Peter Stanford, South Street Seaport Museum Founder, Dies at 89

peterstanfordPeter Stanford, an icon of maritime historical preservation in the United States, died yesterday at the age of 89. In 1967, Peter and his wife Norma founded the South Street Seaport Museum on New York City’s East River waterfront. Peter Stanford was its first president. Stanford played an important role in campaigns to preserve many historic vessels including the lightship Ambrose, the brigantine Black Pearl, the barque Elissa, the schoonerErnestina (now Ernestina-Morrissey), the Liberty ship John W. Brown, the fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, the steam tug Mathilda, the four-masted barque Moshulu, the four-masted barque Peking, and the iron-hulled sailing ship Wavertree.

Peter Stanford co-founded and supervised both OpSail 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial and the Statue of Liberty Parade of Sail in 1986. He was active in several maritime organisations including the Working Harbor Committee of New York and the Lilac Preservation Project.

Peter Stanford was also a co-founder and served as the second president of the National Maritime Historical Society.  Under his leadership, the Society began publishing the distinguished quarterly magazine Sea History. Other NMHS publications have included the International Register of Historic Ships, The PekingBattles Cape Horn, and The Skipper and the Eagle, as well as Standford’s  A Dream of Tall Ships—How New Yorkers came together to save the city’s sailing-ship waterfront published in 2013.

National institutions founded by Peter Stanford under the National Maritime Historical Society’s auspices include The Council of American Maritime Museums (1972), the American Society of Marine Artists (1977), the American Ship Trust (1978), the Hudson River Maritime Museum (1979), and the National Maritime Alliance (1987).

A native of Brooklyn and a naval veteran of World War II, Peter Stanford earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard in 1949 and a Masters degree from King’s College, Cambridge, England, in 1951. He was also the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler and in 2012 was the recipient of the Don Turner Award presented by the USS Constitution Museum for his critical role in saving and preserving historic ships.

The NMHS issued the following statement:

The trustees and staff of the National Maritime Historical Society mourn the loss of Peter Stanford, President Emeritus, founder, longtime friend and generous benefactor.   We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Norma, and to all the members of the Stanford family.  We are truly thankful for his extraordinary contributions to preserve the maritime heritage of the United States.  Peter Stanford is national treasure – and will be greatly missed.
Fair winds, Peter.

From the South Street Seaport Museum:

Peter was confident that we will succeed in carrying on what he began. On many occasions he confided that he thought we – the staff, volunteers, and board of the Seaport Museum – were the right crew to carry the place forward. Not just to keep the ships afloat and the buildings intact, but to once again place South Street in the vanguard of historical, cultural, and educational organizations in the City. To use ships, streets, and collections to engage visitors, community, and students in the original port of New York.

We have much to do to be equal to Peter’s expectations. But I share the confidence that he placed in us. The legacy of the South Street Seaport Museum lies in Peter’s oft-repeated assertion that “this Museum is people.” There, we are faithfully carrying on and offering the very best tribute to Peter’s life’s work.

Fair winds, Peter. We have the watch.

Captain Jonathan Boulware and the Staff and Board of the South Street Seaport Museum

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