When Pete Seeger first sailed into Kingston on the sloop Clearwater in 1969, shortly after the ship’s launch, “it was a bit of a mess. The gang cleared the debris away, we built a beautiful bonfire and people danced around the fire,” he recalled. Musicians played. It was perhaps Kingston’s darkest hour: Urban renewal had just about completed the clearing away of most of downtown Rondout, leaving a spectacle of utter devastation. But the arrival of the Clearwater marked a new beginning. It sparked the revitalization that slowly transformed the waterfront into the bustling place of cafés, parks, boat docks, galleries and enterprising commerce we know today.
But the purpose of Seeger’s surprise visit to the Hudson River Maritime Museum during its River Day festival, held on Saturday, July 21, was not to look back, but celebrate. The occasion was the groundbreaking of the new maintenance barn and educational center for the Clearwater, which, starting in November, will be berthed at the museum during the winter.
Looking youthful in jeans and a wide-brimmed hat, the 93-year-old iconic folk singer, songwriter and activist wielded one of the shovels at the ceremonial ground-breaking (strictly a photo op — the foundation of the barn has already been dug, as evident from the nearby massive disturbance of earth). Later, he played a few songs with guitar player and singer Rick Nestler, strumming his well-worn banjo and prompting the small crowd to join in. It was impossible to resist his cheerful overtures, an evocation of the spirit of togetherness that has proved to be such a powerful impetus for Seeger’s political protests over the years, not to mention the launching of the sloop and the founding of a significant environmental organization.
‘A beginning thing’
The barn, a dream come true, marks a new, auspicious chapter for the Maritime Museum and the Kingston waterfront, noted the speakers, who stood before a backdrop of berthed tugs and a restored wooden Pennsylvania Railroad barge, open to the public for the event. “The Clearwater has been in the forefront of the future of the Hudson River and the Maritime Museum has been in the forefront of the history and heritage of the river,” said Patrick McDonough, who is the museum’s new executive director. “The museum has been the anchor of the renaissance here in Rondout and with Clearwater as a partner, greater things are happening.”
“Today we have a beginning thing,” noted Jeff Rumpf, executive director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, who jokingly likened the day’s event to a wedding between the two organizations.
Jack Weeks, a local physician who is vice president of the HRMM’s board, noted that the groups’ success at raising $1 million to fund the construction was “nothing short of miraculous.” The funds include a $125,000 state grant obtained with the help of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (who could not be at the event and was represented by Kingston Common Council Majority Leader Tom Hoffay), although most of the money consists of private donations.
Much of the wood for the structure has been salvaged from oaks and other trees downed in the freak snowstorm last October, said Allan Shope, president ofClearwater’s board and co-chair of the barn building project. He noted that the building will provide the winter maintenance crew with heat and plumbing for the first time in the ship’s history.
It’ll also be a model of green building designed for future challenges. The barn will be raised so as to avoid damage from flood waters, which are expected as a result of global warming. Weeks said he is in discussion with local suppliers about installing solar panels on the roof, and heat will be provided by a radiant system in the flooring.
Raising in September
The building will be erected in an old-fashioned barn-raising on Saturday, Sept. 15, with volunteers gathering at dawn. It is scheduled to be fully functional six weeks after, at which time the sloop will be placed on a barge to undergo repairs to the aft section, of which two thirds must be replaced.
Slideshow image: Pete Seeger greets attendees at River Fest. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)