Yankee Ferry – Brooklyn, New York - Atlas Obscura

Yankee Ferry

A world of whimsy and wonder aboard a one of a kind historic landmark vessel. 


A master at the art of adaptation, Yankee Ferry has carried millions of passengers over the course of her long and illustrious maritime career.

Built as Machigonne in 1907, Yankee Ferry served as a luxury passenger ferryboat for the Northeast’s wealthy and elite at the beginning of the 20th century, transporting vacationers from Portland, Maine to the Calendar Islands and later from Boston to Pine Island.  Originally decked out in the finest crystal and mahogany, Machigonne was completely stripped of all her ornamentation with the onslaught of World War I, when the ferry was commissioned by the U.S. Navy  and armed with cannons for use as an offshore patrol boat.

With the end of the war, Machigonne was relocated to New York Harbor where she began her years of service as an Ellis Island ferryboat, carrying waves of newly arrived immigrants to lower Manhattan and offering many of her passengers their very first views of the Statue of Liberty and the city they were to call home. Later, Machigonne was one of the first ships to carry passengers to and from Liberty Island when it became open to the public. 

A series of name and location changes followed: Machigonne became Hook Mountain for her stint as a New York City tour boat, Block Island for her Rhode Island route and League Island when she was recommissioned for naval use in World War II. Finally dubbed Yankee Ferry in 1947, the persevering ferryboat spent the next 45 years serving Rhode Island vacationers before being retired and docked in Providence in 1983. Unfortunately, the historic vessel was left to fall victim to vandalism and neglect and it was several more years before Yankee Ferry was rescued by a private owner and the long project to restore the boat to her former glory could begin.

Today, Yankee Ferry resides in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Bay Terminal, where artists Victoria and Richard Mackenzie-Childs have transformed the historic ferryboat into their unusual dwelling.  Filled with hand-crafted artistry and fairytale whimsy, their floating home reflects both Yankee’s illustrious history and the couple’s unique aesthetic. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, the boat boasts an impressive list of claims to fame: in addition to having been the longest operating commercial passenger vessel in the U.S., Yankee is the last remaining Ellis Island ferryboat and one of the few remaining vessels to have served in both World War I and II.

With over a century providing service and proving her versatility, Yankee continues to be reinvented and reborn. Following a recent and brief incarnation as a much sought after boatel, Yankee Ferry is reemerging as an open creative forum, welcoming businesses, governments, artists and innovators and providing an inspirational work space that aims to challenge outmoded ways of thinking. Whatever the future may hold in store, Yankee is certain to float through with ease and grace, adapting yet again as the next chapter is added to her already colorful maritime legacy. 

Update as of August 2022: The Yankee Ferry is now berthed at May Ship Repair, 3075 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island.

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