A century ago, New York Harbor was choked with ships transporting goods and people to and from locations around the globe. Today the ship traffic is a fraction of what it once was, as the city's air, truck and rail hubs have supplanted much of the need for shipping. But New York remains the country's third-busiest port, and the largest container port in the North Atlantic. Shipping used to be concentrated along the waterfronts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but today, that traffic has moved west to the Port Elizabeth/Newark terminal and Bayonne, New Jersey, though there still are smaller cargo terminals within the city limits in Red Hook, Brooklyn and Howland Hook, Staten Island. This past weekend, we got a glimpse of the bustling harbor thanks to a tour
organized by the Working Harbor Committee
, which works to educate the public about the history, activities and continuing importance of the Harbor of New York and New Jersey.
Many people travel every day aboard ferries linking Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey to Manhattan; even more of us cross the harbor in automobile and subway tunnels dug beneath it. Yet we rarely notice the working ships that make the harbor so important to life in New York City. From our view along the northern shore of Staten Island, we were able to understand a little bit of how these ships and the people that work on them make the harbor run.
After a brief crossing aboard the Staten Island ferry John F. Kennedy, we started our tour at the St. George Ferry Terminal, which is visited by 75,000 commuters every day. This area of the island used to be a terminal for the Baltimore & Ohio and Staten Island Rapid Transit railroads, which transported freight from New Jersey across the Arthur Kill to the cargo ferries in St. George. Service along this north shore line was abandoned in 1953, but much of the track still remains (though it has been rendered unusable by neglect), and there are a few scattered remnants of the piers that once lined the Kill van Kull.
Railroad terminal and piers in St. George, Staten Island, 1917
Due to the narrow channels and sharp turns that ships must negotiate in order to get to the main terminal in Newark Bay, the harbor has no shortage of tugboats. Most of the boats are run by family-owned companies, and each can be recognized by its signature colors or logo. Maroon tugboats emblazoned with a large "M" belong to Moran Towing
, one of the oldest tug companies in the harbor; the white and powder blue boats are from the fleet of Dann Ocean Towing
. Though large and well-protected, New York Harbor is not naturally deep, so to accommodate modern vessels that can draw in excess of 40 feet of water fully loaded, the Army Corps of Engineers fights a constant battle against the Hudson and Hackensack rivers to dredge the harbor of buildups of silt, sand and rock. You can often see these dredging rigs at work in the harbor, lifting, scooping or blasting 3 million cubic yards of material from the bottom of the harbor every year.
Massive container ships are a common sight in the harbor. The containerization of cargo played a large role in the decline of New York City's waterfront. Ports required far more space when they became integrated sea, rail and trucking hubs for containers, but they also required far less manpower, leading to the disappearance of jobs for stevedores and longshoremen, who had previously made up a large portion of the city's working class. Now with direct links to interstate highways and railroads, containers don't need to be unloaded until they reach their final destination. Unfortunately, due to our huge trade imbalance with China, most of the containers that arrive on our shores are eventually scrapped because they cannot be filled with enough goods headed back to East Asia to make the journey cost-effective.
After we finished our tour with lunch at R.H. Tugs
, we stopped by the Sailors Snug Harbor
. Originally established as a rest home for retired sailors with a bequest from Robert Richard Randall in 1833, the residence closed its doors in the 1960's. The site was then rescued by the New York City Landmarks Commission, becoming the first place in the city to earn landmark status, and in 1976, it opened to the public as a museum. We visited the Noble Maritime Collection
, which displays the work of John A. Noble, an artist who depicted the waterfront in transition, when Staten Island was ringed by wooden ships scuttled in shallow waters. His work is hauntingly beautiful, and remnants of what he saw can still be seen today
in the island's ship graveyards along the Arthur Kill. Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit is his houseboat studio – constructed from scraps of wooden ships, including a yacht owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II and a ship used to transport bodies to the city's potter's field on Hart Island
, his studio barge was towed around the harbor so he could work close to his subjects. The studio has been completely reconstructed inside the museum, though the barge portion has been removed.
If you are interested in other activities related to the harbor, the Working Harbor Committee has frequent programs, including lectures, tours and cruises. In September, they also run their annual tugboat race and competition
, in which tugs from across the country compete on speed, power and skill.
When the weather turns warmer, the John J. Harvey
, a restored fireboat from 1931, will have cruises and picnics open to the public – they are also always looking for volunteers to help with maintenance, education and running the ship.
