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A Look Into our Waterfront’s Maritime Past

Featuring photography from the 1870s-1960s

Hudson River Park’s piers were once part of one of the busiest working waterfronts in the world. In this gallery, you’ll find photos of our waterfront’s past life at the heart of New York City’s maritime economy — and often, at the center of world events as well.


In the 19th century, the Hudson River waterfront became one of the world’s busiest working waterfronts due in part to the opening of the Erie Canal and the advent of the steamship. Oyster barges proliferated along the shoreline and oyster carts were as plentiful as current day hot dog stands. In the photos below, you can take a closer look at the of the waterfront of this era, bustling with horse-drawn carriages on land and steamboats in the Hudson River.


Some of the world’s most celebrated ships came and went from piers in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, transporting soldiers, celebrities, immigrants and more to and from Europe. In the selections below, you can see some of these historic vessels, including the Carpathia, returned to Pier 54 with the survivors of theTitanic in 1912, and a photo of the British steamship the Lusitania as it departed for its final voyage, before it was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915. You can also see photos of troops returning from Europe at the end of World War I.



The Hudson River waterfront continued to welcome some of the largest and most famous ships in the world, including the French ocean liner Normandie, which caught fire at Pier 88 in 1942. In the photo selections below, you can also see the Normandie alongside the other largest ships of its day, the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, both of which became troop ships during World War II.



Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the piers along Manhattan’s West Side continued to welcome great ocean liners, especially along “Luxury Liner row” located along the northern section of the current Park.  By the 1950s, Circle Line was also inviting New Yorkers and tourists to experience site-seeing cruises of New York Harbor and on its way to becoming one of New York City’s most famous attractions.  In 1963, Pier 40 opened, making history as the largest and most modern passenger and freight terminal in the Port of New York.


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