This year marks the 115th anniversary of Portland Yacht Club, holding the distinction of Oregon’s oldest yacht club.

Portland Yacht Club membership will be celebrating this milestone anniversary with a traditional birthday party on Sunday, October 15th.

The organization started as the vision of four men, and now hosts over 430 memberships, with a mix of power boaters, sailors, and social members, all sharing a mutual desire of being on or near the water. Since its inception, club members have stepped up with their time, skills, and wallets to contribute to over a century of camaraderie.

Portland Yacht Club began as the Willamette Motor Boat Club in 1908, founded by racing enthusiasts on the banks of the Willamette River. In the club’s first year, the city of Portland was only 57 years old, with a population of 200,000 residents. After the cancellation of their lease in 1926, the clubhouse and accompanying moorage were towed 25 miles upriver to the current location on the Columbia River. “We owe a great amount of debt to our founders, especially George Kelly,” said Nancy MacGregor, PYC Historian and 2012 Commodore. “He had the foresight to secure our prime location and build financial stability.”

George Kelly served as the club’s first Commodore. Following the relocation, some members campaigned for the club to move back to the Willamette River on Swan Island, an area of Portland presently occupied by industrial facilities, warehouses, and maritime focused businesses. “Due to the geography of the Swan Island location, it was unsuitable conditions for sailboats,” remarked MacGregor. The newly initiated Columbia River sailors of the 1920s and 1930s are credited with having kept the club afloat throughout the Great Depression.

The 2023 Commodore, Tim Carman, has embraced the mantra Look to the Future, Treasure the Past. In that spirit, he has inquired with the National Park Service for the clubhouse to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. “When you approach any anniversary of this club, you need to examine our significance in the community,” said Commodore Carman. “PYC is immersed in Northwest maritime history, and we have remained a constant presence in Portland history.” Club directories of the early years boasted notable Oregon names including philanthropist Thomas J. Autzen, former governor Julius L. Meier, and politician Henry L. Corbett. In 1948, PYC was at the frontlines during the great Columbia River Flood. Members sprang into action to install sandbags to hold off the rising river, and boats from the club fleet were commissioned by the Coast Guard for patrol duties.

The clubhouse’s cupola has adorned PYC’s clubhouses since 1931, and it is the oldest architectural feature of their Columbia River property. The club’s member-led House & Grounds Committee is leading the future restoration project to maintain the cupola’s structural integrity and historical significance.