Cazenovia Lake has had a long and colorful boating history. It was known to the Indians in the 1700's as Lake Owahgena Yellow Fish Lake or the "Lake of the Yellow Perch." It formed the dividing line between Oneida and Onondaga tribes, who fished and hunted its waters and shores, and even fought a battle at the foot of the lake in dugout canoes.
In 1793 John Lincklaen and Samuel Forman arrived and settled at the foot of the lake and, on February 17, 1810, drew up a charter for the Town of Cazenovia. It had as one of its boundaries "Lake Canasaraga." This name continued to be shown on various State and Territorial maps for many years eventually being replaced in the middle 1800's by the present name.
It is doubtful that the Indians did any amount of sailing, but views of Cazenovia as early as 1821 show sailboats on the waters of "Lincklaen's Lake". In 1880, Ten Eyck Wendell brought the yacht "Sandy" to Cazenovia from New York City. She was a “sandbagger”, so-called because of the nature of her ballast. She was a gaff rigged sloop, some 23 or 24 feet overall, with an exceedingly wide beam. How long she had been retired to the Wendell Carriage House is unknown, however, in the late 1950's, she reappeared for a year or two ' under the helm of Joe Schwarzer and has since been sold off the lake.' `
In 1885, The Cazenovia Club was built by L. W. Ledyard, and 4 sixteen foot metal hulled boats were acquired. They had a 5 foot beam and were equipped with air tanks fore and aft. They were probably constructed of tin gaff rigged and with very high gun 66
The first known organized regatta took place on September 6, 1886, when two sloops, three cat boats, and two cat-rigged rowing boats vied for the "Preston Cup”, offered by banker George R. Preston of “Ormonde”. This first race was a fixed course beginning at the then public pier "northward to J. R Barretts; thence southwest to Beckwith's Bay; thence southeast to the pier". The course was sailed twice for a total distance of ten miles: The winner was Louis Krumbhaar in his 18 foot cat boat "Elizabeth", with a corrected time of three hours, two minutes and 30 seconds. The Preston Cup was sailed six more times until 1899, the final winner being Henry Burden of "Cedar Cove".
No further organized sailboat racing existed until about 1926, when twelve Cape Cod Knockabouts were purchased by members of the Cazenovia Club. These were actively raced until about 1956, when the fleet disbanded, although several of the original boats are still afloat and serviceable.
Sometime in the mid 1930's, the Comets made their debut and Fleet 79 was chartered. The charter members of this organization were: Paul Forster, Jack Hill, Tony Manson, Sam Raymond and Budge Smith.
In 1933 Fairchild ‘Ferry’ Kennard, a descendant of one of Cazenovia’s earliest families, established a boat business in the lakefront barn complex of his ancestral estate, "Willow Bank". The complex, part of which was built by John Lincklaen in 1795, included a boat house built in the 1880's which was protected by a small L-shaped peninsula. As ‘Ferry’" Kennard's business grew to include storage, as well as sales and service, it became known as the Ken Boat Company. One well-remembered aspect was the water taxi service operated with a Chris Craft runabout named "Oh My".
By 1940 both the Comet and Cape Cod fleets had removed their base of activity to the Ken Boat Company. They continued their racing activities with the help and encouragement of ‘Ferry’ .
World War II came and went and in 1947 a new Fleet, comprised of four Lightnings, was chartered as Fleet 164. Its activity on Cazenovia Lake began under the guidance of the Ken Boat Company. The Charter Members were: W.H.G. Murray, John R. Tuttle, Harold P. Bentley and Dr. Don Sanford.
In 1948 there were over 30 Comets, 14 Cods, and 4 Lightnings, as well as a large number of inboards and outboards, operating from the “boathouse”. It was the feeling of many of the owners that an organization might be advantageously formed, which would combine these groups to their mutual advantage. After considerable discussion and exploration, a meeting was held at the Kennard home on October 1, 1948 under the chairmanship of R. Philip Hart and the “Cazenovia Yacht Club’ was formally born. Gurdin Freeborn was elected Commodore; Dr. Sanford, Vice-Commodore; Phil Hart, Rear-Commodore; and Jack Hill, Secretary-Treasurer. A Constitution and a set of By-Laws were prepared under the direction of Joe Hopkins, Attorney. At this time, it was suggested that the name of the organization be changed to “Willow Bank Yacht Club”. This had been the name of the Kennard Home, so-called because of the abundance of willow trees which lined the lake shore, bordering the property. “Ferry” graciously extended permission for the use of the name, and the initial official action of the group included a motion to amend the constitution to allow the change, which was consummated at the following meeting on October, 22 1948.
In 1949, R. Philip Hart designed a burgee for the club. It consisted of a triangular pennant, with a white field at the top, representing sky, a green field at the bottom, representing the earth, separated by a horizontal wavy black stripe, roughly in the shape of a “W” for Willow Bank. For economic reasons, the Club decided not to register the design with Lloyd’s of London.
Dues were established at $5.00 for Active members, $3.00 for Associate members, and $2.00 for Juniors (12-16). There was a membership of 179, producing an annual income of about $700.00, of which “Ferry” received 15% for the use of his facilities.
For many years races on Cazenovia Lake were sailed under the benign control of hardware merchant Horace P. Aikman. Weather permitting, Aikman’s “old green flat” barge was towed to the starting line, where the distinguished, if portly, gentleman recorded the fleet accomplishments for all time.
The Club received its first real committee boat when Harry Parker purchased a 14 foot wooden power boat in 1950. The race committee was given use of the craft in return for storage and maintenance.
