an afternoon wasted,” Ten Eyck exclaimed: “It’s no use putting in substitutes in a shell-one bunch has to row together till they are a unit.” In addition to these coaching obstacles, the rowers faced several other challenges in preparing for the Columbia race. In mid-September, Syracuse gave Rutgers a a racing shell. Ten Eyck counted on his crew to race in this shell against Columbia. Rutgers’ crews had previously only rowed in a gigs. The gig was a wide, stable, lumbering boat, easy to set up, but slow. The racing shell, on the other hand, was fast but narrow and unstable requiring finess. With Rutgers’ practices cut short because of darkenss, mastering the racing shell was a challenge.

Coach Ten Eyck also challenged the Rutgers rowers with new, intense workouts. One of the Rutgers oarsmen exclaimed that rowers worked harder than the football players because rowers, “can’t stand around between plays.”

On October 28th, the race between Rutgers and Columbia was scheduled to start shortly after the end of the homecoming football game. An estimated 6,000 people lined the banks of the Raritan to watch Rutgers race Columbia. The first race of the afternoon was to be between Rutgers’ first heavyweight boat and Columbia’s heavywieght JV. As the two boats made their way to the starting line, conditions became rough. A strong headwind blew down the river and a chop kicked up. It was shortly after five o’clock when referee George Foster started the first race. The Columbia crew, wearing white, jumped out to an almost immediate lead. Rowing a higher rating than Rutgers, they moved to a two length lead by the half mile mark. In the last quarter of the race, Rutgers finally raised the rating and and began to move slightly however, the effort was too little, too late and Columbia won by a convincing four lengths.

The second race was between the Rutgers’ heavyweight JV and Columbia’s varsity lightweight boat. Like the first race, the Columbia jumped out to an early lead. Noting how a low cadence cost their teammates the previous race, Rutgers increased their rating. Stroke by stroke, Rutgers fought back to even. As the race progressed, Rutgers to walk. With half a mile left, Rutgers’ lead grew to a full length. With a Rutgers’ victory in sight, the roar from the crowd was deafening. With 100 yards left, Columbia sprinted and cut Rutgers’ lead in half but this time Columbia’s effort was too little, too late and Rutgers had it first intercollegiate Rowing victory since the nineteenth century.

The victory over the Columbia proved that the Rutgers oarsmen were ready to compete against other collegiate crews. A race was scheduled to take place on the Schuylkill River with the University of Pennsylvania and Manhattan College on November 3, 1933. Penn had a well established crew program and had been rowing consistently since the nineteenth century. Manhattan, like Rutgers, had a relatively young program. As in the Columbia race, the Pennsylvania rowers would not race any varsity letter winners against the two younger crews. The athletic directors at the respective schools decided that the race would start at the historic Strawberry Mansion bridge and end one mile later at the foot of the Columbia bridge.

Thousands of spectators lined the banks of the river to watch the three boats race. Early in the race, it appeared that the contest would mainly be between Rutgers and Penn. Rutgers gradually took the lead however, as the three boats approached the finish line, both Penn and Manhattan were closing. Rutgers hung on to win with Penn in second and Manhattan in third. The Rutgers oarsmen were overjoyed. The Philadelphia Inquirer declared that, “few races in the whole glamorous history of rowing have ever been marked by a closer, more blanketed finish than that which wrote climax to yesterday’s event.” For Rutgers, the win was their first great victory “in modern times.”

On January 25, 1934, the New York Times announced that the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) would resume its invitational regatta in Poughkeepsie, New York. The Intercollegiate Rowing Association, included Navy, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Syracuse, and Cornell. All were expected to send at least a varsity eight. Besides the members of the association, additional crews were expected to attend. They included the Universities of California, Washington, and Wisconsin, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Invitations were also expected to be extended to Marietta and Rutgers. It was thought to be overly ambitious for Rutgers to send a varsity eight to this highly competitive regatta. However, Rutgers considered sending a JV or freshman crew in order to, “set the stage for future varsity competition.” The decision on whether or not to send a non-varsity boat was in the hands of the athletic department. The major obstacle was money. Finally, enough money was raised to send the freshman crew team to Poughkeepsie. A total of $220 was raised. Two of the major contributors were, in fact, Princeton’s freshmen coaches Win Rutherford and Clem Newbold. The freshman crew trained vigorously twice a day at their own expense. Even though many of the Rutgers freshman had rowed for less than twelve months, they showed impressive speed.

At Poughkeepsie, the freshman race included crews from Washington, Columbia, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Syracuse, California, M.I.T., and Rutgers. Physically, the Rutgers crew matched up well against their rivals. Their average height and weight were slightly higher than the averages of the other crews yet, they rowed a bit rough. Out of the eight colleges entered, Rutgers finished in sixth place. Although this finish was not outstanding, Rutgers had defeated two well established crews. In doing this, Rutgers served notice on the other crews that they would be competitive in the future.

