The Vesper Boat Club is an amateur rowing club located at #10 Boathouse Row in the historic Boathouse Row of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1865 as the Washington Barge Club, the Club changed its name to Vesper Boat Club in 1870. Vesper's stated goal is "to produce Olympic champions." Most recently, that goal was achieved by Devery Karz and Kathleen Bertko in the 2016 Summer Olympics
The Vesper Boat Club had its beginning on Feb. 22, 1865– a decade into the flourishing of rowing clubs on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River– with the founding of the Washington Barge Club. Five years later, on Jan 1, 1870, it changed its name to Vesper Boat Club and quickly became one of the most celebrated rowing clubs in the United States and the world.
Vesper’s eight-oared shell took the gold medal in Paris at the 1900 Summer Olympics. The Vesper eight repeated its victory at the 1904 games in St. Louis. And at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Vesper's eight won again, making it the only rowing club in the United States to win the title three times.
Perhaps the best-known names associated with the Vesper Club are John B. Kelly Sr., an Irish brickworks owner who became influential in city politics and his son, John B. Kelly Jr., a city councilman and brother to Princess Grace of Monaco.
Kelly Sr. won Olympic Gold in the single scull in 1920. He also won gold medals in the double scull in 1920 and in 1924, both times with his cousin Paul Costello. As a laborer Kelly was barred from entering the Diamond Sculls at the Royal Henley Regatta. It was two decades later that John B. Kelly Jr. would win that event, in 1947 and 1949. Kelly Jr. won the national singles championship eight times. At the time of his death in 1985, he. was president of the United States Olympic Committee.
Under the coaching of such greats as Jim Manning, Dr. Charles W. Riggall, Allan Rosenberg and Dietrich Rose, many other Vesper members have gone on to cumulatively win more national and international races than any club in the United States.
The present clubhouse was constructed in combination with neighboring Malta, with the Vesper cornerstone dated 1865. The first building was completed in1865, and the second boat bay addition in 1898. The last addition was completed in the early 1960s. The boathouse was designed by noted Philadelphia architect G.H. Hewitt. The architecture – semi -attached ornamental Victorian Gothic is typical of that period and members who were tradesmen constructed the original building with local building materials.
After a century of accomplishments for the men, Vesper in 1970 became the first men’s club to organize a women’s rowing team. (Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club in 1968 pioneered women’s rowing in the United States.) Vesper women have consistently won national championships and have regularly represented the United States in international competition. At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, six Vesper members were on the USA Olympic Rowing Team.