In the spring of 1955 WBYC faced its first major crisis when the Ken Boat Company was sold to Joe Davoli of the Delo Corporation. Despite premonitions and anxiety, the initial relationship with the new owner was entirely amicable. The Club was apparently graciously accepted and included in the future plans for the rebuilding of the clubhouse and the improvement of the grounds. Competitive racing continued and a long-time dream of WBYC for the establishment of a teaching program became a reality. Bill Diefendorf was employed as a sailing instructor, with the cost to be divided between the Club and Mr. Davoli.
Unfortunately, as the season continued and ultimately drew to a conclusion, it became increasingly apparent that the original relationship was actually not as acceptable as it had previously appeared. Numerous difficulties were encountered during this period, finally culminating in a notification in December of 1955, terminating the “arrangement with and the organized activities of the WBYC on the premises of the Cazenovia Marine Basin Incorporated”, as the operation was then known.
During the winter and spring of 1956, Davoli extensively improved the waterfront and clubhouse facilities at Willow Bank. He then created the “Cazenovia marine Club”, to operate the improved facility. In order to maintain their access to the property, most WBYC members also became members of the new club. One of the Yacht Club’s Comet sailors, Gene Barilla, became the manager of the Marine Club. His presence helped ease a difficult situation during the 1956 season.
The situation deteriorated further in 1957, Davoli terminated the Club’s privileges “to conduct sailboat races”. Although the order was later rescinded, it became clear that WBYC could not continue to exist in such an uncertain atmosphere. A reactivated Planning Committee sought out alternate sites for the Club. A proposal to lease land on the west shore with an option to purchase was proposed but no action was ever taken.
At the end of October the Board met to review the prospects for 1958. Mr. Davoli offered to lease the Lounge, Bar and Kitchen at a flat fee, or on a percentage, or to sell the entire operation for $90,000.00. The Lake Meadows facilities were considered, although it was recognized that the adjacent mooring area was not desirable. The only other possibility was that of leasing the property on the west side of the lake at $1,200.00 per yearbut without the option to buy! In addition, the Treasury had been, by now, reduced to $84.75. No conclusive action was taken and shortly thereafter the Club was advised that for the next year there would be no employees except Mal Reed, no gas or oil would be sold on Sundays, no retail sales and the Club and Grounds would be closed after 5:00 p.m. daily.
On December 9, 1957 the Club was notified that the “verbal” agreement to permit the WBYC to conduct its races from the Cazenovia Marine Basin Incorporated was terminated. Further arrangements, if any, would be subject to negotiations. A limited number of the Marine Basin membership received a letter reiterating the ultimatum that WBYC would no longer be able to conduct its races or any other activities at the Club. On February 1, 1958, a prospectus was circulated by Mr. Davoli to a selected group, noting the establishment of a new organization, the “Cazenovia Yacht Club”, describing the proposed facilities and activates, and specifically stating that “sailing competitions have their placebut are not the Club and never were!”
The winter of 1958 was the Club’s “darkest hour” as the Board of Directors wrestled with the problems at hand and sought solutions that would assure the continued existence of the Club and its programs. By February, a plan was devised to lease the West Shore property, develop the grounds and build a clubhouse. Previous programs would be expanded with the employment of a full time water front director.
Just before the plan was implemented, Joe Davoli performed another “about face” and offered to lease his property unequivocally for a yearly rent of $7,500 with an option to buy for $75,000.00 within five years. Despite the precarious condition of the Club’s Treasury, the opportunity was seized.
Membership quickly rose to 224, which provided sufficient income to operate the club and raise funds for its purchase. Jim Davitt was hired as the club’s first steward.
At a Semi-Annual meeting in June 1960 the membership approved the purchase of the property prior to the next renewal date of the lease. By August the Finance Committee, headed by R. Philip Hart, had determined that the purchase price of $75,000 could be raised by using the $10,000, which was presently in the Reserve Fund, augmented by a bond issue of $27,000, in units of $100.00 to be sold to members. These bonds were to draw interest at 6% and to run for a maximum of 16 years. There would also be a mortgage of $37,500. Inquiry and investigation had already provided relative assurance of obtaining such a mortgage. By September 16, 1969, $25,400.00 had been raised, and during the next 10 days another $1,900.00 had been added. On December 1, 1960, 2 years and 9 months after taking over the operation, WBYC purchased the Club property.
During the 1960’s many small physical improvements took place, including a flagpole and yardarms on the pier, improvements in the ballroom and kitchen, and increased docking and launching facilities. Regattas became commonplace and new fleets including Sailfish, Sunfish and 420’s became active.
The 1970’s was a decade of great change at the club. In 1972-1973 a major alteration was made in the seawall by cutting an opening the middle and sheathing the entire structure with interlocking steel pilings. To improve traffic circulation in the parking lot, the old gate house on Forman Street was razed.
In 1973 there began a long range development plan to reorient the club building to the waterfront side. Through the end of the 1970’s much progress was made through the installation of large windows, a new entry, new lighting and a refinished floor in the “Owahgena Room”. On the lake front a new door was added to the north wall of the Sunfish sail loft. During the spring of 1978 the old boat house wing was razed and a new slip with a modern sundeck constructed.
Sailing in the 70’s continued to evolve. The Club annually hosted four or more major regattas. The 1973 season witnessed the introduction of another new dinghy, the Laser. By 1980, with a fleet of 21 boats, the Laser was awarded Fleet status. In the meantime the 420 Fleet slipped quietly out of existence.
As the 1980’s started the work of reorienting the Club building was well on its way, with the construction of a large well-equipped galley being completed in 1981. New restrooms, windows and interior completed the mechanical portion of the mid-level remodeling in 1982.