It was 139 years ago, in 1874, that Thomas Eakins completed his series of five paintings and numerous sketches and studies of rowing and sculling on the Schuylkill River.

While his world-wide reputation as one of America's greatest painters is based primarily on his incisive and revealing portraits of upper middle class Philadelphians and on two monumental medical paintings, The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic, to oarsmen and all admirers of the placid beauty of the Schuylkill as it winds through Fairmount Park, it is the rowing pictures that are the most appealing.

Eakins himself was a superb oarsman. In fact, at one time he was urged to become a professional oarsman. (In the late nineteenth century there was considerable betting on races on the river and strong oarsmen were much in demand.) Eakins declined the offer and instead concentrated on painting.


"Here's the way it started," said Lyman Perry, a former Olympic rower and member of the club's executive committee.

"There was a regatta at the time that was the Graduate Sculls Regatta. It wasn't too successful, so we were sitting around the executive meeting trying to figure out what else we could do. At that time, the Head of the Charles was several years old. We said, 'Maybe we should model this on the Head of the Charles.' Long races weren't common then."

"It took about three to four years to catch hold, " Perry said.

Yet the regatta did indeed catch hold. Today the regatta has grown to two days with more than 6500 athletes from around the country and across the world.


Pictured in launch are, from left, Lyman Perry, Christopher Blackwall and Mitch Budman

Head of the Schuylkill Regatta History and Growth

Competitors in the 2013 Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta® are continuing a tradition of exceptional fall racing that began more than four decades ago. While the expansive scope of the two-day Regatta today bears little resemblance to its 1971 roots, the spirit of the Regatta endures: a welcoming fall race for rowers of all ages and skill levels. An estimated 180 competitors participated in the first race. This year, 6,500+ athletes are expected to cross the finish line of the 2.5-mile scenic course.

In 1971, three members of University Barge Club, located in the heart of Philadelphia's Boathouse Row, launched the idea for a new fall race, transforming the 1000 meter Graduate Sculls race into a head racing format. The aim of 1960 Olympian Lyman Perry, Jay Pattison III, and the late Raul Betancourt, was to offer rowers of all ages congenial autumn competition. In head races, competitors race the clock over a course that is typically two to three miles long, often toward the river's headwaters.

At a time when only elite, college and junior athletes competed in "head" or distance races, the newly established Head of the Schuylkill Regatta emphasized graduate oarsmen and opened racing to newly emerging masters' and women's teams. Twelve women entered the first regatta; today, more than 2,900 females will compete.

The Regatta's spirit of inclusion grew along with its size and scope. Early Regattas hosted dozens of college, high school and masters rowers. The Regatta soon welcomed recreational and adaptive athletes. The first point, or team, trophy was presented to Vesper Boat Club. In 2011 and 2012, Vesper, again, took home the honor.

The name change to The Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta occurred in 1975. Born in 1844, Thomas Eakins was a Philadelphia painter, whose works include scullers on the Schuylkill River. The Regatta emerged as the world's largest one-day rowing competition. Its popularity, however, soon exceeded the river's capacity. In 2008, the format changed to a two-day event. This step expanded racing opportunities for rowers and increased tourism for the Philadelphia region.

In the new two-day format, college crews race on Saturday along with the majority of elite and masters rowers, while high schools, and other elite, masters and veteran rowers reign on Sunday. Another recent scheduling change allows competitors to row multiple races, building on the Regatta's reputation as one of the nation's premier events at a historic location regarded as the home of American rowing.

The 2013 Regatta will be hosted on Saturday, October 26 and Sunday, October 27. Hundreds of masters, veterans, adaptive and recreational athletes will compete. More than 150 high schools and colleges are also expected, hailing from Massachusetts to northern Virginia areas, with suburban Philadelphia and New Jersey schools notably represented. Again this year, the Regatta will welcome scholastic and masters crews from Europe.

Parents, other family members, and friends will line the course to cheer the competitors and enjoy The Three Angels Festival Area, named for the Carl Milles sculpture punctuating the river's east bank. Crews slicing down the course to the finish line are forever embedded in the rich tradition of Philadelphia rowing and the Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta.