Mystic Seaport Museum set for major expansion

The Boston Globe - June 28, 2024

By Malcom Gay, Globe Staff

Interior concept for Mystic Seaport Museum’s new exhibition space, which is being re-dubbed the Wells Boat Hall, by CambridgeSeven. MYSTIC SEAPORT MUSEUM

The Mystic Seaport Museum is set to expand in a big way, converting an old velvet mill to exhibit the Connecticut museum’s sprawling collection of small boats.

The $15 million renovation, expected to be completed by fall 2025, will convert a 35,000-square-foot portion of the Rossie Mill into gallery space, replete with an ADA-compliant visitor entrance, a columned canopy, and new roof. The new exhibition space is being re-dubbed the Wells Boat Hall. It will present the museum’s American Watercraft Collection, a trove of some 100 boats rarely seen over the past 40 years.

“We are delighted to bring the American Watercraft Collection out of storage and into the public eye for our visitors and supporters,” Peter Armstrong, the museum’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “This renovation not only increases the size of our accessible campus but also allows us to unravel the stories that lie within these amazing vessels.”

The planned exhibition will span 182 years, including everything from an Indigenous dugout canoe to a modern Mini Transat racer, a solo yacht used to race across the Atlantic Ocean. Other highlights include a fishing boat used by Cuban refugees bound for Florida in the 1990s, the first boat pedaled across the Atlantic, and the museum’s first acquisition, a 1931 sandbagger christened Annie.

The museum has appointed Pieter Nicholson Roos as curator of the Wells Boat Hall exhibition.

“With the launch of the Wells Boat Hall, we will allow visitors to embark on a journey through time, finding their own connections to the array of stories on view and ensuring that these historic boats are preserved and remain in our contemporary consciousness, ”Roos said in a statement.
Home to more than 500 historic boats, the Mystic Seaport Museum’s campus spans 19acres along the Mystic River. The campus includes exhibition halls, a working shipyard, and a recreated New England coastal village.

The new exhibition hall will take up about a quarter of the 143,000-square-foot Rossie Mill, about a quarter of which the museum previously renovated for its Collections Resource Center.

Museum leaders said the renovated mill will enable them “to care for and exhibit the watercraft and related artifacts in an environment that showcases their importance and maintains their legacy while maintaining this historic building.”

Named after longtime supporters Stan and Nancy Wells, the new hall will double as a community space, enabling the museum to host lectures, presentations, and other educational programs.

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