Grand Lake Yacht Club Sailing High Above the Tides

One cold day in 1912, members of the Grand Lake Yacht Club enjoyed this elegant menu in the downtown Denver Club with their guest, Sir Thomas J. Lipton, British tea merchant and yachtsman extraordinaire. After an evening of frivolity and sailing stories, Lipton announced that he would sponsor a trophy to be awarded as the grand prize at an annual sailing competition held on Grand Lake.

The next summer, Lipton shipped an ornate sterling silver cup to Colorado. Although he was invited, Lipton never actually visited Grand Lake, sparing everyone the embarrassment of learning that the Englishman might have been taken in by a little partisan hyperbole.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club was incorporated in May of 1902 with a membership of four. Two of them - Harry Bryant, Richard Crawford Campbell - competed in the club's first regatta later that summer, dueling in rowboats outfitted with homemade sails. The members elected Bryant the club's first commodore.

Lipton was at the height of his yachting glory, having sponsored boats that raced in three America's Cup competitions. He would never win the coveted trophy in five spirited attempts. But Lipton's decision to bestow the cup that now bears his name did much to inspire the membership of a small yacht club in downtown Grand Lake.

Bryant upped the ante when he ordered a proper sailboat shipped to Grand Lake by freight wagon. Bryant's sailboat was christened Dorothy II. Not to be outdone, Campbell ordered Tom Tom II from a boat maker in Wisconsin. The two skippers became fierce competitors.

Early on, the members gathered in private homes, but it soon became apparent that they needed a clubhouse. In 1911, the board of directors asked architect Carleton Adams to submit building plans. For unknown reasons, Adams withdrew from the project. Bryant asked Denver architect and Grand Lake summer resident Aaron Gove to step in. In April, 1912, Bryant presented Gove's sketch to the board.

The group moved quickly, accepting bids from from local contractors. Members reviewed the following proposals:

    • Henry Schnoor, builder of many homes around the lake $3,850.00
    • W.G. Gregg, furniture maker and builder $3,085.00
    • Preston H. Smith, builder of two Grand Lake hotels and the Eslick Cottage Court $2,895.00

Smith's bid was accepted. On August 19, 1912, the Grand Lake Yacht Club held its annual meeting in the brand-new clubhouse.

Upon its completion the next summer, the lower portion of Gove's outside design was covered with horizontal bark-sided slabs reaching upward from lake level to the level of the main floor. Siding the remainder of the building were hand-made shingles elegantly lined up between vertical boards to create a rhythmic pattern. Large peeled trees formed the porch columns. Logs much smaller in diameter created the crisscrossed railings.

 The lower level was largely dedicated to boat storage. The party room upstairs featured large hand-peeled logs that supported the roof truss system above. Wall builders employed rough, unpainted lumber. The focus of the room was a fireplace made of river rocks smoothed and rounded by years of tumbling through the swift current of the North Inlet.

Gove declined payment for his services. His compensation was an honorary membership.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club today attracts members from Florida to Hawaii. Outfitted in shorts, swim suits and formal wear, young and old representing more than 200 families gather throughout the summer to enjoy a busy schedule of social activities and sailing events. They gather together in a building that has weathered some but otherwise changed little since it opened on the lake's north shore.

Few club events are more anticipated than the awarding of the Lipton Cup during Regatta Week in midsummer. As for the slight exaggeration that helped bring the cup to Grand Lake, it may have been made during conversation over lobster about a century ago.

At 8,366 feet, the Grand Lake Yacht Club deservedly has received official recognition as the world's highest registered yacht club. Grand Lake also is widely known as Colorado's largest natural lake - a mile and a half long and a half mile wide.

The lake's dimensions might have been expanded slightly during the members' efforts to fan Sir Thomas Lipton's interest in freshwater racing high above the ocean tides. But if Lipton saw Grand Lake fill with colorful sails on a perfect summer day, he probably wouldn't mind one bit.

From the book Rocky Mountain Rustic: Historic Buildings of the

Rocky Mountain National Park Area

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