History: The Boathouse, Early Center of Life in Wakefield
Wakefield's Boathouse was an important recreational and social center of the town from 1887 to 1963.
From the earliest settlements here, Lake Quannapowitt has been an integral part of the life of the town that became Wakefield. From its early economic importance as a fishing site and water source, through the harvest of its ice in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Lake also had important recreational uses that led to the establishment of boathouse structures along its shores. There were several boathouses, but the largest and longest running was Wiley’s Boathouse.
Albert Sweetser Wiley, born in 1833, had served the Union during the Civil War, having enlisted in Company E, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in 1861, and surviving a serious wound at the Battle of Poolsville, Virigina in 1862. On his second enlistment, he was one of the bodyguard of President Lincoln enroute from Petersburg to Richmond. Returning from active service, Albert Wiley was an ironworker by trade, but in 1872, he built a small boathouse for the storage of canoes at the end of Spaulding Street. In 1880, Albert Wiley, along with his twenty-year old son Will, built a second, much larger boathouse in Hartshorne Cove, facing west.
In 1887, Will Wiley built a larger and more modern boathouse at the end of Lake Avenue, directly on the shores of the Lake. While his father had held the primary occupation of iron foundry worker throughout his life, Will’s life centered around the Lake, where he ran the boathouse, and bought, sold and refitted boats. In the town’s 250th Anniversary History book, Will ran the following ad, “Boats to let and for sale! Boats stored, cared for and repaired … I have added for the season of ’94 a fine steam launch with seating capacity for parties of twenty or less; also a large number of row boats.”
Will was also important in the early days of the Quannapowitt Yacht Club, which was first organized in 1895 at a meeting in his home, and later reorganized in 1912, again at Wiley’s home.
In 1912, the Boathouse was substantially enlarged by the addition of a dance hall. Although Will Wiley died during the construction of the dance hall addition, his wife Mabelle ran it effectively for ten years, subletting the ballroom to promoters, like the Kimballs and C. B. Cubberly. During World War I, servicemen from Camp Curtis Guild frequented the hall.
In 1923, Mabelle Wiley sold the boathouse to Harold and Gertrude Hill. Under their stewardship, the boathouse flourished for many years, the home of special community events as well its ballroom, restaurant and boat rental and storage functions.
In 1963, the facility was purchased by the Town of Wakefield, which demolished the building in 1964.