Schuylkill Fishing Company
Schuylkill Fishing Company logo
|Formerly called||Colony in Schuylkill|
The Schuylkill Fishing Company of Pennsylvania, also known as the State in Schuylkill, was the first angling club in the American Colonies and remains the oldest continuously operating social club in the English-speaking world.
The club was established in 1732 as the Colony in Schuylkill under a treaty with the chiefs of the Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) Indians. Officers of the club assumed governmental titles: governor, lieutenant governor, three councilors, sheriff, coroner, secretary. Among its 28 founding members were James Logan, Philip Syng, and Joseph Wharton; the first Governor was Thomas Stretch (born Staffordshire, England, 1695), who held the office for 34 years. Other early members included Thomas Wharton Jr., Tench Francis, Jr., William Bradford, Samuel Nicholas, Clement Biddle, William Bingham, Mayor Anthony Morris, Thomas Mifflin, and Samuel Morris, second governor for 46 years. In 1737, membership was limited to twenty-five. After the American Revolution, in 1782, the club changed its name to "State in Schuylkill", but retained its rules and organization.
The club claims to be the oldest in the world. The Beefsteak Club of London antedates it, but was suspended for a while.
In 1747, the members decided to build a clubhouse, dubbed The Castle, at the foot of the Schuylkill River falls near Fairmount, now part of Philadelphia. It used some of the nearby walnut trees for timber.
During the American Revolution, Samuel Morris, the club's governor, was the captain of the First City Troop, which many other members joined. The club also changed its name to the "State in Schuylkill."
While Philadelphia was the young nation's new capital, President George Washington, an honorary member, was a frequent visitor to the clubhouse, as on June 14, 1787. On July 21, 1825, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Castle and was elected a member.
On April 27, 1844, the club was incorporated under the name Schuylkill Fishing Company.
When the fish in the Schuylkill were poisoned by sewage, the club was forced to move again. In 1887, the club bought the Clock House, on the Delaware River at Eddington near Cornwells Heights, two miles above Andalusia. Over the winter of 1887-1888, the Castle and Kitchen were re-erected on this new site, where the Company remained until 1944.
In 1944, the former estate of William B. Chamberlain, Devon House on the Delaware River near Andalusia, Pennsylvania, was conveyed to the State in Schuylkill. The Company moved all of its possessions, including the Castle and Kitchen, to this new site.
Inside the State House, portraits of the Governors lined the north wall of the entry hall and part of its south side. There were interesting ones of Governors Thomas Stretch and Samuel Morris, and several of the nineteenth century successors, as well as likenesses in oil of all nine Governors who served between 1896 and 1970. The door onto the porch was flanked by a piano and by a tall case clock made by Peter Stretch about 1740, father of the Schuylkill Fishing Company's first Governor, Thomas Stretch, which had been donated by Governor William Fisher Lewis.
The State in Schuylkill was assigned the place of honor in the Grand Centennial Torchlight Procession held July 3, 1876, celebrating the centennial of the Nation's founding. The Company was to have served as the personal escort of President Ulysses S. Grant, but since he was unable to attend it escorted the Governor of Pennsylvania and Mayor of Philadelphia throughout the city, passing Independence Hall at midnight amidst the ringing of bells, firing of salutes, and cheers of a large crowd.
On October 13, 1947, 125 years after its founding, members of the Schuylkill Fishing Company dedicated a memorial at the original clubhouse site on West River Drive (now Martin Luther King Drive) in Fairmount Park. The memorial was of gray stone, inset with a tablet of pink marble bearing the inscription:
- "This is the Original Site of the
- Colony in Schuylkill
- Instituted May 1st
- After the War of Independence
- The Name was changed to the
- State in Schuylkill
- The Organization is Still in Active Existence
- After an Unbroken Record of Over
- Two Hundred and Fifteen Years
- This Tablet was Placed Here in
During the 1950s, when the Schuylkill Expressway was under construction, the Park Commission moved the monument about 200 yards west of the Girard Avenue Bridge (Martin Luther King Drive near Sweet Briar Drive) between West River Drive and the Expressway, some 125 yards from the actual spot where the Castle had stood.
