The original structure was purchased in 1937 to serve as the clubhouse of the Fayerweather Yacht Club. It was built in 1772 by Samuel Smedley and Samuel Sturges, and was part of the main waterfront of Black Rock known as “Upper Wharves”. This building served as a storehouse for many of the goods which reached Black Rock from the West Indies, China, and other parts of the world.
Originally known as “Shipharbor”, Black Rock Harbor was the deepest harbor on the Connecticut coast in colonial days with the exception of New London. Sheltered from the Sound by Fayerweather Island, which is today joined to the mainland at Seaside Park, Black Rock Harbor served as a center for shipping and boat building. The community of Black Rock was at that time part of the town of Fairfield.
Samuel Smedley and Samuel Sturges were prominent Fairfield patriots during the War of Independence. Captain Smedley commanded three different commissioned privateers out of Black Rock. The largest was the “Defense”, armed with twenty guns and manned by a crew of 100 men. Eventually captured, Smedley spent two terms in an English military prison, from which he escaped to Holland, later returning to Fairfield.
Wharves had been constructed at this location as early as the 17th century, although most of what remains today is the result of a town improvement program in 1802. In 1812 the Black Rock Turnpike was laid out as far as New Milford to bring goods to the wharves for shipment. Black Rock Harbor prospered until after the Civil War when its once proud shipyards were reduced to boat hauling and repairs. Storehouses which had managed to stay in business were finally closed. Black Rock simply could not compete in the age of iron ships.
The Smedley and Sturges storehouse with an addition on the seaward side, was converted to a residence. The addition, located in the vicinity of the present Club flagstaff, was later torn down. The hand-hewn beams of the 1772 storehouse are visible overhead. A print of the Yacht Club and its surrounding area, as it appeared in 1870, hangs in the Penfield Room. The original painting was done by nationally known artist and Club member Christopher Blossom.
Members of the Fayerweather Yacht Club take pride in the historic setting of the Clubhouse. The people who lived and worked here contributed much to the early development of the nation. The strong seafaring tradition of the Upper Wharf area is carried on through the many water-related activities of the Club.
Robert D. Kranyik