Rowing, one of the oldest sports at Penn, began in 1854 when 10 freshmen founded the University Barge Club (UBC).
At the time, Club members wore sailors’ uniforms complete with a white shirt, bell-bottomed white pants, and a pea coat with brass buttons. They also participated in drills such as tossing and storing the oars and practiced pushing the boat away from and landing at the boat slip.
The 1867 yearbook mentions that the University Barge Club rented part of the Philadelphia Skating Club building where it housed its two boats—the four-oared shell, Hesperus, and the six-oared outrigger barge named Lucifer.
The UBC was originally open only to Penn students, and when it began accepting alumni and people not affiliated with the University, student interest in the club declined. By the time the University Barge Club built its own building on Boathouse Row along the Schuylkill River (pictured), only a few of its members were Penn students. The club was comprised mainly of upper-class Philadelphia residents.
In 1872, a group of students seeking an alternative to the University Barge Club founded the College Boat Club, which focused on preparing members for intercollegiate competitions.
The College Boat Club built its own boathouse, which is still being used by Penn today. Penn’s boathouse is home to the men’s heavyweight, men’s lightweight, and women’s varsity intercollegiate programs.
The UBC building remains on Boathouse Row, but it is no longer connected to Penn. The UBC boathouse is now home to the Chestnut Hill Academy and Springside School rowing programs.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.