Via The New Haven Register, written by Mary E. O'Leary.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Fair Haven’s Old Barge, possibly the one remaining connection to America’s mid-19th century booming oyster industry in New York, is going home.
The vessel, which began life as a working oyster barge on the East River in Brooklyn when the industry was selling 6 million of the mollusks a week, has been on the shore of the Quinnipiac River at 289 Front St. since around 1921.
Alex Pincus and his brother, Miles, of the Maritime Foundation, are having the barge disassembled over the next few weeks and trucked to the Atlantic Basin, a marina in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, where they hope it eventually will be restored and begin a new era.
There are no decisions on what that new chapter might be, but the brothers already have restored a 1942 Grand Banks all-wooden schooner, the Sherman Zwicker, at the Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 where they opened an outdoor oyster bar on the deck.
This is a source of revenue to make the schooner, which traveled the Eastern Seaboard fishing cod, a self-sustaining example of maritine history for a new generation to experience.
Alex Pincus, an architect with a love of boats, said the moving costs to Brooklyn are in the area of $25,000, while full restoration is around $500,000, necessitating a lot of private fundraising.
Miles Pincus, the younger brother, who has a masters in maritime science, is president of the nonprofit Maritime Foundation, while Alex is the vice president.
“We have been doing boating stuff from New York for the last ten years,” Alex Pincus said. He said Miles rebuilt the biggest passenger sailboat in U.S. The Clipper City is at the South Street Seaport in New York.
The old barge, possibly 76 years old by the time it arrived in New Haven, evolved into a full-service speakeasy during Prohibition, with accommodations for a brothel upstairs.
Starting in the early 1970s, New Haveners mainly remember it as the Old Barge Cafe, a storied watering hole run by John Tsilfoglou, who bought the Fair Haven Marina where the barge had landed some 50 years before on Front Street.
He closed that out in 1987 with no patrons at the bar for almost 30 years.
Preserving the Old Barge and finding the best home for it has always been the goal of its latest owner, Lisa Fitch, who took on that responsibility in 2007 after buying the property and renaming it the Quinnipiac River Marina.
“I think the destination is a positive one. It gives it justice, historical justice,” Fitch said of the Pincus brothers’ plan.
She said she managed to ignore the advice of family and friends for the past eight years to junk it, hoping a solution on how to preserve it would come along.
It’s a love match, with Fitch giving the barge to the care of the brothers at no cost.
There were many lovers of all things marine Monday to welcome the Pincus brothers and take another tour of the Old Barge.
Robert Greenberg, a New Haven history buff, has already rescued many examples of 1920s bottles that were found in the hull, as well as pieces of pottery and rusted components of a Model T car that he said was on the site.
Greenberg has a favorite place he wants to see the Old Barge call home: the Brooklyn Bridge Park. “I think that would be a fabulous location,” he said.
The Maritime Foundation, though a spokesman, agreed that that would be one of their first choices, but they don’t want to rule out any options at this point.
Greenberg said the Old Barge was built anywhere between the 1840s and ‘50s. By the early 20th century, the oyster industry was defunct, when some blamed it for a cholera outbreak. It went from 6 million eaten a week, to zero.
“It was the hot dog of its day,” said preservationist Ken Karl of the popular 18th century food.
John Kochiss, a retired Mystic Seaport researcher, was the first to realize the significance of the barge almost four decades ago. He tried to get the seaport to take it on as a project, but his brother, Joseph Kochiss, said it didn’t have the money.
Oyster barges, which are two-stories tall, have hulls that slant inward.
Joseph Kochiss, called it a “tumble” design, which makes it look like a miniature Noah’s ark.
On the East River, the barges were nestled tightly next to each other. The bowed sides kept them from being damaged when the water got rough.
The barges operated by receiving the oysters at one end of the lower level, where there also was a shucking room. A gangplank at the other end allowed customers to come in and purchase the oysters.
The product could be stored in the lowest part of the barge, where they would stay cool in the summer and not freeze in the winter.
Houses along Front Street in New Haven and some cross-streets had cellars that opened to the street, where workers would shuck the mollusks.
Originally, three of the barges were brought to the Quinnipiac River in the 1920s, but the other two were scuttled and their remains can be seen in the river.
The Quinnipiac River Marina will soon be for sale; Fitch expects it will be on the market next month with a $2.95 million asking price.
In the meantime, Fitch said once the barge is moved and the area is cleaned up, by June she hopes to lease an area to a rowing club that will later be part of the city’s boathouse project at Long Wharf.
That project won’t be finished until 2017, so Fitch offered her services to fill the gap.
The Long Wharf boathouse is being underwritten by the state as mitigation for demolishing the Yale Boathouse that was lost as part of the expansion of the Pearl Harbor Bridge.