South Street Seaport near the tip of Manhattan has spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. The South Street Seaport Museum and Pier 17 Pavilion are here. The museum reopened on January 12, 2012 with new exhibits and fresh image and new leadership from the Museum of the City of New York.
One third of all merchant tonnage in the world moved by sailing ships from a two-mile stretch of piers, warehouses and counting houses at South Street. It was said by New Yorkers that, “All streets lead to South Street.” The nations first dry dock, the world’s first scheduled maritime departure — the Black Ball Line — and the world’s first steamship all originated here.
You could easily spend a day, or more, visiting South Street Seaport. In addition to a Maritime Museum and many eating and shopping options it is home to many events including several festivals, concerts, multicultural celebrations and family-friendly activities.
South Street Seaport is one of the stops on the Downtown Loop of the classic double-decker hop-on, hop-off bus tours.
Visit the South Street Seaport Museum and more than 40 other New York City attractions and tours with the New York Pass.
New York was first settled and later became a great city because of its access to the sea. The port — located along South Street — was the center of much of that activity.
The vastness of the harbor, the fact that it didn’t freeze in the winter and that Manhattan was a defensible island on the Hudson river — the fastest and safest way to travel to the interior of the continent — were all factors in bringing the Dutch to New York.
By the mid 1820’s the wharves were crowded with China clippers, trans-Atlantic packets, coastal and Caribbean schooners, grain barges, fishing smacks, and Long Island Sound steamboats.
South Street Seaport Museum
The South Street Seaport Museum celebrates America’s rich maritime heritage. It has several historic ships on display that reflect the name given this area when South Street was known to the world as the “Street of Ships.” Ships can be viewed for free and boarded and explored for a fee or even chartered for an excursion.
They include the Wavertree — a full rigged ship built at Southampton England in 1885, the Peking — a four-masted barque first launched in Hamburg, Germany in 1911, the Pioneer — originally built as a sloop but re-rigged as a schooner and the Lettie G. Howard — a fishing schooner built in Essex, MA in 1893.
You can also explore the Ambrose — a floating alternative to a lighthouse that was built in 1908, the Marion M. — built in 1932 and used as a freight vessel and now the last wooden hulled chandlery lighter employed in New York Harbor, and the wooden tugboat W. O. Decker which was built in Long Island City, Queens in 1930.
Other Maritime Museums can be found in San Francisco and San Diego
In addition to the ships on exhibit the South Street Seaport Museum has galleries — filled with old maps, prints, ship models, paintings, and frequently changing exhibitions — housed in various buildings within the South Street Seaport area.
In warmer months street performers entertain the crowds on quaint, almost Bostonian, cobblestone walkways that lead to the first block in the country to be lit by electricity — Schermerhorn Row — where 19th century charm is evident in the sloping roofs and tall chimneys of buildings that house restaurants, specialty stores, a museum visitor center and a pub.
Built on landfill in 1811 by Peter Schermerhorn and modeled after counting houses in London, this row of brick buildings with slate roofs originally had warehouses on the ground floor and merchant offices on the upper floors.
Precursors of the New York office building, counting houses were an adaptation of residential row houses to commercial purposes. Schermerhorn Row was declared a New York City Landmark on October 29, 1968. The South Street Seaport Museum main building is in Schermerhorn Row. It is where you would go to begin your tour if you have a New York City Pass.
The Manhattan Terminal for ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan was located between the current Piers 17 and 18 at the South Street Seaport. In 1814 Robert Fulton’s steam-propelled ferry on the new Fulton Ferry line to New York was introduced.
The “Road to the Ferry” was renamed Fulton Street in honor of the inventor. Empire-Fulton Ferry is now part of Brooklyn Bridge Park an 85 acre waterfront park between the historic Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in Brooklyn on the other side of the East River from South Street Seaport.
Fulton Market — across the street from Schermerhorn Row — first opened in 1822. The current Fulton Market building is the fourth to both share the location and name.
Pier 17 Pavilion
In 1982 construction began on a new pier extending into the East River at the site of the fish market’s original piers. The Pier 17 Pavilion opened in 1985 and is three stories of shops, galleries and restaurants with wide wrap-around decks, or promenades, for enjoying the view of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge and New York harbor.
A project of The Rouse Company of Columbia, Maryland, the South Street Seaport Pier 17 Pavilion and Fulton Market Building house a wide variety of shopping and dining opportunities.
Nearby historic Fulton Fish Market — at this location since 1835 — moved 12 miles north to Hunts Point in the Bronx in November of 2005. There are plans to upgrade the whole area.