What does it take for a professional juggler to put down his clowning tools and pick up power tools?
In the case of David Sharps, it took a defunct mud-logged railway barge. It was love at first sight. Several years and many tons of mud removal later, the Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge Number 79 was floating its way into the hearts of New Yorkers as the Waterfront Museum and Showboat. Where most museums contain artifacts, this museum is an artifact.
Railroad barges were prevalent when seaports connected to railway systems. Tug boats would ferry the barges between ships anchored in the harbor to railways waiting on land to transport cargo. David’s Lehigh Valley Barge is nearly 100 years old. By the mid-20th century, more efficient containerization shipping methods made the railway barges obsolete. Cargo no longer needed to be moved from boat to barge to rail. It all stayed in the standard size steel containers that were lifted from one mode of transport to another. Where thousands of railway barges floated in New York waterways last century, only this one remains.
Visit the Waterfront Museum for performances and tours at its Red Hook dock. You may stumble upon a groups of school children hanging on David’s animated telling of New York’s waterfront history, or an old time string band plucking away on the gently rocking stage, or an anarchist film screening about nautical adventure and melting ice caps.