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May 20, 2013

General Clinton Canoe Regatta got a new home in 1972

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The Daily Star

---- — Ever since 1963, when Charles Hinkley and a group of Tri-Town businessmen came up with the idea for what we know today as the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, people lined the shores of the Susquehanna to watch the canoeists as they made their 70-mile trek from Cooperstown to Bainbridge.

While there were only 45 entries in that 1963 race, those numbers had grown to more than 500 by 1970. There was no really good place to watch or celebrate as the canoeists crossed the finish line, but that finally changed in the early 1970s with the establishment of General Clinton Park in Bainbridge.

At a special meeting held on Jan. 10, 1972, the Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce voted almost unanimously for the acquisition of a 45-acre tract of land along the Susquehanna, due to become General Clinton Park.

Clifford Wade headed a subscription committee, with a responsibility of raising $39,000 to purchase the land. The total cost of the land was $45,000, and the General Clinton Canoe Regatta committee already had some revenue generated from previous races.

The effort to make this land a park had begun the year before, as the Chamber had invested $4,000 in capital improvements to the land, including roads, grading, temporary restrooms and a refreshment stand.

With the start of the 1972 fundraising campaign, Harold Doyle, owner of the property, donated $500. Other major kickoff contributors came from Charles H. Eldred & Co., Demeree Chevrolet and James Mirabito and Sons.

The campaign wasn’t simply made by flat or anonymous donations, it became a loan process. Money would be paid back to bond holders each year on profits made at the annual regatta. Demand notes were issued to subscribers by Bert Bridge, treasurer, when they stopped by the Bainbridge office of the National Bank and Trust Co. Interest-free loans could be of any denomination.

The Tri-Town News kept a close watch on the total and listed new subscribers almost weekly. By Feb. 9 the campaign had reached its quarter mark, with the half-way point by Feb. 23.

A joyful letter appeared in the newspaper from Clifford Wade on April 12, telling how the campaign had “gone over the top by a substantial margin.” Subscriptions had come from not only our area, but from neighboring states and one from the American Embassy in Bangkok.

“We realize that this is only one phase in the overall plan to create a year-round Park and recreation area for the enjoyment of all,” Wade wrote, “But it has shown we can do it. I am sure that as we plan and move ahead with this project, our other phases will be as successfully completed as this one. I have no doubt that we will make mistakes in the future as we have in the past on this project, but what could have been our biggest mistake, that of not trying, we can never be accused of.”

The Regatta committee got busy in readying the new park for the 10th annual General Clinton Canoe Regatta on Memorial Day weekend.

The Tri-Town News reported in mid-May, “Trees have been planted along the highway, the structures have been erected, and parking areas are being marked off. Visitors … will find a large, well-groomed area hosting a wide variety of attractions.

The regatta had become much more than spectators watching canoeists crossing the finish line. It turned into three days of activities, including an antique flea market and bottle show, antique auto show, and an arts and crafts sale. Games and concessions were set up to benefit area organizations, and there was a large midway for rides and amusements.

Large crowds gathered each of the three days, and one other feature during it all included the unveiling of the General Clinton Park Honor Roll, for those who made the park possible.

This weekend: A bad dose of publicity for Richfield Springs turned into a positive one in 1888.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.