Established in 1945 by mariner Lewis Thomas Green, the Seafarers Yacht Club became one of the first community spaces for black boaters in Washington, DC. Green began building his own boats around the late 1930s to early 1940s, in addition to his full teaching schedule at DC public schools where he educated young students about woodworking and mechanical drawing. An expert craftsman, Green learned to build each of his boats by hand, completing both personal and commissioned projects. Utilizing boating magazines, he taught himself how to install electrical systems and engines.
Seeking more space to utilize his boat-making and boating skills, Green initially sought space along the Anacostia River. While numerous clubs existed along the shoreline, they were whites-only and would not allow his participation or inclusion. After numerous requests for a lease were denied to Green based upon his race, Mary McLeod Bethune became involved in securing a lease through the Department of the Interior. Through her advice and intercession, Green found that he would be more successful if an organization (rather than an individual) applied. Therefore, the Seafarers Yacht Club gained a lease for the purpose of “boat dockage” in February 1947.
Claimed to be one of the worst pieces of land along the riverbank, the club steadily expanded in the 1950s and Green continued to sell his boats from the space. However, by the end of the decade, the stigmatization of the Anacostia and its continuing ecological problems resulted in a sharp loss of membership at the Seafarers Yacht Club. The founding of a second black boating club, the DC Mariners, ultimately resulted in a club merger in 1963 and Green’s sale of the boat yard to the incoming group of black boating leaders. Due to complications with the lease, the DC Mariners agreed to remain in operation as the Seafarers Yacht Club.
In the mid-1960s, numerous improvements and changes occurred within the club, including the creation of a Women’s Auxiliary Club and a Junior Boat Club. A new wheelhouse, clubhouse, and various updates (such as new windows and flowerbeds) increased the aesthetics and functionality of the club. The Seafarers began hosting social events, such as a Valentine’s Day Dance, summer excursions to Columbia Beach, and a “Frostbite Cruise” in November. The club also began racing (and winning) in competitions throughout the metropolitan area.
Due to government ownership of the land surrounding the Anacostia River, fears of losing the property plagued the club for years. The seafarers led the movement to create the Anacostia Boating Association in 1972, which contributed to protecting the four boating associations grounded on the banks of the Anacostia. In addition to spearheading this effort of preservation, the Seafarers launched the first Anacostia River Cleanup Day in 1985 with the support of then-Mayor Marion Barry. This celebrated tradition, now over 35 years old, continues to this day.
As of 2022, the Seafarers Yacht Club has about 45 active members, and continues to be a space of community, education, and recreation.
DC Inventory: February 24, 2022
National Register: May 2, 2022