July 22, 2021

This Month in Herreshoff History: “Yachting in the Nineteen Hundreds”

L. Francis Herreshoff recounts a childhood on the water in this 1948 article from Rudder Magazine

L. Francis Herreshoff in kelp finery on Block Island during a family vacation, August 1904; HMM photo archive

An uninspiring title reveals nothing of this article's considerable charm. It is an amusing piece by Captain Nat's fourth son, L. Francis Herreshoff, detailing his childhood memories of spending time on the water in the waning years of the Gilded Age. L. Francis was born in 1890, and in this article he recounts watching great yachting events from large steamers, racing pond yachts in the cow pasture pond in Bristol, and one particularly memorable overnight to Newport with a friend to ogle the New York Yacht Club fleet circa 1906. It evokes a very particular moment in time: L. Francis describes walking down Belmont barefooted, for example, as horse-drawn carriages and cars alike pass by. What a time to be a kid with access to boats and some measure of freedom!

"My first command was a nine foot sailing skiff which, like most of my clothes, had been handed down to me from an older brother who had outgrown her, but she was a dear little ship and had been designed by the same man who designed he cup defender Columbia, and if J.P. Morgan was proud to be part owner of the Columbia I was as proud to be the full owner of that skiff. I remember very well the first day I sailed in her alone. It was under th elee of a very small island where the water was shallow, and as I sailed back and forth over the eel grass her speed seemed to me to be terrific and I have never had such a thrill since. She was a wet little boat though and the harbor where we lived was generally choppy, so that we usually had to sit in the water she had shipped and came home as wet as if we had been in swimming..."

Captain Nat's six children ca. 1900, from left to right: Agnes Müller (1884-1965), Clarence DeWolf (1895-1983), A. Sidney DeWolf (1886-1977), Nathanael G. Jr. (1888-1926), L. Francis (1890-1972), and A. Griswold (1889-1986); HMM photo archive
The cover of A. Sidney DeWolf Herreshoff's annotated first edition copy of his younger brother's book, inscribed to him by L. Francis; access courtesy the Halsey C. Herreshoff Collection

L. Francis Herreshoff (1890-1972) was a prolific writer and designer, often contributing multiple articles to any given issue of Rudder during his tenure writing for the magazine. Many of his writing projects for Rudder were long-running or serialized pieces that were later collected and published as books, including "The Compleat Cruiser," "Sensible Cruising Designs," and "The Common Sense of Yacht Design." There was also a series of articles detailing Captain Nat's life and HMCo.'s operations that eventually became "The Wizard of Bristol," the definitive biography of his father, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. The "Wizard of Bristol" ran in 28 issues of Rudder from January 1949 through April of 1951, and it took another two years to publish the final bound volume. Its final preparation and publication coincided with the family decision to sell Captain Nat's home, Love Rocks - the home L. Francis had grown up in - after the death of Captain Nat's widow in 1950. At the same time L. Francis was working on the final version of this manuscript, his elder brother, A. Sidney DeWolf Herreshoff, was taking on the task of moving and preserving the collection of family artifacts from Love Rocks - most particularly, the hundreds of half models and thousands of artifacts that remained in Captain Nat's original model room and workshop in the family home. In a letter to A. Sidney dated January 4, 1954 (now archived with the first edition copy pictured above), L. Francis thanked his elder brother for his favorable review of the just-released biography, as well as for A. Sidney's ongoing efforts to preserve these artifacts in Bristol prior to the sale of the house.

Today, the hundreds of models and thousands of artifacts are housed in the Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Model Room & Workshop at the Herreshoff Marine Museum - and the Wizard of Bristol now exists in a digitally annotated form, thanks again to the creators behind the Herreshoff Catalogue Raisonné. These two brothers, each in their own way, made critical contributions to the preservation of the HMCo. legacy. The fact that public interest in all of these elements continues, undiminished, some 75 years later is remarkable. That we are even now pursuing new means of making connections to other collections and accessing them digitally stands as testament to both brothers' efforts and the strength of that legacy.

Click here to read "Yachting in the Nineteen Hundreds"...