Lehigh Valley in Drydock (pen and ink)

Mark Peckham, 2002
Lehigh Valley in Drydock, 2002

During the summer of 2002, I had the opportunity of observing restoration work on the barge in the Barge Canal’s graving dock near my office in Waterford. Observing boats in drydock reveals their true form and scale. Lehigh Valley 79, built in 1914, was fully revealed as a substantial and sturdily built wooden ark with a simple and utilitarian form relieved only by sheer lines (a gentle downward curvature of her deck and rub strakes), battered deck house sides (sloping inward) and the camber (slightly arched shape) of her cabin top or roof. Worm-eaten planks were renewed in kind with great care and covered with sheathing to protect from further borings.

Much of the hull’s frame, once buried in harbor mud, remained sound, ready for the next century of service. The deckhouse still retains much of her weathered and worn framing, planking and decking and recalls a long and anonymous career of shuttling freights throughout New York harbor during the heyday of the railroad navies. Little remains of New York’s working harbor from the first half of the twentieth century. Lehigh Valley 79 is one of only two such barges still afloat in New York. With the exception of a few surviving tugboats, a handful of unaltered piers and a few warehouses, few comparable historic properties remain to tell the remarkable story of how the harbor worked.