"The main building entrance brings athletes, coaches and visitors through the heraldic sliding oar "door" (a clustered frieze of aluminum oars) onto a porch that opens up dramatically to a framed view of the river. Here a generously expanding stair spills down to connect with the docks and the water below. The staircase and deck function as a multipurpose space for team meetings and other group activities. The athletes proceed out along the porch overlooking the river to enter the locker rooms. The coaches have their own office and lobby area. A lounge is located south of the river for viewing the approach of racing boats. This space, anchored by a large fireplace, is also designed to house trophies and other memorabilia. The building will stretch from the current upstream edge of the Cooke Boathouse to the finish line."
Yale rowing has a long history in Derby ever since Frank Gates of Derby undertook to induce Yale to bring its rowing activities to Derby in 1852, first in lower Derby and later on Lake Housatonic above the dam starting in 1918. Mr. Gates managed to convince Yale's British head coach Guy Nickalls of the suitability of the Housatonic for his crews, and in 1918 the first intercollegiate race was held on the lake with Yale and Harvard competing. At the same time, the Bob Cooke boathouse was dedicated in honor of one of Yale's famous rowing coaches.
Down through the years, the boat house and Yale crew racing has been a favorite spectator sport in the area. At one time Derby Day was an attraction that drew thousands to the banks of the Housatonic to view the races. A special observation train ran along the course of the race on the Shelton side of the river. Crews from around the country made the Hotel Clark in downtown Derby their headquarters while staying in Derby.
Though the Derby Day races are no longer held, rowing on the Housatonic has been undergoing a revival not only with the construction of the new Gilder Boathouse, but also with the New Haven Rowing Club farther upstream. The Rowing Club hosts a the Head of the Housatonic Regatta in October each year that is growing in popularity. The boat house is also one of the stops on the Heritage Valley Driving tour.