The Museum preserves and interprets the history of New York City as a world port-a place where goods, labor and cultures are exchanged through work, commerce and the interaction of diverse communities. From transatlantic shipping and immigration to New York’s rise to economic pre-eminence, New York City’s waterfront has played a critical role in developments that have transformed the entire city, state, and nation.
Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum in 1998, the Museum is located in a 12 square-block historic district on the East River in Lower Manhattan, the site of the original port of New York City.
The Museum is home to Bowne Printers, carrying on the age old tradition of -job printing (small batch printing) and Bowne & Co. Stationers, New York’s oldest existing business under the same name, originally founded in 1775.
The Museum is also home to a fleet of 6 ships including the 1907 lightship Ambrose, a floating lighthouse which guided ships safely from the Atlantic Ocean into the broad mouth of lower New York Bay, the 1885 ship Wavertree, one of the last large sailing ships built of wrought iron, and the 1885 schooner Pioneer, an authentic 19th Century Schooner, with public sails daily from May thru October. Also berthed at Pier 16 are the 1911 barquePeking, a nitrate clipper of the famous F. Laietz line of Hamburg; the 1893 Essex-built fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, now sailing as a Sailing School Vessel; and the 1930 tug W.O. Decker, the last surviving New York-built wooden steam tug.
By the late-1950s, Pier 15, 16, and part of 17 were mostly vacant. South Street Seaport Museum was founded in 1967 by Peter and Norma Stanford. When originally opened as a museum, the focus of the Seaport Museum conservation was to be an educational historic site, with shops mostly operating as reproductions of working environments found during the Seaport's heyday, 1820 to 1860.
Visitors can not only tour the displays, they can enjoy voyages on many of the above listed ships.