The 1935 spring season was successful. Rutgers’ young team defeated the third varsities from Princeton and Yale. At the inaugural Mid-American Regatta, with the winner being awarded the “Dad Vail” trophy, Rutgers crew beat five other crews. In the eyes of the oarsmen and coach Ten Eyck, Rutgers was ready to compete in the varsity division at Poughkeepsie. However, in a “no confidence” vote, Rutgers athletic department dashed the crew’s hope of competing. The Targum reported that the men in Rutgers athletic department, “know that the four-mile grind between the two bridges on the Hudson is enough for a crew with the best equipment and have refused to let Rutgers oarsmen carry their battered and ancient craft up the river.” This was a big disappointment for a young crew at the end of a successful season.

During the fall of 1936, Rutgers Crew was delt a a heavy blow when coach Ten Eyck resigned to coach Syracuse. There were three reasons for his departure. First, Syracuse offered more money. Second, coach Ten Eyck would be closer to his familyand third, Ten Eyck assumed a position previously held by his father, also a successful crew coach.

Coach Logg – From Princton to Rutgers

Charles P. Logg repaced coach Ten Eyck. Coach Logg had been Princeton’s varsity coach from 1925 until 1932. Logg was known for coaching Princeton’s 1927 crew that broke Yale’s five-year undefeated streak. Logg had rowed at Washington, coached at Princeton, and inspired his crews, he was a real find for Rutgers.

Under both coach Ten Eyck and coach Logg, Rutgers, like practically all crews, rowed an irregular schedule against different opponents every season. To remedy this problem, Rutgers joined two rowing “leagues” in 1938 and 1939. In December 1938, Rutgers joined a new alliance of intercollegiate rowing programs known as the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC). The original purpose of the organization was to “facilitate schedule making among the member colleges whose competitive activities have grown more and more complicated each Spring.” In addition to Rutgers, the other original members in the EARC were Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, M.I.T., Navy, Penn, Princeton, Syracuse, and Yale. Rutgers joined a second league which in February of 1939. The Dad Vail Intercollegiate Rowing Association. The Dad Vail league included Manhattan, Boston University, Williams, Dartmouth, American International, Marietta, Richmond, and Washington and Lee.

Under Coach Logg, the Rutgers crew continued to train and race hard. They enjoyed moderate success against some of the more competitive EARC schools’ lower boats. The 1941 season did not begin the way the crew would have hoped: they were handed consecutive defeats by Princeton and Columbia. However, the tide turned in late April, 1941, when Rutgers beat Penn. The Rutgers crew had not had an outright duel win against a varsity opponent since the program resumed in 1933. The Schuylkill River was lined with Rutgers’ supporters, eagerly hoping for that first varsity victory. Penn jumped out to a quick lead. However, Rutgers pulled even 500 meters into the race. Coming through the halfway mark, Rutgers pulled ahead and kept going, crossing the line almost a length ahead of Penn. Following this victory over such an established crew, newspapers specutated as to whether or not Rutgers would race at Poughkeepsie. Rutgers was invited and Rutgers’ officials agreed that, if the team could raise the money, it could go.

The student body immediately rallied to raise the money. During May and June, dances and rallies were held for the rowing team. A particular rally, known as “Monster Rally Night,” raised $375 dollars. Badges were printed and sold for 50 cents, which went to help support the rowing team. Different classes donated money in lump sums. The junior class donated 100 dollars while the senior class donated 500 dollars. The Targum ran an “advertisement section” in one issue, which raised 200 dollars. Dinners were held in various fraternities to raise money for the team. Because of the efforts of the student body, by the end of June enough money was raised and the crew was sent. Rutgers raced to seventh place at Poughkeepsie.

World War II halted collegiate athletics between 1942 and 1945 but, by 1946, Rutgers’ crews were back on the water. The Poughkeepsie regatta did not take place in 1946, so a nine crew regatta was held by the EARC. The competitors were Navy, Cornell, Princeton, Harvard, M.I.T., Columbia, Penn and Rutgers. Earlier in the spring, Rutgers had defeated Princeton easily and only lost to Penn by a few seats. Going into the EARC championship, Rutgers varsity eight was confident that it would perform well. And it did, beating Penn, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, and M.I.T. and finishing in fourth place. Wisconsin had won followed by Navy and Columbia. Columbia had only nipped Rutgers by two-fifths of a second.

