The historic oyster sloop Priscilla will undergo a restoration.

The historic oyster sloop Priscilla will undergo a restoration. Credit: Long Island Maritime Museum

A $21,000 grant to the Long Island Maritime Museum will go toward restoration of a nautical relic forever revered as part of the Island's seafaring past.

Priscilla, a Patchogue-built, oyster-picking sloop, launched in 1888 and continued as a commercial vessel until 1963, according to the West Sayville museum's website. The museum received the 60-foot boat with sails added in 1976 and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced the grant Wednesday.

"Projects such as this would not be possible without this type of support," Terry Lister-Blitman, the museum's events and programs director, said in a statement. 

"The cost of yearly maintenance and restoration can be staggering," Lister-Blitman added, "but historic vessels such as Priscilla are so important to maintain as they provide the public the opportunity to experience history." 

The grant is part of nearly $400,000 in federal funds being spread among 18 maritime projects by the New York State Historic Preservation Office.

Two other Suffolk County projects, one involving the Connetquot River State Park Preserve, and the other Cold Spring Harbor's Whaling Museum and Education Center, are also receiving grants.

Three Nassau-based organizations — the Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center, the Long Island Children's Museum and Long Island Traditions — will all receive grants as well.

Priscilla is maintained by a group of volunteers supervised by shipwright Joshua Herman, who also oversaw the sloop's 2002 restoration, the largest such project to date at the museum, according to its website. 

Herman told Newsday Priscilla should be viewed as one of the most important pieces of a part of Long Island's storied nautical history.

"I think it's pretty much the centerpiece," Herman said. "It's about not just shell fishing, it's about a whole culture that doesn't really exist [anymore] on the South Shore but was huge back in the 1880s."

While the latest restoration effort is less complex than in 2002, "the proposed project is the next logical step in Priscilla's long-term preservation," Lister-Blitman said. 

Scheduled to begin in the fall, the project includes replacing Priscilla's existing mast and deck and is open to the public. The restoration, at an estimated cost of $180,000, is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2025 sailing season. The museum has applied for two other grants and expects to hear back by summer's end.

Capable of scooping out, or dredging, oyster beds in heavy winds, Priscilla gained a reputation as a "money maker," according to the museum's website.

After 75 years as an oyster sloop, Priscilla underwent significant hull and interior restoration to also function as a cruising sailboat before being donated to the Long Island Maritime Museum in 1976 by John Woodside, a printer from Wappingers Falls, who sailed Priscilla to the Bahamas and Maine several times.

Since being donated to the museum, Priscilla has been displayed at various ports and the museum offers guided sails to the public. 

The other grants awarded in Suffolk and Nassau all went to projects striving to improve organizations' ability to educate visitors.

The Connetquot River State Park Preserve will use its $25,000 grant to support an exhibition highlighting the contributions of 19th century Indigenous and Black whalers and the Whaling Museum will use a $39,250 grant to launch a new exhibition about mermaids, monsters and other ocean-inspired myths.

In Nassau, the Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center will use its $25,000 to develop an exhibition about the influence of Indigenous coastal practices on the Island, $20,000 will help the Long Island Children's Museum build a traditional Indigenous canoe and create an exhibit around it, and a $15,000 grant will support Long Island Traditions' maritime heritage-based workshops.

Whether visitors choose to visit Priscilla during the winter or once it is back on the water, Herman says their visit is certain to be worthwhile.

"It's unique that it's still here, and sailing on it is like stepping back in time," he said. "It's living history."

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