Noble Maritime Collection

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 57 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned John Noble made his art in a houseboat studio that he cobbled together, Frankenstein’s Monster-like, out of sundry boat bits and bobs over years.  The Collection acquired his studio, restored it beautifully, and moved the whole thing into a room in the building, where you can peek inside.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor

This museum suffers from a misleading name.  I walked into the Noble Maritime Collection expecting a dark basement full of dusty old nautical stuff, with a stuffy aristocratic bent. Instead, the collection occupies three light-filled, airy, beautifully restored floors of Building D at Sailors’ Snug Harbor.

It covers four main topics:

  • The life and art of John Noble, for whom the collection is named and who primarily made prints and drawings that captured the life of the harbor.
  • The founding and establishment of Snug Harbor in the early 19th century
  • The lives of sailors who retired to Snug Harbor
  • Robbins Reef Light, and Kate Walker, the remarkable woman who served as lighthousekeeper for over thirty years.

The life of a retired sailor living at Snug Harbor seems to have been pretty good.  They lived in beautiful buildings, and the restored dorm room looks light and comfortable. There were quite a few rules to follow, but also time to pursue art and build boats.

The founding of Sailor’s Snug Harbor is a great story, involving none other than the ubiquitous Alexander Hamilton.  Robert Richard Randall left a bequest to found what eventually became Snug Harbor in his will in 1801.  Hamilton was the family lawyer.  According to the lore, Randall wasn’t sure what to do with his fortune, and Ham asked him from whence it came.  Randall said from his father, who got it through “honest privateering.”  And Ham said, effectively, that if his fortune came from the sea, it should return there.  So the idea of a home for old, worn-out, and decrepit sailors was born.  They originally were going to put it on Randall’s property in Manhattan, but Manhattan property values being what they were, ultimately opted to use the property to generate income, and put the sailors somewhere where land was cheaper.  Snug Harbor opened in Staten Island in 1831.

An 1881 John LaFarge window, with the Snug Harbor Motto, “Portum petimus fessi,” “We who are weary seek a harbor.”






It looks like they do fantastic kids’ programs, with a replica ship bridge you can go inside, bells to ring, and steerable ships’ wheels.  With the luxury of space, they have a whole room set up as a classroom, and another as an art studio.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the Noble Collection has taken over Robbins Reef Lighthouse and is in the process of fixing it up to give tours there eventually.  Sandy did a ton of damage there, but they are still at work and hope have it safely visit-able it in 2019 or so.  I am beyond excited about that possibility.

The only thing I wanted from my visit to the Noble Collection was more time to spend there.  I’d make a special trip to Staten Island just to go there again.  Full disclosure:  I spend a lot of my non-museum leisure hours sailing on New York Harbor, so the Noble Collection clicks with my interests in a big way. But even were I not a sailor, this place comes pretty close to the ideal museum balance of beautiful and interesting, edifying and entertaining.  I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone visit.

For Reference:

Address 1000 Richmond Terrace # 8, Staten Island
Cost  Donation
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