Geneva Attracts Boating Museum

No one can say with certainty just when boats first plied the pristine waters of the Finger Lakes. Whether used for fun, for commerce or as a primary means of transportation, boats have shaped life in the Finger Lakes – even more so in past generations – and the boating tradition continues strong today.

Because of these longstanding, rich traditions, a group of eight local boating enthusiasts put their heads together in 1996 to find a way to preserve this important segment of the history and culture of the Finger Lakes. A vision for the Finger Lakes Boating Museum first took shape then.

They have accomplished a lot since 1996, including:

• Assembling a collection of more than 90 wooden pleasure boats manufactured in the Finger Lakes;
• Obtaining a charter in 1997 by the New York State Department of Education;
• Being granted 501 (c) (3) status by the Internal Revenue Service in 2000;
• Building a loyal member base of about 300 people;
• Hosting workshops to share boatbuilding skills, holding shows so people can see the boats and producing articles about the history of boating;

However, one important piece of the puzzle – a permanent home for the museum – was always missing.

Enter the Geneva Growth organization. As part of its efforts to promote growth and progress in Geneva, the organization brought the City of Geneva and the boating museum trustees together, and the result after several months of talks is a signed agreement to locate the museum on the city’s lakefront property at the north end of Seneca Lake where the Geneva Chamber of Commerce now stands. The museum will share a new building with the Chamber Visitors Center.

Appropriately, the boating museum will find its permanent home in the heart of the Finger Lakes. New York State Senator Michael Nozzolio helped the city of Geneva secure $3.5 million in state economic development grants for site infrastructure and construction. Museum trustees are currently organizing to raise additional funding to meet the remaining building costs not covered by the grants, as well as other monies required to position the new museum for opening in 2012. Contributors to the Finger Lakes Boating Museum Capital Campaign will help to bring alive the history of boating in the Finger Lakes, and to solidify the region’s position as one of the great family and heritage tourism destinations in the country.

This new tourism engine will be a key factor in the development of the Seneca Lake waterfront, and in its early years of operation, it is expected to contribute more than $2.5 million annually to the overall economy of the Finger Lakes. “We intend to create a world-class facility highlighting the boating heritage of the Finger Lakes region,” said Bill Oben, a Keuka Lake resident who serves as the president of the museum’s board of trustees. The museum will combine elements of culture, education and entertainment in a tourism and learning destination that will attract an estimated 30,000 regional residents and visitors annually. The museum will be the region’s foremost center dedicated to building and using commercial and recreational watercraft in the Finger Lakes.

The museum’s coming-out party, so to speak, will take place on July 24 and 25 this year when the organization hosts its 13th annual show – for the first time to be held in Geneva. The 2010 show, “Sailing in the Finger Lakes,” will showcase boats from the museum’s collection and numerous privately owned craft at the Geneva lakefront for two days starting at 9 a.m. Part of Geneva’s annual Cruisin’ Weekend activities, it is free and open to the public. Ed Wightman of Hammondsport, a member of the boating museum board, is the chairperson of the show. He can be reached by telephone at 607-868-3025 (home), 607-794-3595 (cell) or by e-mail at edwightman@empacc.net.

With boating still such an important part of life in the Finger Lakes, people are probably asking, “How can I help? How can I get involved?” The museum’s website, www.flbm.org, is a good resource for those seeking to familiarize themselves with the history, purpose and collection of the museum. Individuals can also find details for applying for museum membership or making a tax-deductible contribution by going online.

With the agreement on a home in Geneva, the museum’s board of trustees has created new committees and expanded to 17 members. The current lineup of committees includes Collections, Communications, Resource Development, Education, Finance, Membership, Nominating, Site Development and Storefront Display. Anyone can serve. Interested parties should e-mail flbm@rochester.rr.com.

The museum board of trustees is encouraging all Finger Lakes residents and boating buffs everywhere to get involved – “Come on in … the water’s fine!”


by Phil Beckley