Perseverance pays off. Just ask the founders of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, who started more than a decade ago with a goal of preserving the boating heritage of the Finger Lakes Region. It was a long and crooked path with a number of starts and stops, but on June 21 the Finger Lakes Boating Museum officially opened its doors to the public.
The turning point came back in October 2013, when Mercury Aircraft made the huge donation of their 14-acre property, which consisted of the old Taylor Wine Company buildings located just south of Hammondsport. The property had been empty for a while and needed a lot of work. The labor began in earnest by an all-volunteer crew, starting with the main building of the complex. It was previously used for office space and needed to be remodeled for the museum layout. Walls had to be torn down and carpeting was removed.
Old wooden floors were exposed and had to be sanded and restored. Electrical wiring was replaced. The volunteers labored in a less-than-warm building all through the winter months, but eventually this gorgeous old stone winery was transformed into the primary showcase of the museum. For the next few years, the museum has plans to expand into the additional floor space available.
The mission of the museum is to “research, document, preserve and share the boating history of the Finger Lakes Region.” Classes began while the renovation work was still in progress; they teach the craftsmanship of boat building and restoration based on the boating history of the region.
“We want to be an active educational museum, with plenty of hands-on activities,” says Ed Wightman, president of the board of trustees. His excitement for the museum is contagious as he describes some of its plans. “We are already in the process of replicating a Penn Yan Aero Dinghy,” he shares.
The plans have been drawn through the classes, and work is ready to begin. An experienced boat builder will be on hand to teach the upcoming build project. Other classes, such as boater safety, were scheduled throughout the summer months.
Take a tour
Ed took me through an adjacent building used for storage of the large boat collection acquired mostly from donations over the years. They’re all part of the boating history of the Finger Lakes Region, from well-known builders like the Dundee Boat Company, Penn Yan Boats, Morehouse Boat Company, Thompson Brothers and Charles Bauter. It’s a mixed collection of pristine beauties and broken down hulls in desperate need of repair.
All have their place in the museum plans – some for display and others for restoration projects.
As the museum opening drew closer, beautiful old wooden boats and canoes were moved from storage onto the showroom floors. The trout boat room was filled. A hands-on room was designed for children. Another room was created for steamboat replicas, artistic creations full of the details of these great boats. A library was established for historical documentation and research materials. Opening day had the building full of museum supporters all celebrating in the excitement of this long-held dream.
There’s still plenty of work to be done in the coming years before the vision is completed. Next, the museum crew plans to add windows for observation of the boat building classes, create an educational video room and get more of those old wooden beauties currently in storage relocated onto more showrooms and restoration bays. It’s a daunting task, but for the founders of this museum, it’s a labor of love that’s only just begun.
by Cindy Ruggieri