Performance center for Arm-of-the-Sea Theater will occupy a site with a grand history

The concrete coal bin, which will form the base of a stage and buildings adjacent to Tina Chorvas Park.

Patrick Wadden at a recent performance.

A site adjacent to the village’s Tina Chorvas Park off Bridge Street is being cleared to become the future home of the Arm of the Sea Theater, the Saugerties-based organization which performs socially relevant productions with a mix of puppets and costumed players.

The ambitious plan for the Saugerties waterfront property include a performance center for Arm of the Sea productions as well as other performers, facilities for river-based education, a waterworks playground, a floating dock, an observation tower, rental space for waterfront businesses, and exhibits on historic mills, said Arm of the Sea co-director Patrick Wadden. Educational themes would include the history of the mills that once made Saugerties a leading manufacturing center for paper and iron. The site would offer space for river-based businesses, such as kayak and canoe rental, sailing and boating organizations, and bait shops.


The troupe has toured New York State and across the country. The schedule includes performances in Tina Chorvas Park, as well as other locations in Saugerties. The troupe’s name is derived from the Hudson River, a literal arm of the sea, according to a published description.

The theater, which mixes puppets with live performers in costume, has a general theme of preservation of nature and environmental protection. The effect of pollution on waterways and the landscape is a major theme in the company’s productions.

Arm of the Sea was founded by Patrick Wadden and Marlena Marallo, the co-director, in 1982. The theater, which mixes puppets with live performers in costume, has a general theme of preservation of nature and environmental protection. The effect of pollution on waterways and the landscape is a major theme in the company’s productions.

Arm of the Sea began as part of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and its first cast was the crew of the Clearwater, Wadden said at an awards presentation to the theater by the Mohonk Mountain House. The Clearwater crew performed as actors and musicians. “That was so much fun, we decided to keep on doing it.”

The Tidewater Project, which includes the planned theater and other amenities, is being overseen by an eleven-member steering committee, which includes an engineer, a construction manager, artists and specialists in waterfront and natural area restoration. The project fits into the goals of the village’s waterfront revitalization plan, as well as the community comprehensive plan. It particularly fits the goal of “support the building of educational displays to feature information on the history of the river and the importance of reducing pollution.”

The site was once occupied by Henry Barclay’s paper mill, which operated from 1827 until Barclay died in 1851. The mill and nearby iron works, powered by waterfalls and piping from the Esopus Creek, were at one time the largest water-powered industrial complex in the world.

The first machinery for producing paper in continuous rolls in the United States was installed here, according to historian Michael Sullivan Smith. The company was a pioneer in the production of paper from wood pulp, rather than the rags that had been used previously.

Following Barclay’s death, Sheffield and Sons took over the company and ran it through the 1890s, when it went under.

Pictures from this era show a solid wall of buildings along the Esopus shoreline. Few of these buildings remain, though the foundations can be seen on the former mill property, now owned by Clearwater. Arm of the Sea will be taking the property over when it is safely fenced and cleared, Wadden said.

Following a fire in 1872 that destroyed it, the mill was rebuilt of brick and stone, and reopened in 1873. A succession of later corporations operated the mill until the 1970s, when the buildings were torn down, according to history enthusiast Caleb Lang. One remaining building, originally a paper and notebook factory, has been converted into The Mill, a senior-housing complex.

In the 1980s, Clearwater planned to develop the site in conjunction with the sloop’s educational and environmental mission. However, the group later decided to overwinter the vessel near Kingston’s maritime museum on the Rondout Creek.

Most of the factories’ remains were removed from the site. The neighboring village waterfront park shows little sign of its industrial past. A remaining brick storage building and open area remains on the neighboring Cantine’s Island is still used by Arm of the Sea.

The Sheffield Mill site was part of a larger property purchased by developer Michael Puntillo, who developed The Mill in the former book bindery on East Bridge Street. Puntillo offered a portion of the parcel to the Village of Saugerties, which turned it down. He then offered it to Clearwater. Environmental studies were completed in the 1990s. The Clearwater still owns the site, which will be transferred to Arm of the Sea when the cleanup is completed and the site deemed safe, Wadden said.

The property offers a solid base for the stage and associated buildings shown on a site plan. The facilities would be built on the remains of a structure called “the coal bin,” now a rectangular structure of solid concrete walls. Adjacent to the stage, the plan shows a multi-purpose building and the performance facility. Public access for fishing runs along the creekside of most of the property, with a kayak landing at one end.

Money from storm damage received by the village five years ago is paying for the planning process, Wadden said. Clearwater board member Pete Varner said this amounts to $74,000. Still to be raised are funds for the construction of the facility. It will likely be several years before the Arm of the Sea theater complex becomes a reality.

There is one comment

  1. Jane

    Congratulations. And an inspiration to all those who think too much time has passed to break new ground.

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