The newest edition to the South Street Seaport Museum’s family, this ship was originally built in Southampton, England in 1885 for a company in Liverpool. Today, she is one of the largest and last remaining examples or wrought-iron built sailing ships. The ship carried cargo from all the world, with its first job as a jute carrying ropes and burlap bags between Scotland and India.
Wavertree sailed for a quarter of century to all the world’s ports, she was finally dismantled off Cape Hope, part of the Falkland Islands. Instead of being re-rigged, she was converted into a floating warehouse, and then a sand barge in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1947. The South Street Seaport Museum acquired the gran vessel in 1968.
Wavertree will officially be returning to the museum this July, after a 15-month, $13 million city-funded restoration. Currently in Staten Island, the ship is getting a new ‘tweendeck’ (the deck between the cargo holds and the main deck), a part that was removed in the 1930s. This will allow for a large space to be created inside the ship that the museum will use for year-round programming.
There is also an extensive rigging restoration in the process which includes the replacement of 16 massive wooden masts and yards. Though Wavertree probably came through New York Harbor during its time as an operating cargo ship, its permanent dock at the South Street Seaport today is an archetype of the impressive sailing ships that came through New York and helped create and boost world trade in its early stages. More on the process and ship’s life can be discovered at the South Street Seaport’s newly opened exhibit Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.
Ring buoy from “Street of Ships” exhibit.
1. The Ronson Ship
Built between 1710 and 1720, the Ronson Ship, named after developer Ronson of H.R.O., was discovered during an archaeological dig at 175 Water Street in Manhattan on January 1982. The site was under construction for a new 30-story office tower, a project headed by H.R.O. International. That area of Manhattan in particular is known to be a place where ships sunk from a landfill project. The ship found under the World Trade Center suffered the same fate.
The ship, at 30.5 meters long, 8 meters in beam, and 200 tons of burden, served most likely as a tobacco carrier between the West Indies, Chesapeake colonies, and England, according to the New York Times, it’s one of the only known ships that did that route in the mid-1700s. The ship was condemned to a Manhattan port on the East River, docked, and buried under garbage.
When it was excavated, the hull was too expensive remove completely so only the bow was removed for conservation. The ship’s bow sat up in Massachusetts for a bit of time waiting for someone to claim ownership and move forward the preservation effort. In Massachusetts, the bow soaked in brine for two years, and finally moved to the Mariners’ Museum in Virginia in 1985.
Although this ship is not currently in New York, its heritage is a part of Manhattan history. The New York Times reported that Mayor Koch of New York at the time made motions to keep the boat in the city given its history, but ultimately it went to Virginia. The excavation, over seen by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, kept a close eye on the ship looking for a suitable home.
The cost to bring back and exhibit the bow in New York would have been somewhere between $200,000 to $1 million. The money from H.R.O. International was running low and there just didn’t seem to be enough funds to keep the Ronson in the city. So, the Mariners’ Museum, which had already offered $400,000 to house and display the ship, ultimately claimed the ship.
Join Untapped Cities for our Tour of NYC’s Maritime History to see the ships that still call NYC home and more remnants of the city’s seafaring past!