The Fred Emerson Boathouse

Fred L. Emerson, Jr. is considered by many to be the “Father of Connecticut Rowing”. Fred was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Rowing Committee and the National Women’s Olympic Rowing Committee, and shells he donated can be found at almost every major regatta in the country. Despite his generosity, Mr. Emerson was a private man, but to many, he was the father of rowing.

Formerly resident of Lyme, Connecticut, Fred Emerson was born and raised in Upstate New York where his father founded a prosperous shoe company. Fred was introduced to rowing at the Culver Military Academy in Indiana, and later captained the rowing squad at the University of Wisconsin. While competing for the Badgers, he was made aware of the perils of financing a rowing program when his varsity was hampered by budget restrictions. This painful lesson created a situation of opportunity in his later life of incredibly generous support of fledgling programs. Fred is a champion of the underdog, be it novices in the sport, youth, or start-up situations, and he heroically sponsored women’s crew long before title nine and the popularization of fairness to both sexes. In 1971 he sponsored the Women’s Nationals on Rogers Lake in Old Lyme.

To mention all the programs that Fred has supported would take more room than this article allows, but in the 1970’s when he won the coveted USRowing Service Award, over seventy-five rowing institutions sent testimonial letters acknowledging invaluable assistance from Fred. In Connecticut alone, he is solely responsible for the creation of programs at the East Lyme High School, the Coast Guard Academy, Old Lyme High School, Connecticut College, Simsbury High School, and the Middletown High School. In addition he has given strong support to Wesleyan, Trinity, Pomfret, Yale, Choate, the Thames River Sculls, South Kent, and Gunnery, only to name a few. Couple this with out of state support to the likes of Wisconsin, West Point, Syracuse, and about sixty other recipients of both equip­ment and assistance. He was a Trustee and a major benefactor of the National Rowing Associa­tion (USRowing), assured that the women’s and Youth teams obtained ample attention.

Shell building in the United States suffered during the 1970’s by an invasion of foreign products, but Fred loyally supported local craftsmen through these difficult times and would only purchase equipment built in America. Today’s strong market for domestic produced shells and oars owes a debt of gratitude to Fred Emerson.

Fred’s “can do” philosophy of building programs through parental support and boosters and his willingness to share the benefits of the sport of rowing with all levels of competence will endure for some time. His Blood Street Sculls fleet of well maintained Pocock and Garafalo boats has been distributed to clubs with younger leadership, as Fred sits confident on the shore with the knowledge that he has created something that will continue for generations beyond. While some parents can boast of a handful of children in the sport, and some coaches can honestly say that they have guided hundreds in the values that rowing imparts, Fred Emerson has reached over ten thou­sand Americans that are better persons for his active interest and assistance.

Fred Emerson died June 1, 1992 in New London, CT.