The history of the Bachelors Barge Club is necessarily incomplete. Founded in 1853 the club has managed to change with the times and reigns today as the oldest continuously operated rowing club in the United States. Its early story is one of men and boats although at Bachelors today female rowers outnumber the men.
The club’s founding fathers were almost without exception members of the Phoenix Engine Company, a volunteer fire fighting organization that operated in Philadelphia prior to the city having its own fire fighting capabilities. The founders were also all bachelors however the club made the first of its many evolutions shortly thereafter and allowed married men to join. Israel W. Morris, a prominent iron merchant and philanthropist, is the recognized founder of the Bachelors Barge Club and was subsequently elected as its second president. Club records show William F. Griffitts Jr. as the first elected president with club meetings at that time held at Mr. Morris’ home on Walnut Street.
Rowing was one of the sports of choice among gentlemen in the decade before the Civil War. This was particularly true in Philadelphia as rowing clubs started to form along the picturesque banks of the Schuykill River. The earliest members of these clubs were often men of wealth and the Bachelors Barge Club was no exception. Recognizable names from Bachelors 19th century membership rolls include Charles F. Berwind (coal), William Weightman (chemicals), Maxwell Wyeth (pharmaceuticals), Charles E. Mather (insurance), W. Atlee Burbee (seeds and plants), Clarkson Clothier (retailing) and J. B. Lippincott (publishing).