You don't have to go down to the water with a pair of binoculars to know what is going on in the harbor. All large vessels are equipped with an Automatic Identification System, or AIS. You can track vessels in real time and get information about their dimensions, speed, heading and destination online
, and not just in New York Harbor, but anywhere in the world.PortSide New York
is a project to develop a site for waterfront events and interpretation of the city's maritime history. The project is centered around a 172-foot tanker the Mary Whalen
, which is being repurposed into a floating performance and exhibition space. The ship moves frequently, but it will soon be docked at its permanent home in Atlantic Basin in Red Hook.
And thanks to our tour guide, Bernie Ente. We hope to go to a lot more WHC events in the future.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like many of you, we at Urban Oyster had a busy holiday season that did not end with the New Year. In recognition of the incredible support we have received from Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary
parish in Williamsburg and Father Timothy Dore, we decided to do a pair of special holiday tours of the church. We held the tours on December 20 and January 10, and we had over 40 visitors, including many members of the congregation, and a few people who had traced their ancestral roots several generations back to the church and its early German parishioners.
The church has an incredibly rich history
that is intricately tied to the various immigrant communities that have called this neighborhood home over the past 150 years. Most Holy Trinity church, opened in 1885, is a spectacular building that was beautifully decorated for the Christmas season. Tour participants got to hear Father Timothy tell the story of the parish's beginning as a small, wooden church in 1841, and learn about the origins of Christmas traditions and their connections to saints depicted in the church's windows and statues. We also got to climb 70 feet up the church tower and descend into the crypt where the parish's founder is buried. After the tours, we enjoyed refreshments in the rectory basement, which has been modeled after a traditional German Rathskeller
Proceeds from this tour went to Trinity Human Service Center
, a non-sectarian, not-for-profit organization that provides educational and social services as well as food and clothing to the needy in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. We would just like to thank Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary for all of their help and support getting Urban Oyster off the ground, and we would also like to thank all the tour participants for their generous contributions to this important charity.
We did not just spend our holidays working, however; we took some time to enjoy many sights across the city, including the usual suspects
(our families were visiting from out of town). Though it's a bit late to see them this year, you can add some of these places to your list of holiday activities for next year – remember, Christmas is just eleven and a half months away!
If you think your neighborhood goes crazy with the Christmas lights, you should take a drive over to Dyker Heights
. These people do not mess around. Nearly every house has at least a modest sleigh and reindeer; the serious Christmas displays roll out twelve-foot Santa statues, rotating toy soldier carousels, and enough lights to misdirect incoming flights to JFK. One house even hired a real Santa to sit in the front lawn and accept children's gift requests. So as you take down your own Christmas lights this month, you better start thinking of ways to improve your decorations if you want to compete. One serious contender for the electrical consumption title is our neighborhood parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Windsor Terrace, which still has up its impressive display of lighted trees and angels.
Though it's available year round, one of our special Christmas treats this year was a trip to Di Fara Pizza
in Midwood, Brooklyn. I'm a native of New Haven, Connecticut and a life-long adherent of Frank Pepe's
, but I will say this, publicly, on the Internet: Di Fara's is the best pizza I have ever tasted. Each pie is handmade by the owner, Dominic DeMarco, so get there as soon as they open or you will have to wait a while (okay, there's one caveat – Pepe's clam pizza is still my favorite pizza of all time, and Di Fara's does not make a clam pizza, but if they did, I'm sure it would be spectacular).
According to the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas and the New Year come 13 days later than in the West, so we decided to celebrate these belated holidays the traditional way – by going to the Russian Baths in Gravesend
. We have been to nearly every bath house in the city, and this is our favorite one so far (despite what that review might say) – the banya is hot, the food is excellent, and the place is decorated with Russian hockey memorabilia. I can't think of a better combination than a schvitz, some pickled herring and a hockey game. This was our Urban Oyster end-of-year celebration to mark the end of one successful year and the beginning of new challenges in the next.
We hope you had a restful holiday, and join us on our upcoming tours. Our next Brewed in Brooklyn
tour will be a special Valentine's Day tour
on Saturday, February 13. Regular tours will resume in March, as will the Brooklyn Navy Yard Tour
, dates for which will be posted soon. We will also be launching new tours throughout the spring and summer, so stay tuned for more details.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact email@example.com.