South Street Seaport Museum
The South Street Seaport Museum, situated in the original port that built New York into the city it is today, will celebrate fifty years this year! The Seaport Museum invites the city to join in the celebration of this important milestone, which will be recognized over an entire year (April 2017-April 2018) of special programming and exhibitions.
The Museum will kick off this year of celebration with a special event on Saturday, April 29, 2017 from 11am to 5pm. This family-friendly event will include free admission to all of the Museum’s offerings within the historic seaport district, including tours of its current exhibitions Street of Ships: The Port and Its People, The Original Gus Wagner. The Maritime Roots of Modern Tattoo, and The Architecture of Trade: Schermerhorn Row and the Seaport; tours of the historic ships Ambrose and Wavertree; printing demonstrations at the Bowne print shops at 209-211 Water Street; and fun family activities and music on Pier 16. The 50th anniversary year will be inaugurated with a special bell-ringing ceremony aboard the lightship Ambrose with special guest New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer ringing Ambrose’s 110 year old bronze bell at 1:00pm. Honored guests will also include Council Member Margaret Chin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Tom Finkelpearl, and the trustees, members, friends, and volunteers of the South Street Seaport Museum.
The lightship Ambrose, a floating lighthouse, stood watch at the front door to New York Harbor during the greatest period of immigration in US history. She was a critical aid to navigation, helping cargo and passenger ships to safely enter New York, but she had another vital role as well. She was the first thing an immigrant would see as they entered New York Harbor, long before the buildings and piers on the waterfront, long before the Manhattan skyline, and long before the lighted torch of Lady Liberty; Ambrose served as the first beacon of liberty to an arriving soon-to-be American. The Seaport Museum celebrates the immigration that built New York and the United States by ringing the bell of Ambrose, the lightship of liberty, in loud and clear announcement of New York’s fundamental value of tolerance.
April 2017 marks fifty years since the Museum received its charter from the New York State Department of Education Board of Regents. Over that fifty years the Museum has grown dramatically, collecting artifacts and works of art documenting the rise of New York as a port city.; developing and implementing innovative and award-winning programming; mounting exhibitions; and preserving a fleet of historic ships on the East River. Despite three massive setbacks: the 9/11 attacks, the Great Recession of 2008, and the floodwaters of hurricane Sandy, the museum is growing once again. With support from New York City and a dedicated group of staff, volunteers, members and friends, the Seaport Museum remains an educational and cultural gem in lower Manhattan.
The Seaport Museum’s 50th anniversary will be marked throughout the year with the opening of new exhibitions, including Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900-1914 (opening June 2017), artistic and musical performances, lectures and book talks, walking tours, and a formal 50th anniversary cocktail reception aboard the 1885 ship Wavertree in September.
Capt. Jonathan Boulware, Executive Director of the Museum, spoke enthusiastically about the anniversary. “It’s a great privilege to celebrate the five-decade life of this vital institution. We’re here in the original fabric of old New York, the ships, the piers, the 19th-century buildings. It’s the history of New York, but the topics we cover are still highly relevant today. The original values that made New York what it is, the Dutch values of trade and tolerance, the New York values of immigration, of multiculturalism, and of ambition, these all touch on urgent issues of New York and America today. Indeed, as we celebrate this important anniversary, we’re also celebrating the very best of New York values, past, present, and future.”
A brief history of the Seaport Museum:
The Museum proper is housed several buildings known collectively as Schermerhorn Row, but when completed in 1812, Schermerhorn Row was, in many respects, the city’s first world trade center. The Row housed a series of counting houses where merchants bought and sold coffee, tea, cotton, molasses, and countless other trade goods from around the world. South Street was nicknamed ‘the Street of Ships’ for the countless sailing ships that docked there, linking the city with some of the most important centers of trade in Europe, the Caribbean, South America, California, and China. The commercial activity along South Street had by the mid-nineteenth century transformed New York from a former British colonial outpost, into the largest city in the United States that controlled half the country’s trade.
Yet, by the mid-twentieth century, the South Street Seaport had faded into near obscurity, and faced the threat of the building-boom of the modern era. The Seaport had been chosen as one of the potential sites for the new World Trade Center downtown, and faced total destruction. However, the demolition of Pennsylvania Station in 1963 alerted many people to the importance of preserving the city’s most historically significant structures, and the Seaport was saved from the wrecking ball. But it was far from being out of danger. In 1966, Peter and Norma Stanford, along with a group of dedicated preservationists and activists, founded the Friends of South Street Maritime Museum to protect this crucial piece of New York’s history from being lost forever. Their tireless efforts led to the New York Board of Regents granting the charter for the South Street Seaport Museum on April 28, 1967, and to the eventual creation of the South Street Seaport Historic District. In the following years, the Seaport Museum acquired its fleet of historic ships, including the lightship Ambrose (LV-87) in 1968, and the Museum’s flagship Wavertree, one of the last remaining 19th century iron hulled sailing ships left in the world. Today, fifty years after its founding, the Museum’s ships, buildings, maritime reference library, and collection of nearly 30,000 objects, including a working collection of 19th century printing presses and ship parts and gears still used today, help to tell the story of New York as a great port city.
Millions: Migrants and Millionaires aboard the Great Liners, 1900-1914, will open at the South Street Seaport Museum in June 2017. Between 1900 and 1914 New York experienced the greatest influx of immigrants in its history. The Seaport Museum’s lightship Ambrose (LV-87), which marked the entrance of New York Harbor from 1908 until 1932, was onsite for the last few years of this wave of immigration. Carried across the Atlantic aboard ocean liners such as Titanic’s sister Olympic, these migrants shared these ships with some of the wealthiest people in the world. This exhibition will explore the tensions between the extraordinarily wealthy First-Class passengers and immigrants in Third Class. Even though First Class and Third Class sailed together on the same ships, their journeys were worlds apart.
ABOUT SOUTH STREET SEAPORT MUSEUM
South Street Seaport Museum is a non-profit cultural institution located in the heart of the historic Seaport district in New York City. Founded in 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum, the Museum houses galleries and education spaces, working nineteenth century print shops, a maritime library, a maritime craft center, and a fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.”