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Charles River Boathouses

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1900–1999. Banks of the Charles River from Arsenal St. Bridge to Charles River Dam.
  • Weld Boathouse (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)
  • (Photograph by Matthew Aungst)

Rowing has been identified with the Charles River since the mid-nineteenth century; the annual Head of the Charles Regatta, begun in 1965, is said to be the largest rowing competition in the world. Harvard College and Thomas Brattle constructed the first boathouse in 1800. Harvard students financed a new boathouse in 1856. Workers from the Riverside Press in Cambridge organized the Riverside Boat Club and built their first boathouse in 1869. In Boston, the private Union Boat Club built its first boathouse in 1851. Two of the earliest surviving boathouses flank the Anderson Bridge, both appropriately used by Harvard students. Newell Boathouse (1900, Peabody and Stearns, 69 Soldiers Field Road) on the Boston side of the Charles River serves the Harvard varsity crews in a distinctive red slate covered building with four corner towers. Across the Charles, the more ornate Weld Boathouse (1906, Peabody and Stearns, 971 Memorial Drive, NRD), for recreational rowing, replaced the first Weld Boathouse 1890 also by Peabody. Farther east on the north side of the river stands the Riverside Boat Club (1912, John McAuliffe, 769 Memorial Drive, NRD), a frame, hipped-roof, Colonial Revival building, the third structure erected by the club. Upstream from Harvard are the Cambridge Boat Club (1909, 1947 moved to this location, John Ames, 2 Gerry's Landing Road), a stucco-on-frame structure with riverside porches for viewing the races, and the shingled revivalist Henderson Boathouse of Northeastern University (1345 Soldiers Field Road) near the Arsenal Street Bridge in Brighton, a design by Graham Gund Architects (1989) that looks backward to the massing and materials of the Newell Boathouse at Harvard.

Six boathouses of strikingly different character line the wide expanse of the lower Basin. The most recent is Boston University's De Wolfe Boathouse (1999, Architectural Resources Cambridge, 619 Memorial Drive), a yellow-shingled building with white and red trim that is reminiscent of the earlier boathouse on this site, built by the Boston Athletic Association in 1913 and leased to MIT for more than fifty years. Befitting its focus on technology, MIT commissioned Anderson, Beckwith and Haible to design the Pierce Boathouse (1965–1966, 409 Memorial Drive), a simple, wooden, modern building with flat roof and gray walls, a striking contrast to the classical limestone design of the MIT Sailing Pavilion just downstream (1936, Coolidge and Carlson, NRD). The smallest boathouse on the river is the Harvard Sailing Pavilion (1971, Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott), another flat-roofed wooden structure near the edge of the MIT campus. Near the Hatch Shell on the Boston side are the Union Boathouse (1910, Walter P. Henderson and Parker, Thomas and Rice, 144 Chestnut Street), a brown brick with cast stone trim classical revival building long separated from the river by the construction of Storrow Drive and the Storrow Esplanade, and the home of Community Boating (1940–1941, Kilham, Hopkins and Greeley; 1984 addition, 21 David Mugar Way), a horizontally striped gray brick building with a frieze of sailboats in stone. All of these buildings incorporate bays for boat storage, locker rooms, and weight rooms.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Charles River Boathouses", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 280-281.

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