The Camden Shipyard & Maritime Museum was founded in 2008 to transform an 1893 historic church into a local maritime history museum and home for the Urban BoatWorks program, a vibrant craft program that now serves over 100 students per week. With the successful opening of the museum in 2016, we are expanding our creative reach by renovating the former church rectory to create the Waterfront South Artist Residency in partnership with Camden FireWorks.
When Sacred Heart Church's Father Doyle came to visit the late Joseph A. Balzano, Jr., President of the South Jersey Port Corporation, at his office one day he looked around at all the artifacts that Joe had collected over his 40 years at the Port and said, "You should create a museum with all of these things." Father Doyle had his eye on the nearby gem of the Church of Our Savior that had been rotting away since it was deconsecrated in the mid-1990s. He approached Helene Pierson at the Heart of Camden Community Development Corporation about the idea and they acquired the property in 2006. Under the leadership of Professor Emeritas Michael Lang and and a core group of others, the group was designated a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in 2008. The new museum Board of Trustees then went on a streak of successful fundraising from government sources for the historic renovation project including $750,000 from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Trust, $450,000 from the State's Neighborhood Revitalization Program, multiple grants from the Camden County Freeholders, and Community Development Block Grants from Mayor Dana Redd and the City of Camden.
"You should create a museum with all of these things."
Fr. Michael Doyle speaking to Joe Balzano
In 2013 Urban Promises' Urban BoatWorks program moved into the former Parish Hall for the purpose of teaching area students science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through the hands-on boatbuilding program. The renovations for the museum building were completed and the museum held its Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting on September 20, 2016. This event marked key milestones: the former Main Sanctuary became Maritime Hall,focused on Camden's maritime heritage and world renowned shipbuilding history; the Matthew Henson Arctic Explorer Room was dedicated to Henson's life of exploration; and, a Community Gallery was opened in partnership with the Urban Promise Academy, which teaches students to overcome adversity, work hard to accomplish their goals, and inspire others as Matthew Henson did over 100 years ago, and still today.
In 2017, transformation of the former church rectory into the Shipyard Worker House Exhibit and the Waterfront South Artist Residency completed our latest round of efforts in improving and sustaining the museum in its mission towards being a valued resource in the community.