The Revival Of The New York Waterfront

How the relic of maritime travel is moving past nostalgia and into the future

By Isaac Fornarola

The view of the Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn waterfront

In May of 2017, the NYC Ferry opened for business. Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed the project as a way to provide transportation options for commuters in underserved areas. In the midst of the MTA’s transportation crisis, it has the potential to alleviate the burden of overcrowding on subways and buses. But aside from its more practical purposes, it’s another example of a recently renewed public interest in one of the most historical waterfronts in the world.

Ferries and boats are time-honored modes of travel with great modern potential. The history of the New York City waterfront is inextricably tied to its status as one of the world’s most prosperous cities, and many maritime enthusiasts have dedicated their lives to preserving that history. For David Sharps of the Waterfront Museum in Brooklyn, bringing public access to the waterfront is his life’s work.

I had the opportunity to interview Captain Sharps and learn more about his mission to bring public access to the waterfront.

David Sharps is the president of the Waterfront Museum and the Captain of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79, a floating wooden structure that was built in 1914 to transport cargo across the Hudson River. The Lehigh Valley #79 is one of less than a dozen remaining railroad barges. It’s the last remaining all-wooden barge that is both afloat and open to the public, and is famous for how impeccably it has been preserved. Much like the singular history of his barge, Sharps has had an unusual life. Sharps worked as a clown and performer before finding the Lehigh Valley #79, and his spirit of quirky playfulness is preserved in his museum. Still, Sharps is serious about his project: the Lehigh Valley Barge sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, and Sharps was able to secure a $269,274 dollar grant from New York State for repairs.

The United States Lightship Frying Pan (left). The Pier 66 Railroad Barge (right).

On August 29th, the city announced that the lightship Ambrose at the South Street Seaport will receive a $4.5 million dollar grant for its restoration after sustaining significant damage from the Hurricane Sandy. It is one of only a few remaining lightships, which are essentially floating lighthouses. Another historic lightship on the Manhattan pier is the United States Lightship Frying Pan, preserved and maintained by Eric Fischer.

I talked with Captain Eric Fischer about the history of the Lightship Frying Pan and the incredible story of its journey to the Manhattan waterfront.

Fischer’s Frying Pan is docked at Pier 66 and is adjacent to the Pier 66 Maritime Bar & Grill, which he also owns and manages with several partners. As a waterfront business owner, Fischer is encouraged by the interest and investments in maritime travel. Far from a historical relic, he sees the waterfront as a new frontier, an unexplored resource with great potential. He believes the NYC Ferry will increase foot traffic along the piers, which will help support his business.

Captain Fischer showed me around the interior of the vessel, which is in the process of being fully restored.

The view from Hudson River Park in Manhattan

It’s too early to know how effective the NYC Ferry will be in lightening the load for the MTA. But many say they’re seeing a renewed public interest, evidenced by the funding of restoration projects and waterfront investments. As the waterfront continues to develop, residents can look forward to new opportunities to enjoy one of the best resources the city has to offer.