When you visit the Red Hook waterfront, one of the first things you’ll notice is a bright red historic barge docked at Pier 44, near the Fairway Supermarket at the Red Hook Stores building. That’s where The Waterfront Museum is found, a non-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization run by David Sharps.
Sharps, after working as a street performer and serving long stints on cruise ships, found himself studying theatrical movement in Paris. While there, he lived on a houseboat on the Seine. When he returned to New York, David wanted to continue living on a boat, so a tugboat captain introduced him to the Lehigh Valley No. 79 Barge.
When Sharps took possession of the historic barge, which cost him $1, it had 300 tons of mud in its hold and was grounded in New Jersey. The Lehigh Valley was restored to seaworthy condition after seven years of restoration and hard work. Sharps found his way to Red Hook via a 1992 conference organized by the legendary Pete Seeger, where Sharps met Michael Mann. Mann suggested Red Hook, Brooklyn, as a home for the Lehigh Valley, and suggested he get in touch with Greg O’Connell.
The Waterfront Museum arrived in Red Hook back in 1994, and we at The O’Connell Organization won’t let him leave. We love how it hearkens back to the old days of Red Hook’s working waterfront.
At Pier 44, David Sharps and The Waterfront Museum found its home port, allowing him to focus on programming and the upkeep of the historic vessel. The following history of the barge comes directly from The Waterfront Museum, and its timeline seems to mirror the maritime history of Red Hook itself:
The Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge No. 79, built in Perth Amboy, NJ in 1914, is the only wooden covered barge of its kind left over from “The Lighterage Era (1860-1960) – a period of transportation and commerce history when food and commercial goods were transported across the river by Tug and Barge prior to today’s bridges, tunnels, highways, trucks and The Containerization Era.” At one time there were over 5,000 non-self propelled barges similar to her. Railroad companies maintained large fleets of barges to bring goods between railroad terminals, across and along the Hudson River for consumer use, and for shipment overseas. Today, she is the only surviving example afloat.
The museum’s open hours are Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. , though groups can visit on other days by appointment. There are also special showboat performances, including theater, dance, puppetry, and even circus acts, performed by Sharps and his friends.