In an effort to honor the Village of Greenport’s past, present, and future, the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation’s annual Maritime Festival takes place every September as a days-long celebration of local maritime heritage. This is the festival’s 30th year, serving as a reminder of the village’s history as a major whaling port from the late 1700s through mid-1800s as well as its thriving shipbuilding industry, which is still relevant today along this working waterfront. It is a unique place to call home or visit, and those behind the festival endeavor to make the museum and foundation’s largest fundraising effort of the year a success.
There is a new executive director now at the helm of the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation. Barbara Poliwoda took over the post just this past July, adjusting quickly to her role as she takes on the festival and its kick-off party, the Land and Sea Gala. Having worked with the American Heart Association (AHA) for 23 years, her experience in development and fundraising will prove essential as the museum aims to move forward, expand programming, increase membership, and more. Her new position is somewhat serendipitous as she had been hired at AHA by Ted Webb, an Orient resident that had also been on the museum’s board of directors. Poliwoda’s family history runs deep as well with her baymen husband’s family living on the North Fork for four generations. She, too, grew up loving the water.
Poliwoda looks forward now to advancing the museum and foundation’s mission. “I feel useful and helpful,” she explains. “I’m hoping to batten down the hatches and make us a well-oiled machine to move forward in the right direction. I know how important this place is to a lot of people.”
The museum’s location is ideal for adding another level to the festival as it sits in the heart of Greenport’s transportation hub. As the streets close for festivities, many will travel by train, bus, or ferry, all of which stop directly at the museum. Inside, a number of artifacts in its various curated exhibits, paying homage to baymen, oyster growing, the Hurricane of 1938 and Tropical Storm Sandy, photographs of fishermen, and more. There is a 750-gallon saltwater aquarium, two Fresnel lenses from lighthouses, and children’s area as well.
“One of the things that warmed my heart the most was when a family with five kids came in,” Poliwoda shares. “They loved seeing the aquarium. We don’t charge a fee, just ask for a donation. I love that because anyone can come in and enjoy it. The kids and the mom loved it so much and were thankful.”
At this year’s festival, Claudio’s is sponsoring a large children’s area with various activities to enjoy. Kids can also participate in the Merry Merfolk Parade and costume contest, organized by Sirens’ Song Gallery owner and artist Caroline Waloski and Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program. One of the goals is to is to raise awareness of the shellfish and habitat restoration work of CCE Marine Program’s Back to the Bays Initiative. Whether participating or enjoying the parade from the sidelines, all are encouraged to dress up during the entirety of the festival.
“We are really hoping people will dress up this year,” shares Linda Kessler, East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation board member and treasurer and co-chair of the Maritime Festival. “Whether you are a pirate, sailor, or mermaid, get your nautical dress on! It adds to the flavor of the festival.”
This year, Kessler hopes to add a little excitement to the festivities by collaborating with others in the village to offer additional music. She would like to see more nautical-related participants including writers and artists to really build up the nautical aspect of the Maritime Festival. There will be more people hosting lectures, both in and out of the museum, as well as more activity in Mitchell Park. Kessler is particularly excited to see the revival of a locally loved event.
“We are bringing back the chowder contest during the festival because it is something the community is looking for,” Kessler explains of the event that will have two categories: clam chowder and other chowders. “We had it as a separate event years ago, which was well attended. We are very happy to have that back.”
The inspiration behind the museum and foundation’s beginning is one of the North Fork’s most notable attractions. Long Beach Bar “Bug” Lighthouse, located in the waters of Orient, had first been built in 1870 on screw piles with enough space under the building itself and surrounded by rocks. When those rocks were covered at high tide, the lighthouse resembled a giant water bug, hence its nickname. A quarter century after arsonists tragically destroyed the lighthouse in 1963, the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation was established to reconstruct the beloved lighthouse. The restoration project only took 60 days to complete thanks to an outpouring of support from the local community.
During the festival, guests can board the Peconic Star Express for a two-hour narrated cruise and tour inside Bug Lighthouse. The narrator, Bob Allen, is the great-grandson of William H. Follett, who served as lighthouse keeper from 1912 until 1940. He had been stationed at Montauk Point, Cedar Island and the Long Beach Bar “Bug” Light stations.
Each year, the Maritime Festival honors individuals that have been a positive, significant impact on the East End community. This year, Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. owners Rich Vandenburgh and John Liegey will serve as the festival’s Grand Marshals. The brewery itself is celebrating 10 years of business this year.
The Land and Sea Gala kicks off the Maritime Festival on Friday, September 20. The festival itself takes place on Saturday, September 21 and Sunday, September 22. Locals and visitors alike are invited to take part in celebrating local maritime history and learn more about the museum and foundation’s efforts to keep this history alive in the present day.