Newport House, the oldest business in Monroe County NY dating from 1840 , will be razed in the near future to make way for a new residential, marina, and clubhouse complex to be known as Newport Marine Club. Once known as New-Port House, it and former owner William H. Sours are a part of Rochester Canoe Club’s early history between 1881-1914. Sours was a member of RCC and built its first two clubhouses on the Bay in 1884 and 1886, the latter burning in 1913. He then turned over the business to his brother-in-law and son-in-law, Frederick and Warren Frost. RCC continues as the oldest continuous sailing club in the area (now without canoes) for 129 years.
Sours acquired Newport House at the age of 30 from his uncle Henry Walzer, who fell through the ice and died in December 1880 while walking home from Newport House. Sours recognized the opportunity presented by the new railroad from Rochester to Sea Breeze built in 1879 with stops at hotels along the west side of Irondequoit Bay, and the clubs and groups that were building cottages to enjoy summers on the Bay. There were the Point Lookout Club (1868), with famed member Seth Green, Dodge Club (1871), Old Star (1872), and Birds & Worms (1872). Space was in demand for convenient and desirable shoreside locations for new groups, so Sours bought an additional ten acres adjacent to and north of Newport House on Newport Point from the farm of uncle Joseph Walzer, and proceeded to build ten houses to the specifications of interested groups, and give them annual leases. Remus Club was the first in 1884 with RCC, and the two merged in a new clubhouse in 1886. Some others were: Undia, Onoko, and Yonnondio; a Masonic Lodge to which Sours belonged. The Manhattan Canoe Club took over Yonnondio in 1898, but it burned down in 1900; it was promptly rebuilt. That clubhouse became the first location of Newport Yacht Club in 1936 until 1943, when it moved to its present location at the old Birds & Worms Hotel. A significant innovation was the flush toilet which made its appearance around this time, but Bay water suffered the consequences, All buildings were removed when NY State took over the land to build the Route 104 bridge. The only traces remaining on Newport Point are four substantial I-beams, doubled up at what were the landside corner anchors of a pier at RCC where steamboats landed passengers.
When shoreline space became tight for new clubs, one interesting solution was devised by a splinter group of RCC members who started the Irondequoit Canoe Club in 1895 across the Bay in Webster. They got there from Newport House by ringing a bell to retrieve a launch. You can dimly see the place across the Bay (where the flagpole is) in the attached photo of New-Port House around 1900. After a fire, it was rebuilt to a splendid design by renowned architect Claude Bragdon; those plans can be found in the UR Dept. of Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unfortunately, the land chosen at the foot of Inspiration Point was only about 18 inches above the average water level as they knew it; floods would eventually rise six feet above that. All traces of ICC have disappeared after repeated flooding, a fire in the abandoned building in 1954, and finally the devastating high water and storm of 1973.
Sours further expanded his business with horse barns and stables, a large bayside double-deck pavilion, large docks to land steamboats, a 30 Ft. square screened building with a screened tank to stock minnows , and a fleet of rowboats for visiting fishermen. He also owned three gasoline launches, about 50 Ft. long, holding 50 or 60 passengers, for transporting people between Bay resorts and entertainments. These were built on the Bay, since the outlet was closed by a railroad bridge until 1985. Outside the Bay, he was a founder of the Lake Ontario Navigation Co. operating between Sea Breeze and Charlotte. He was Irondequoit Town Supervisor 1885-1891, and active in ice yachting during the winter.
After an interim ownership by George and Julia Henner, the property passed in 1947 to Buster F. and Florence Cross with M. Hazel Tiefel, and fell into a long period of neglect and deterioration, which can be seen in the attached 1984 photo of a house adjoining Newport House. Buster was reputedly more interested in running a horse than a restaurant. With the opening of the Bay, Newport House became a new opportunity as a location for a marina, bar, and party house, this time by Dan Cappa. All of the accumulated structures were demolished, utilities upgraded, and a marina established. The new 12,110 SF Newport House built in 1989 is shown as it appeared in the attached 1997 photo.
Once more, changing times have resulted in a transfer of restaurant ownership, and finally in its closing and abandonment, though the marina flourished. The 5.83 acre property was sold to RSM Development in August 2006 for $3,715,000 and Town approval obtained for the new plan in March 2010. The building will now be demolished, and Newport House will disappear forever after 170 years on Irondequoit Bay.
Leo Balandis, Past Historian of Rochester Canoe Club
Member of Rochester Canoe and Newport Yacht Clubs
July 7, 2010