An (Incomplete) History of Rowing in Cincinnati

  "You know who Bill Engeman is, right? He's the one who started it all."

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Bill Engeman

Bill is justly credited for making Cincinnati a premier destination for rowing in the late 20th century. By spurring interest and investment from US Rowing, city officials, business leaders, and countless others in the community, Bill galvanized the construction of the world class racing center at East Fork State Park and the indoor training facility at Sawyer Point. His legacy is embedded across the region, from the national championship regattas still being held at East Fork to the rowing tanks below the Montgomery Inn, to the perch of the current CRC boathouse above the Licking River.

Stroked for Brown '59, '60, '61

"A Helluva Boat Race"

Collegiate Rowing Championships at East Fork State Park

1982-1996

The East Fork of the Little Miami River was dammed in 1978, creating the 2,000+ acre reservoir in East Fork State Park named for U.S. Representative William H. Harsha. In 1982, Cincinnati native and Brown alum Bill Engeman and a few friends concocted the idea of hosting a collegiate national championship regatta at Harsha Lake, about 30 miles from Cincinnati. Such a faceoff between all of the best collegiate teams from both the East and West Coasts had never before been attempted. To sweeten the deal, the team that won the varsity men's eight Herschede Cup was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the Henley Regatta in England. Winners over the years included Harvard, Yale, Wisconsin, Washington, and Princeton.

 

The Cincinnati Regatta (later renamed the National Collegiate Rowing Championship) was held at East Fork every year from 1982 to 1996, after which the NCAA began sponsporing the championship and moved it out of state. 

The First Cincinnati Regatta

The Cincinnati Enquirer June 19, 1982

The Cincinnati Enquirer June 20, 1982

Read more:

"Crew Racing for Everyone" The Cincinnati Enquirer May 20, 1982

"Cincinnati victor June 19 gets Henley tripThe Boston Globe May 23, 1982

"East Fork Tops Eastern Tradition" The Cincinnati Enquirer June 19, 1983 page 1 page 2

"Harvard Pulls Hard to Win RegattaThe Cincinnati Enquirer June 19, 1983

"Something extra for winning crewsThe Cincinnati Enquirer June 4, 1987

"Wisconsin rows upset win" The Cincinnati Enquirer June 17, 1990

"At the limit: Rowers 'think you're going to die'The Cincinnati Enquirer June 12, 1993

Elite Racing at East Fork 

1985-present

From 'A Short History of the Boathouse': In December of 1984, at The United States Rowing Association Convention in Philadelphia, the Cincinnati rowing organizations bid to make Cincinnati one of the initial U.S. Rowing Training Centers for world championship and Olympic Games preparation. In January 1985, The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the National Technical Director of USRowing jointly announced the designation of Cincinnati as the first and only USRowing training center between the two coasts. 

 

A task force was created of state, local, and federal government representatives, private agencies and individuals to develop facilities, equipment, coaching, sports medicine, and the many other capacities necessary to accomplish world championship-level training in Cincinnati. Approximately $90,000 in state aid was secured to construct an Olympic level rowing course at East Fork State Park. This course was the site of the 1988 Olympic men’s and women’s sculling trials for the Seoul Games.

 

In the years since, the East Fork venue has hosted the USRowing National Championships four times (2015, 2017-2019) and the US Rowing Youth National Championship sixteen times (1995-2010).

The Cincinnati Enquirer  - May 22, 1985

The Cincinnati Enquirer - June 9, 1988

Read more about the proposal to make Cincinnati into an Olympic training center

and letters of support from the community.

Indoor Training at Sawyer Point

1985-present

In 1985, the Executive Director of the Cincinnati Bicentennial Commission, Rick Greiwe, proposed that a modern building encompassing both a year-round rowing training facility and a restaurant be constructed on the Riverfront at Sawyer Point. Cincinnati developer Charles J. Kubicki spearheaded the project. He selected Ted Gregory, the “Ribs King”, to create and operate the unique restaurant, Montgomery Inn at the Boat House.

 

The Cincinnati Rowing Center officially rolled up its door on the first floor of the building in December 1988. Though the Center has flooded more than once, collegiate, junior, and Master's crews continue to use the rowing tanks and gym for winter training more than three decades on. The restaurant upstairs proudly showcases its unique history and remains a popular dining destination on the river.

The Cincinnati Enquirer May 16, 1988

1988_Sawyer Point The_Cincinnati_Enquire

The Cincinnati Enquirer December 13, 1988

Read more about the Bicentennial Commission's original proposal to build a world-class rowing center at Sawyer Point and news articles about elite training at the facility and East Fork.

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Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse

Sawyer Point

Rowing in Cincinnati was certainly taking off, but the inefficiency of having the gym at Sawyer Point, the Ohio River ingress at Coney Island, and the major on-water training center 28 miles away at East Fork was taking a toll. To address this, in 1989, the Rowing Center and developer Charles Kubicki put forth a proposal to install a floating dock at Sawyer Point below the Boathouse (first 120 feet in length, later expanded to 300'). Alas, engineering and safety oncerns caused this plan to be aborted in favor of moving operations to the Licking River.

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Not in Cincinnati

The Licking River Beckons

1989-present

The Licking River travels north from its source deep in Kentucky to empty into the Ohio River between Newport and Covington, directly across from downtown Cincinnati. It had been clear for years that the waters of the Licking were far calmer and less trafficked than the Ohio, and consequently much safer for rowers of all skill levels, especially juniors. Putting in at Coney Island and traversing the Ohio to get over to it was inefficient at best and dangerous at worst.

 

 But it still took years of perseverance by the leaders of the Cincinnati Rowing Center

- and one heartbreaking setback - to develop the Newport site as it stands today.

Read local news articles and official correspondence on the proposed "Floating Barge" facility.

Everyone seemed to think it was a great idea (except the towing companies).

Catastrophe!

The Tragic 1993 Sinking of the Licking River Rowing Barge

Determined that this venture to the Licking River not fail, the Rowing Center group changed course one final time in 1994, instigating the construction of a permanent boathouse and floating dock under the 4th Street Bridge in Newport. Though the dock has to be periodically pulled off its spud poles to prevent it from floating away in a flood, this arrangement finally proved a winner.

 

The Licking River Boathouse has now been the home of CRC and CJRC for more than 25 years.

2010 Dock Improvements 

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2020 Just a calm day in the fall

2018 Expansion of the Boathouse

Do you have a story, pictures, or correspondence to contribute? Or would you like to suggest a correction? Please contact us!