Forty Years Ago, Lake George’s American Henley Regatta “Was Like a Family Picnic, the Way Regattas Should be.”
The first American Henley Regatta was held in Philadelphia in 1903, a few years after rowing became an Olympic event and on the waters where the amateur rowing began in America with the establishment of the Schulkill Navy in 1858. By 1970, the American Rowing Association was searching for a new home for the annual event.
At the same time, Lake George was looking for an event that would attract visitors and bring some publicity to the region. Competing with us for the honor of hosting the regatta was a community in Arizona, which promised to build a lake especially for the event.
A committee of Warren County businessmen, which included Adirondack Balloon Festival founder Walter Grishkot and Lake George Mirror publisher Robert Hall, was organized to make the case for Lake George. The promoters were invited to Saratoga, where they were entertained in Senator Ron Stafford’s box at the track, and then brought to Lake George to be feted aboard the Mohican. They might have left without seeing any more of the lake had the captain of the Mohican not had the wisdom to cast off before they could go ashore. As the Mohican approached Bolton Landing, one of the promoters spotted Huddle Bay. “Is that where you propose to hold the regatta?” he asked Walt Grishkot. That hadn’t occurred to Walt, but no matter. “Absolutely,” said Walt. The promoter was still suspicious. “The lake looks awfully calm,” he said. “Is it always this calm?” “Always,” replied Walt.
The Bolton Chamber of Commerce agreed to sponsor the event in concert with the American Rowing Association and the Lake George Association.
That winter, the Bolton Chamber of Commerce and a battalion of Seabees from Glens Falls surveyed and laid out a course from Huddle Bay to the Sagamore Bridge. Cement anchors were laid on the ice. Volunteers cut holes in the ice and dropped the anchors into the lake. When spring came, markers were attached to the anchors.
About 400 oarsmen entered the race. Crews from Syracuse, Cornell, Columbia, Navy, Trinity, Penn, Brown were among the universities, schools and clubs competing for cups in the series of 16 races.
Thomas Kudzma, a math teacher and crew coach at Lowell Technological Institute, designed a three-color poster to publicize the event and to raise money for the Bolton Chamber of Commerce. The chamber printed 150 copies of the poster, which featured a line drawing of an 1871 regatta in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Rowing needs every kind of boost it can get. One hundred years ago, regattas were great social and sporting occasions – an excuse for an excursion. People ought to try going to a regatta, bringing along a picnic for a pleasant, leisurely occasion. That is what the posters attempt to suggest,” said Kudzma, who later achieved a measure of fame for his posters.
“Henley-On-Lake George proves a huge success,” proclaimed the New York Times. “The entry was far bigger than expected, the weather was elegant, the regatta all but flawless. Lining the 2,000 meter course was a flotilla of about 200 boats, including the vintage Adirondack ferry, the Mohican.” Penn coach Ted Nash, whose oarsmen won most of the honors that day, told the Times, “It was like a family picnic, the way regattas should be.”