Rowing actually started on the Cuyahoga river as far back as 1855, when the Ivanhoe Boat Club was formed by George W. Gardner. There were rowing races on the Cuyahoga just 3 years after the first rowing race ever between Yale & Harvard. Ivanhoe and it’s rival club the Ydrad Rowing Club, captained by Marcus Alonzo Hanna, and other regional clubs raced on a regular basis. Due to heavy industrial river traffic, rowing shells were forced off the river by the 1860′s.
In 1980 Ed Ford, Jennifer Frutchy and Ed Combs, joined by Bill Braun and Mike Summers began rowing from the Sycamore Slip Marina rack storage building. The name Cuyahoga Rowing Association was selected and the shells were launched from the south west corner of Sycamore Slip just off the bow of unloading cement freighters.
In 1984, Peter B. Lewis funded the purchase 80 feet of plastic dock from the Los Angeles Olympics. At the end of the season the Cuyahoga Rowing Association moved upstream to a former lumber storage shed on Carter Road. The space was provided by G & W Ship Repair, who positioned a ship’s gangway ramp so the shells could be stored on the 2nd floor of the building.
Entrepreneur Charles Mosely arrived on the local rowing scene in 1987. He solicited a major brewing distributor as a sponsor and went from bar to bar in the Flats seeking sponsorship for each crew. He held erging demonstrations at Tri-C and other locations to drum up interest in the league.
Beginning in 1988, The “Flats Racing League” (FRL) formed using second hand shells purchased by Mosely. Practices and races were held near the mouth of the Cuyahoga by what is now Nautica. Mosely promoted rowing in high schools, and crews were started at Beaumont, St. Ignatius and Benedictine High Schools. There were more than 750 participants.
As soon as 1989, some of FRL’s participants became disenchanted with Mosely’s organization, and led by Tim Marcovy they merged with the Cuyahoga Rowing Association. With this growth to 26 members and two high schools, the space expands to both floors of the wooden boathouse. Additionally, two 16′ flat bottom bass boats were purchased to serve as coaching launches. The new organization was called Western Reserve Rowing Association and it held the first of the “Cleveland Sprints” Regatta’s inside the break wall on Lake Erie.
By 1992 Rowing was endorsed as a sport by the City of Cleveland Division of Recreation. WRRA signed an agreement with the city through 1993 to sustain the Cleveland- WRRA Summer Youth Rowing Program, which used rowing as a non-traditional way to reach diverse high school youth. The two-year project served 40 boys and girls. The 1993 program culminated in a regatta at FlatsFest ’93, with youth teams visiting from Pittsburgh to compete. Due to a lack of City funding, however, the program was discontinued in 1994.
In 1993 Mosley ended his racing league. Dr. David Propp, John Fowler and Kevin Duden created a new recreation group – the Summer Rowing League, as a part of WRRA. It became one of the country’s largest learn-to-row programs. WRRA began using space in an adjacent warehouse. Rent was $12,000 per year.
In 1994 a strategic planning process culminated in the creation of the nonprofit Western Reserve Rowing Foundation, a new, separate umbrella organization from WRRA, designed to organize adult, university and high school crew programs. WRRF changed it’s name and restructured as the Cleveland Rowing Foundation in 2003. CRF is dedicated to the expansion of the sport of rowing in the Greater Cleveland area, with a particular focus on youth rowing (ages 13 -18).
In late 2010, after a exhaustive 12-month, multi-million dollar capital campaign, all CRF organizations moved into their new permanent home at the Rivergate Park facility.