Mystic Seaport Museum Opens up the Watercraft Hall

This might not look glorious, but behind these doors are 460 historic vessels in the 31,209-square-foot Watercraft Hall at Mystic Seaport Museum. The shortest craft is 23 inches and the longest one, 41.5 feet. Thanks to a donation, the Watercraft Hall will be remodelled and open to Museum visitors. Photo: Göran R Buckhorn.

25 June 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

Exciting news from Mystic Seaport Museum: A large donation will make it possible to open the Watercraft Hall for visitors on a daily basis.

In mid-June, Mystic Seaport Museum announced three proposals to change its grounds ‘that will advance the Museum’s role as a leader in the maritime heritage field,’ the organisation wrote in a press release. One of the changes will be especially welcomed by those interested in sailing and rowing small craft.

The first project is to extend the partnership with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE) to build an underwater research and education center. GFOE has its headquarters on the Museum’s campus and proposes to create a facility to house a work area for the research and development of underwater technologies. GFOE also plans to create interactive, hands-on displays in one of the Museum’s buildings. This will show Museum visitors and school groups ‘some of the cutting-edge technologies that GFOE uses in ocean exploration.’ Later, a pool will be built to test underwater robots and other technologies. Also, these will be hands-on activities that can be enjoyed by visitors and students on occasions.

Mystic Seaport Museum plans to demolish Latitude 41° Restaurant & Tavern. On this location, the Greenwich Hospitality Group will build a 20-25 room hotel with a restaurant and event space. Photo: Göran R Buckhorn.

The second project is to develop a hotel and restaurant on the site where Latitude 41° Restaurant & Tavern is now located. By tearing down that building – a structure built in 1964 to house the Seamen’s Inne – the Greenwich Hospitality Group will build a 20-25 room hotel with a restaurant and event space, which will be close to the Mystic River. ‘The new building will continue the Museum’s role as a superior venue for weddings, corporate meetings, and group events in the Mystic area and the restaurant will provide a fine-dining destination for Museum visitors and the public,’ the Museum said in a statement.

Both of these projects will be financed by GFOE and the Greenwich Hospitality Group, respectively.

However, it is probably the third project that will interest HTBS types and all those interested in wooden boats the most.

Mystic Seaport Museum has the major part of its watercraft collection housed in the Watercraft Hall in the Museum’s Collections Research Center, which is located across the street from the north end of its campus. The Watercraft Hall, which now has 460 historic watercraft of the Museum’s more than 600 vessels, has limited accessibility to Museum visitors; the ‘Hall’ normally opens only during three days at the WoodenBoat Show, held annually at the end of June/beginning of July (this year 28 – 30 June), or for scheduled tours or by appointment. Thanks to a large donation, the Museum will be able to turn the Watercraft Hall into a permanent exhibit space open daily.

Bob Stone, Jr.

It is through the generosity of a seven-figure pledge from a trust established by the late Robert ‘Bob’ G. Stone, Jr., that the Museum will be able to turn a large part of the building that houses the Collections Research Center and the Watercraft Hall into a new storage and exhibit space for its historic vessels.

While Bob Stone was a trustee and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Museum 1989 – 1995 and was a longtime member of the New York Yacht Club, involved in the America’s Cup, those devoted to the history of rowing, might remember him as a winning Harvard oarsman in the 1940s. Long after his rowing career was over, he was involved at Harvard as a member of Harvard’s highest governing board, the President and Fellows of Harvard College, also known as the Harvard Corporation, and in Harvard rowing. He also served as a trustee of the National Rowing Foundation (NRF). Bob Stone died in April 2006 at the age of 83.

Gregg Stone, here seen at a rowing gathering at St Paul’s School.

Bob Stone’s son, Gregg, also rowed for Harvard and is the ‘Harvard voice’ on radio at the annual Boat Race between Harvard and Yale. Being the U.S. top sculler, he missed out the 1980 Olympics due to the USA’s boycott of the games. Gregg Stone’s daughter, Genevra ‘Gevvie’, has followed the family’s rowing legacy – her mother, Lisa Hansen, competed in the women’s coxed quadruple sculls at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Gevvie Stone took a silver medal in the single sculls at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. For the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria, on 25 August – 1 September, Stone is going to compete in the double sculls together with Cicely Madden. In their first international regatta in the double sculls, the World Cup II in Poznan, Poland, this past weekend, Stone and Madden took a silver medal, only a bow ball behind the winning crew from New Zealand.

At this point it is not clear when these three proposed Museum projects can begin. Mystic Seaport Museum is located within a Maritime Heritage District in the Town of Stonington and has submitted an amendment to its master plan to the Stonington’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Next to Latitude 41° Restaurant is the plot of land where the Mystic Boathouse Park is going to be built. The project of building a boathouse has been delayed after being heavily criticized by people in Stonington for its modern architecture. The state Historic Preservation Office has also thrown a monkey wrench in the works of the project, as an old building on the site may not be demolished, which was the plan of the Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee. The committee has now started to look for a new architectural firm as Anmahian Winton Architects, which made the design for the ‘first’ boathouse, decided to not provide a second design.

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