Maritime College library receives $50,000 grant

SUNY Maritime College’s Stephen B. Luce Library has been awarded $50,000 from the National Park Service and the U.S. Maritime Administration to continue efforts to digitize records documenting the history of Sailors’ Snug Harbor on Staten Island, New York, and the lives of thousands of retired sailors who lived there.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor was the first non-denominational retirement home in the country. Founded by the wealthy Randall family, it gave retired sailors, many of whom were disabled and without wives or families, a safe haven from the 1830s until 2008. Maritime’s library has been home to the Sailors’ Snug Harbor archives beginning in the 1970s. The collection is on long-term loan to the college from the Sailors’ Snug Harbor Trustees.

“This is opening up a whole new field of archive studies,” said Dr. John Rocco, humanities professor. “Digitizing the collection changes the life of the artifacts and enhances research and scholarship. There’s a treasure trove here for researchers to discover.”

Sailors’ Snug Harbor circa 1950s

The collection includes hundreds of thousands of records documenting life at the home over its nearly 200-year history. The two-year grant, “Telling the Stories of Sailors’ Snug Harbor,” will allow library staff to digitize at least 4,000 items, making them accessible to students and the public.

Luce Library staff will host a visioning session with college humanities faculty, the Sailors’ Snug Harbor Cultural Center, officials from the Noble Maritime Collection and Sailors’ Snug Harbor Trustees. Together, they will decide which records should be prioritized and digitized first.

Already the digital records are being used by Maritime’s graduate students in the Maritime and Naval Studies program, and a researcher investigating and expanding on burial records of the men who lived and died at Sailors’ Snug Harbor.

“This grant supplements and dovetails with the previous grant we got from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO),” said library director Kristin Hart. “It will also help us build a platform so we can host the collection online ourselves.”

The Sailors’ Snug Harbor archives are rich in genealogical information and also shed light on the lives and health conditions of sailors in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The METRO grant included hosting the digitized works for several years; with the creation of a new platform, the collection will have a permanent home that can be expanded to include other records from the library’s archives.