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Destination-NYC-South Street Seaport Museum

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Explore New York’s past at South Street Seaport Museum

Explore New York’s past at South Street Seaport Museum

For nearly four decades the South Street Seaport Museum has been sharing the history, and commercial and cultural importance of New York Harbor with visitors. The museum occupies a 12-square-block historic district on the East River at 17 State St., opposite Battery Park.

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“We’re right on the site of the city’s original port,” says Richard Stepler, South Street Seaport Museum’s director of publications and special exhibits. “The museum takes advantage of its location and of its history.”

Visitors to the South Street Seaport Museum (nearly 200,000 people from around the world each year) come to see both the museum’s exhibits and fleet, Stepler says. “The seaport’s historic district, with the museum, shops and restaurants, is a major tourist attraction in the city,” he says. “Between our permanent and featured exhibits I’d say we have a pretty unique collection.”

One exhibit on display through October is “Antwerp = America: Eugeen Van Mieghem and the Emigrants of the Red Star Line.” From 1870 to 1935 the Red Star Line shipped millions of emigrants from Antwerp, Belgium, to East River piers, and the exhibit includes some 100 Van Mieghem paintings that tell of their daily lives and history. “The exhibit follows the route these immigrants took and their experiences while on board,” Stepler says.

Another exhibit running through October is “The Lost Waterfront: The Hudson River Piers, 1972-1982,” which consists of 24 large-format black-and-white and color photographs of the Hudson River piers, and the people who worked and visited there in the 1970s.

The museum also has a fleet of eight boats that are open for tours and rides, including the 377-foot four-masted bark Peking, the 279-foot wrought iron cargo ship Wavetree, and the 113-foot lightship Ambrose.

“It’s always exciting to board a very large sailing vessel,” says Stepler. “You can see the officers’ quarters. You can see where the meals were eaten. Plus, the view is breathtaking. Standing on the decks you can see the downtown skyline, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s an amazing experience.”

In addition to the boats and the exhibits the museum hosts a number of events, such as the Mayor’s Cup Race for schooners and classic yachts. The 37th installment of the race — sailed from Battery Park to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and back — is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16. Reservations are required for a spot on a spectator boat, and can be made by calling (212) 748-8786.

Keep in mind that the museum doesn’t have docks for visitors to tie up to. “It’s something we’re trying very hard to have fixed,” Stepler says. “The city is working on revamping the waterfront from the ferry terminal to Governors Island north to East River Park. It should include docks and marinas and the reconstruction of Pier 15, which we would seriously benefit from.” Until then, cruisers will need to take public transportation from the marinas at which they are staying, Stepler says.

The museum’s summer hours (through Oct. 31) are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $4 for children 5 to 12 years old, and no charge for children younger than 5. For more information call (212) 748-8600 or visit www.southstseaport.org .