Waterfront Museum

Edification value 2/5 
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 28 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I perused an article on the Waterfront Museum in “Hidden Places Magazine.” A bit of googling suggests it only published a single issue, consisting of the glossiest, most fashionable Red Hook promotional material ever created.

Waterfront Museum, BrooklynDavid Sharps is an adventurer, circus performer, and raconteur and seems like a very nice man. He’s certainly brave. He and his family have lived in a wooden barge, currently docked in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, since the 1980s.

It’s a life I find hard to imagine, and one that definitely affords a unique perspective on New York Harbor.

The barge itself is adorable — painted red, emblazoned with its name, “Lehigh Valley No. 79.” It dates to 1914, when longshoremen used thousands of craft like it to ferry cargo from large, deep-water ships in the harbor to railroad cars on the shallow New Jersey side of the Hudson.

Sharps discovered the dilapidated barge mired in the mud in New Jersey. Reportedly the very last of its kind, he got the Lehigh Valley floating again, and he’s been fixing it up ever since, docking in various places around the harbor. He launched the museum in 1986.Waterfront Museum

On the Barge

I think the Waterfront Museum functions best as a floating performance space, featuring Sharps telling the story of how the City has used and abused its waters over the years. It’s definitely not so great to just wander into and explore. It feels somewhat like you’re walking around in his house.  Indeed, Ms. Sharps was preparing dinner in the barge’s kitchen area, which is lines one wall of the former cargo space.

Waterfront Museum InteriorThe museum holds a few nautical odds and ends — an old tiller here, some ancient ship signage over there. It also has a kinetic sculpture by George Rhodes — think balls noisily rolling down metal chutes in Rube Goldbergian fashion. When I visited the Waterfront Museum hosted an exhibit of harbor scenes painted by Bill Mensching. Said paintings were for sale — as at Tibet House and a few other places, the Waterfront Museum is a hybrid museum and gallery. They were better than I could paint, but they weren’t pieces I’d want to hang on a wall and look at forever.

Waterfront Museum Art ExhibitionI liked Captain Sharps a lot — he’s lived an interesting life, and one that’s made him a strong advocate for the city’s waterways. I get the sense he’s awesome with kids, and this is likely a worthwhile field trip destination. But at the end of the day, the experience of going to the Waterfront Museum is less about going to a museum, and far more about chatting with David Sharps.

Who Should Visit the Waterfront Museum?

If you’ve ever dreamed of life on a vintage, shallow-draft barge in New York City, sorry, this is the only one.  But you can at least pay it a visit and live vicariously. Conversely, if you happen to journey to Red Hook during the Waterfront Museum’s limited opening hours, by all means drop in and say hello.

However, if you’re interested in a more comprehensive story of working life on New York Harbor over the years, then other places, like the Maritime Industry Museum and particularly the terrific Noble Maritime Collection, will serve you better than this cheery red barge in Red Hook.

Waterfront Museum

For Reference:

Address  290 Conover Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Website  waterfrontmuseum.org
Cost  General Admission: Free