In celebration of the unparalleled restoration currently underway in the South Street Seaport Museum’s flagship, the museum announces its post-Hurricane Sandy exhibition, Street of Ships: The Port and Its People.
Street of Ships: The Port and Its People showcases works of art and artifacts from the Museum’s permanent collections related to the 19th Century history of the Port of New York. The exhibition examines the decisive role played by the 19th Century Seaport at South Street – long known as the “Street of Ships” – in securing New York’s place as America’s largest city and its rise to become the world’s busiest port by the start of the 20th Century. The centerpiece of the exhibition examines the life and current restoration of the Museum’s 1885 full-rigged sailing cargo ship, Wavertree; an archetype of the impressive sailing ships that once called at South Street and made New York a hub of global trade. The exhibition lays the groundwork for Wavertree’s return to the Seaport in July 2016 after the completion of a 15-month, $13 million city-funded restoration, the largest of its type in more than a generation.
In the early 19th Century, New York was just one among many cities competing for American commerce and trade, but by 1860 the Seaport at South Street was a center of world trade, linking New York to Europe, the Far East, the Caribbean, South America, and beyond. Manhattan’s population exploded from a mere 60,000 to nearly 1 million. South Street became known as “the Street of Ships,” its waterfront lined with sailing ships laden with goods from all over the world, creating a forest of masts from the Battery to the Brooklyn Bridge. The sheer volume of these vessels conducting world trade in New York directly fueled the economic and cultural development of the city. Bursting with the energy of global commerce, entrepreneurs at the Seaport developed better ways to trade.
Even while the means of shipping evolved through the 19th Century, the humble sailing cargo ship remained the mainstay of global commerce. Wavertree, built in Southampton, England, circled the globe four times in her career carrying a wide variety of cargoes. She called on New York in 1895, as one of hundreds like her berthed in the city. In 1910, after thirty-five years of sailing, she was caught in a Cape Horn gale that tore down her masts and ended her career as a cargo vessel. She was salvaged and used as a storage barge in South America before being acquired by South Street Seaport Museum in 1968.
This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Theodore W. Scull, and Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Co. with additional support provided by Susan Kayser & Duane Morris LLP in memory of Salvatore Polisi, and Laura and Steven Kalil.