On the frigid winter night of December 21–22, 1980, the State House, its caretaker's wing, and virtually all of its contents were destroyed in a fire. The separate Castle and Kitchen structures were not harmed. A new state House was built on the site in 1981-82.
The Club designated May 1 as the "opening day" of the sporting season and claimed to have received its rights for fishing and fowling on the river directly from Chief Tammany in 1732. There are 13 appointed fishing days in each year, at equal periods between May 1 and October 1, when the company assembles at the castle and a citizen, designated "Caterer," assisted by the apprentices, prepares the golden perch in the ancient pans and old manner. Each club member serves as an apprentice at some time, and must learn to hold three perch in a long-handled frying pan over the blazing wood fire until one side is done to a tum, then, with a quick twist of his wrist, toss the fish up the old chimney, catching them as they fall on the uncooked side. The perch are served to the company assembled about the ancient table, on one of William Penn's platters presented to the club by his son John who was a member while Governor.
The club maintained a rather ambiguous claim to state sovereignty throughout its early history. During Prohibition in the United States, it claimed that it was unaffected, and continued to openly manufacture and drink alcoholic beverages.
Fish House Punch
The first mention of Fish House Punch — though not yet by that name — may be in the notes of William Black, the secretary of an embassy of Virginia Commissioners who visited Philadelphia in 1744. He recounted being met by local poobahs on the bank of the Schuylkill, where they were greeted “very kindly and welcomed . . . into their Province with a Bowl of fine Lemon Punch big enough to have Swimmed half a dozen of young Geese."
The Punch is traditionally made in a large bowl also used as a baptismal font for the citizens' infant sons; “its an ample space . . . . . would indeed admit of total immersion”, as one citizen noted. I doubt that there was Punch in it at the time — it was far too precious for such usage, and far too potent.
According to legend, on a visit to the Castle George Washington drank so much of the potent Fish House Punch, he subsequently couldn’t bring himself to make an entry in his diary for three days. It was said to be Washington's favorite.
- The New York Times: "Oldest Dining Club in the World" (January 15, 1905)
- John Thomas Scharf, Thompson Westcott, : History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, Lippincott, Phila., 1884
- Harper's Monthly Magazine LXIV (February, 1882): 330.
- The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine XXVI (August, 1883): 545. 1883.
- Lippincott, Horace Mather (1917). Early Philadelphia Its People, Life and Progress. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott Company. p. 305.
- A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1888. Philadelphia: The Members. 1889. p. 50.
- A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1888. Philadelphia: The Members. 1889. p. 92.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 73–74.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 105–107.
- Philadelphia Reflections: Philadelphia Fish and Fishing
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 123–124.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 59–60.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 37–38.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. p. 112.
- Wainwright, Nicholas (1982). A History of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the State in Schuylkill 1732-1982. Philadelphia: The State in Schuylkill. pp. 141–145.
- Lippincott, Horace Mather (1917). Early Philadelphia Its People, Life and Progress. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott Company. pp. 305–306.
- History of Fish House Punch
- Felten, Eric. "What America's Oldest Club May Quaff". The Wall Street Journal. March 21, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
- Wondrich, David (2007). Imbibe!. New York: Penguin Group. p. 87.
- Regan, Gary (2003). The Joy of Mixology. New York: Clarkson Potter. p. 3.
- Milnor, W., An authentic historical memoir of the Schuylkill Fishing Company of the state in Schuylkill. From its establishment on that romantic stream, near Philadelphia, in the year 1732, to the present time. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1830.
- 1830 lithograph of the Castle of the State in Schuylkill (frontispiece of Milnor's book)
- History of the Society from the Annals of Philadelphia
- Historic photograph of the State in Schuylkill Castle at Bryn Mawr College