Pete Seeger raises the roof at Clearwater Sloop barn raising
Folk music legend Pete Seeger had the hammers Saturday to finally build a permanent dock in Kingston for his majestic -- but homeless -- sloop that has sailed the Hudson River for decades, touching countless children with a message to save New York's most famous waterway.
An all-day, old-fashioned barn raising brought more than 1,000 visitors to the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, where Seeger's beloved Sloop Clearwater was open to the crowds at the museum's dock.
The excitement began at 6 a.m., when the Timber Framers Guild arrived to ply their centuries-old craft in erecting a nail-free oak frame that will become a $1.2 million warehouse-style Home Port and Education Center dedicated to teaching young people about boatbuilding and caring for New York's most famous waterway.
"It's going to be wonderful. The children will build the boats and boats will build the children," said Seeger, 93, resplendent in a neon orange knit cap, denim shirt and dungarees.
During an afternoon ceremony, Seeger delighted spectators and building crews alike by strapping on his banjo and leading a few rousing rounds of his signature tune, "If I Had A Hammer."
Over the course of the day, the builders, assisted by volunteers, built a frame of interlocking wood planks and wood pegs. While no nails were used, "just a few metal fasteners" were added, said timber builder Bob Barlow of Wassaic. Ten doors were also completed by early evening, and painted in Benjamin Moore's "Essex Green."
Around 5 p.m., high wire performer Phillipe Petit, who walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls over the summer, climbed the framing to drape an American flag.
On Monday, the walls and metal-seamed roof will go up, with a Nov. 1 completion date for the two-story, 4,000-square-foot educational center. Wood for the project was salvaged from 100 white oak trees that toppled into the Hudson during the 2011 Halloween snowstorm, said Allan Shope, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater board member and the architect who designed the new building.
While the museum and Clearwater have worked together on events and activities for the past 30 years, the port was a brainstorm that came together 18 months ago, said museum executive director Patrick McDonough.
"We have a dock, you have a boat and you're looking for a home."
Half the project's cost was covered by state grants and the other half, through private donations, he said.
"It makes for a great catalyst -- mix one part classic Clearwater with a new generation of environmental leaders and you have the makings to revitalize a postindustrial Kingston waterfront," said Clearwater executive director Jeff Rumpf.
In 1966, Seeger and his friends started the Clearwater organization to raise money to build a boat to save the then notoriously polluted Hudson. His dream was a replica of the cargo vessels known as sloops that filled the river during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Seeger told Newsday that he was mesmerized by the idea of these boats after reading a book about them which described them "as the most beautiful boats we ever knew and they'll never be seen again. Well, I couldn't get the book out of my mind."
In talking to one of his friends, Seeger told his buddy, "Nobody we know has enough money to build one of these boats but if we got enough people together, maybe we could have enough money and could build a life-size replica, not a half-size replica, but a life-size Hudson River sloop."
The sloop, completed in 1969, has been sailing up and down the river ever since, hosting educational and environmental programs for students from grade school through college. For the past few years, it has wintered in Saugerties but has never had a permanent home port.
Kingston residents found the timber framing a must-attend event.
"It's something we've never seen before," said Annmarie Fitzgerald who brought her two sons. "It was a great learning experience."
Both Fitzgerald boys agreed. "I like boats," said Kevin, 9.
"I like the barn raising and the boat is pretty cool," said Brian, 11.