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Over the weekend, Untapped Cities checked out the Waterfront Museum‘s barge, the Lehigh Valley No. 79 in Red Hook as the organization prepares to host a fundraising Pirate Ball on September 19th. The festive party is to kick off No. 79’s 100th birthday, and start an endowment to continue the mission and preservation of the boat.

For those unaware of the Waterfront Museum, we covered them in depth before when we served as blog ambassador’s for Partners in Preservation 2012. The No. 79 was built in 1914, a time when barges like this were present all over the New York Harbor, and Tugboats would carry up to 40 at a time hauling goods across the harbor.  Today, the Lehigh Valley No. 79 represents the only surviving all-wooden example of the Hudson River Railroad Barge from the Lighterage Age (1860-1960) that remains afloat and accessible to the general public.  The barge is run by David Sharps, a former entertainer who acquired the barge in the mid 1980’s.  After moving around sites he settled down in Red Hook where he has been present on the waterfront since 1994.

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The waterfront museum hosts tons of artifacts from New York’s harbor, as well as signage and bells from other barges. Guests can explore marker flags of long gone canoe clubs, ring historic bells, or check out rotating maritime art. Besides static displays the museum also hosts school classes as well as theater events.  All of this is done aboard the near 100-year old No. 79.

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The barge captain would usually live on the ship with his family, and Mr. Sharps has done a great job of collecting stories of people who had this unique upbringing.  The invention of the shipping container rendered the barge obsolete, and also the transfer of most bulk shipping from Manhattan and Brooklyn to New Jersey. Despite this, the Waterfront Museum has been crucial in educating people about the floating vessel that moved New York’s economy, while letting you experience what it is like to be on a barge first hand.

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They have also been able to get involved in water quality research, and even host a couple of oyster beds that scientists monitor.  You can read more about New York harbor restoration projects with the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

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Barges also historically doubled as entertainment places, getting posh urban dwellers where they could gamble, dance and enjoy themselves on the water.  No. 97 will have that chance again as Mr. Sharps and the museum kick off their Pirate Ball fundraiser.  In addition to a sunset reception with food and drinks, the event will honor the George and Allison Tocci and The O’Connel Organization for their support of the museum.  Festive attire is preferred, so come down and check it out!

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