While most New Yorkers see the rivers and harbor as barriers between boroughs, our waterways played a pivotal part in New York City's history. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, New York's harbor was the busiest port in the world, filled with barges, tugs, and cargo ships. Today it seems like our connection to the water is about pretty parks and passenger ferries, but true relics still remain. The Waterfront Museum, housed on a perfectly preserved wooden railroad barge built in 1914, is a floating gallery dedicated to the harbor's history; and the Tug Pegasus, the Waterfront Museum's faithful partner, is a 105-year-old operational tugboat. Through tours and special events, the barge and tug give visitors a glimpse of New York City's maritime past.
The Waterfront Museum occupies the Lehigh Valley No. 79 barge, the only surviving all-wooden example of the Hudson River Railroad Barge from the Lighterage Age (1860-1960). David Sharps, director of the museum, purchased the barge for $1 in 1985. It was half under water and in terrible condition — it took two years just to get the 300 tons of mud, caked on eight feet deep, off of the boat and to get the boat to float again. Still, the bow and the stern deckhouse have not been finished, and the roof needs new hatches to allow cargo to come in and out.
Tug Pegasus served in the harbor for 90 years, originally used by the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The tug retired in 1997, the official Tug Pegasus Preservation Project began in 2000 under the direction of Pamela Hepburn. The boat’s structural strength is evident in that she’s still running after all these years, but much still needs to be done. “We’ve gotten preservation to the point where the boat is safe,” says Hepburn. The deck still needs to be adequately repaired, and the diesel engine, which was installed in the 1950s when the tug was converted from steam to diesel, would benefit from being rebuilt.
The Waterfront Museum and Tug Pegasus would both be able to make these necessary renovations if they are one of the winning contestants in the Partners in Preservation program. The program selected 40 historic sites throughout New York City to vie for part of $3 million which would go towards preservation efforts. The public votes for which site they want to receive the funds, and when voting ends on May 21, the top four sites will each receive $250,000. The rest of the funds will be split between the remaining sites.
Both the Waterfront Museum and Tug Pegasus aim to better connect New Yorkers to the water — in a more meaningful way than pedestrian piers and grassy waterfront parks. The harbor and rivers have always been vital to New York City, and the museum and tug work to engage the public in maritime activities by offering free public programs and educational programs with local schools.
The Waterfront Museum docks permanently at the end of Conover Street in Red Hook, opening up to the public on Saturdays and Thursdays, and Tug Pegasus was just recently awarded a berth at Pier 25 on the Hudson River in Manhattan. The two vessels tour together, visiting different piers throughout the city. You can stop by and visit them May 12 and 13 on Pier 25, and again on June 27 and July 2.
All photos © Jessica Dailey for Inhabitat
This post is sponsored by Partners in Preservation. Inhabitat has partnered with the project as a blog ambassador to help spread the word and raise awareness of select historical sites throughout New York City. All opinions expressed here are strictly the author’s.