The Hudson River Maritime Museum on the Rondout in Kingston has been “providing the portal to history along the Hudson” since 1980. The Museum was founded by a group of steamboat and tugboat men, along with local residents. They established the Hudson River Maritime Museum (HRMM) in Kingston because of the area’s importance as a port in the 19th century: site of the terminus of the Delaware & Hudson Canal that brought coal from Pennsylvania to be transported on the Hudson, major hub for passenger steamboats and home to the Cornell Steamboat Company tugboat fleet.
HRMM opens for the 2013 season on Saturday, May 4, with admission costing $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and children ages 5 to 18, free for Museum members and those under age 5. It’ll be open daily through November 3 from 11 to 5 p.m., with two major exhibits on view through the end of the season. “Rondout: A Riverport” will highlight the effect that the opening of the Delaware & Hudson Canal had on the rapid growth of the port of Rondout from a few farms and docks to a boomtown welcoming workers who poured into the area to work on the Canal and in the stores and boatyards.
Most of these workers were Irish and German immigrants, who built homes, churches and schools, bringing a thriving downtown and prosperity to the Kingston area, whose prior residents appreciated the economic boost but didn’t necessarily approve of the rough newcomers.
The exhibit considers the shipping business of Rondout, from the millions of tons of coal that passed through during the years of the Delaware & Hudson Canal (1828-1898) to the other local products all shipped on the Hudson in great quantities: bluestone and natural cement, ice harvested on the river and bricks produced from local clays.
“Rondout: A Riverport” also focuses on the transportation magnate Thomas Cornell, later joined by his son-in-law, Samuel D. Coykendall, who established the dominant shipping company on the Hudson in the mid-19th century. The exhibit follows the overall economic decline in the area after the 1930s, up to where things began turning around in the ‘80s, as a renewal of business began, instigated in part by the cleanup of the Hudson River that was in its early stages then. The exhibit closes on a hopeful vision of the Rondout’s present and future as a once-again-lively neighborhood with restaurants, shops and of course, the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
“Troubled Waters: Wrecked and Sunken Ships of the Hudson River” is the other major exhibit on view this year. The show highlights the dangers faced by those navigating the Hudson at night before the days of radio and radar, when the safety of the vessels was dependent on the skill of pilots alone, and mishaps were inevitable.
Steamboats sometimes ran down sailing vessels – especially at night, when the steamers were unable to see the sailing boats anchored. The exhibit chronicles the best-known steamboat wrecks on the Hudson, like the Swallow in 1845, which grounded on an islet during a snow squall and broke in two, with several dozen people killed, and the Henry Clay in 1852, when the boiler exploded due to racing, and many people, including noted landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, died.
“Troubled Waters: Wrecked and Sunken Ships of the Hudson River” also details how the floor of the Hudson River today is home to hundreds of sunken boats, which may yet see the light of day, as modern sonar mapping of the river’s bottom reveals their presence for possible further exploration and revelations of the Hudson’s history.
General admission to the Museum includes a self-guided tour of the exhibits. Thursday, May 9 is Family Day with family-friendly activities and discounted admission, with the Museum staying open late until 8 p.m. On Sunday, May 12 all mothers get in free, and Monday, May 27 free admission is given to all veterans.
The popular “Follow the River” once-monthly lecture series on Wednesdays also returns for 2013, with the next talk planned for Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. The Clearwater’s captain Nick Rogers will speak about restoration of the 106-foot-long replica sloop, now permanently berthed over the winter at the HRMM. For more details and future lecture dates, visit www.hrmm.org.
Opening Day, Saturday, May 4, $7/$5, Hudson River Maritime Museum, 50 Rondout Landing, Kingston; (845) 338-0071, www.hrmm.org.