Unsurprisingly, the Finger Lakes region of New York has a rich maritime history. Wanting to learn more about it, I took some time to visit the Finger Lakes Boating Museum.
The Finger Lakes Boating Museum is located in Hammondsport, New York, only a short distance from Keuka Lake. Since wineries are one of the largest current businesses in the region, it’s fitting that the museum is housed in a beautiful building once used by Taylor Wine Company.
Unlike the Antique Boat Museum in the Thousand Islands, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum is smaller and lacks direct access to the water. However, the boats on display here are definitely of the highest quality.
While the Antique Boat Museum was chartered in 1997, it didn’t have a permanent home until 2014. Since then, however, they have been able to display their great collection for visitors to come and see.
The museum focuses on telling about the last two centuries of maritime history in the Finger Lakes and of the more than 50 boat builders that were once located in the region.
Visits to the museum start with a 13-minute film that tells the story of several of the boat builders in the region and the history of the museum. This video does a great job of introducing the museum and its collection.
After the movie, head into the main gallery space. The museum features five large rooms full of exhibits on two floors.
The first display room tells the story of steamboating on the Finger Lakes. Before roads and cars, this was the primary way of moving throughout the region.
One of the primary exhibitions here is a grouping of 2-3 foot models of the many different steamboats that used to ply the lakes. There is also a lot of information that shows where the boats used to dock and the story of many of the boats.
The rest of the rooms in the Finger Lakes Boating Museum focus on small watercraft that were made in the region. Each room features a handful of boats that range from small canoes to luxury speedboats. However, what they all have in common is that they were made in the region and showcase excellent craftsmanship.
Each of these boats was built in the Finger Lakes region and showcases the many different ways boats were used here. On each boat, there is a bit of signage that offers information about the history of the boat, including where the boat was made and who made it.
What I loved most about the museum was simply going from boat to boat and enjoying the incredible craftsmanship and looking at the small details that made each boat unique. In many ways, this was similar to how you might enjoy an antique automobile museum.
In addition to historic boats, there were also many smaller pieces scattered throughout the museum that tell the story of boating in the Finger Lakes. My only complaint was that many of these items didn’t have any signage telling about their story or significance.
Still, the pieces that I was able to figure out were quite enjoyable to look at.
The upper level of the museum (which is actually the first floor you visit in your tour), also had two small rooms that were filled with interactive activities for children. This is a great way to entertain kids while visiting the museum and to engage them on the subject.
I know my kids would have really enjoyed these spaces if they had been visiting the museum with me.
The upper level also includes a large workshop where museum volunteers restore antique watercraft. Visitors are allowed to walk into this workshop, and, at certain times, you can even see them working on the boats.
Unfortunately, on the day I visited, there was no one working here, though there was a boat that they were clearly in the process of restoring that I could see.
If restoring antique boats is of interest to you, the museum offers classes throughout the year that can teach you the necessary skills.
Overall, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum is a great spot to visit if you want to learn more about the history of the Finger Lakes and enjoy looking at antique pieces of transportation. It would also be a great spot if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day.
While the size of the collection (at least what’s on display) isn’t overly large, it does a great job representing the history of boating in the region and telling this story.
If you are visiting the Finger Lakes, definitely consider adding this Steuben County museum to your list of spots to check out.
Finger Lakes Boating Museum
Hours: Daily: 10a-5p
Cost: Adults: $8, Children: Free
Address: 8231 Pleasant Valley Rd