The Boathouse – Not As Old as You Think

No, it wasn’t built in 1914. From 1947 until 1950, the Scarlet crew continued to race their fellow EARC schools, row at the Dad Vail regatta, and participate at Poughkeepsie. The higher caliber opponents that the Scarlet crew faced every week were some of the best teams in the nation. Despite excellent showings in various races, the team failed to win outright in these years. Despite this slump, there was still enough interest in the sport that the student body questioned why the team did not have an actual boathouse. Since the revitalization of the sport in the 1930s, the crew had been rowing out of a warehouse owned by the Rolfe Materials Company. Upon the crew’s return from a race in Annapolis, an article in the Targum confessed, “Actual embarrassment is the feeling experienced upon return from the Annapolis layout to Rutgers’ sorry site.” The Rutgers facility was described in the article as, “cramped quarters of the greasy siding, which boasts some convenient shrubbery for lavatory facilities...George Little built a football stadium...Now Chuck Logg has built a ranking crew. Seems like somebody should have the initiative to build a boathouse.” Eventually, the cry of the student body and the crew was heard in 1949 by the class of 1914.

In the fall of 1949, the Rutgers class of 1914 donated $14,000 to the crew to build a new boathouse. The early blueprints for the new rowing facility detailed a fairly simple structure. The boathouse was to be a “T” shaped one story high building. All of the floors would be concrete. A locker room and shower would also be included which would be adequate for an estimated 100 oarsmen. A small but adequate office for the coaching staff would also be provided. In addition, enough racks will be in the shell bay to hold eight boats. After less than a year of construction, the facility was completed.

The boathouse was officially dedicated in November, 1950. After a brief ceremony, the Scarlet crew took to the water against the rowers from Brown. The weather for both the dedication and the race was less than ideal. A driving rainstorm limited the number of people in attendance to around 500. Rutgers had not won a race outright in five years. However, during the dedication, their luck changed. The Scarlet crew jumped out to a quick quarter length lead during the mile and five-sixteenths race. Brown fought back valiantly and caught Rutgers. At one point, Brown led the race by nearly a length. However, Rutgers boosted the rating to sprint through Brown and take a two second win.

Rutgers Hits Olympic Gold

The headline from the Targum, September 17, 1952, read, “Logg, Price Cop Olympic Oar Victory.” During the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland two Rutgers oarsmen, Chuck Logg Jr., son of Coach Chuck Logg, and Tom Price won the two-man pair event. It was the first time that a boat from the United States had ever won that event. During the 1950s it was not uncommon for America to be represented in international competition by collegiate rowers. Coach Logg thought that the two oarsmen rowed together well. They trained together for only three months before entering the Olympic qualifying regatta. The crew named their shell “Cinderella” and raced against other pairs who had been rowing together for several years. Against all odds, the Rutgers pair won the qualifying regatta. This, in itself was a dream for the two men. At the Olympic games, they were given little or no chance of winning. During their first race in Helsinki, the men ran into trouble. Their shell was involved in an unexpected collision. However, they got another chance and won their semi-final race, which qualified them for the finals. In the finals, they shocked the world by defeating the elite field and winning the Olympic gold medal. They finished ahead of the second place Belgian crew by nearly 3 seconds. For coach Logg, it was the “dream of a lifetime come true.” They were welcomed with a motorcade when they returned to New Brunswick.

From 1952 to 1958, the Rutgers crew continued racing a competitive schedule. They traded races with Penn, Columbia, Dartmount and B.U., generally lost to Harvard and Princeton and usually beat M.I.T. During 1953, the crew toured Florida and raced three southern crews. Rutgers won each race. When the crew participated in the Dad Vail regatta, Rutgers almost always won. The EARC now held an annual regatta which was the most competitive race on the East Coast. In this, Rutgers generally finished in sixth or seventh place, the middle of the pack at that time. The same would hold true for the national IRA races.

In 1958 coach Logg’s health deteriorated. After 22 years of loyal service to Rutgers crew, he stepped down as the head coach and took over the freshman crew. Howard Smith temporarily replace coach Logg and, during the winter of 1960, Bill Leavitt was named the new head coach. Leavitt had been a coxswain at Harvard during the late 1940s. He had served as Harvard’s freshman coach since 1951. During his tenure at Harvard, his crews had compiled 23 wins in 36 races. In 1955 and 1958, coach Leavitt’s Harvard freshmen crews had won the Eastern Sprints.

The 1960 spring season was successful for Leavitt and his oarsmen. For the first time in Rutgers crew history, the varsity and JV eights were seeded at the Sprints champtionship. The varsity boat was seeded sixth and the JV boat was seeded fourth. To their disappointment neither boat made it throuh the heats. Notwithstanding this, the season was largely successful for the new coach and his crew.