The Waterford Tugboat Roundup began in 1999 as a way to preserve and promote the maritime industrial heritage of the New York State Canal System and other adjoining inland waterways. The tugboat history of the region, and particularly Waterford, is especially rich. For most of the 20th century, tugboats lined the shores here, whether waiting to lock up through the magnificent “Flight” or competing for some day work with a local company.
The ubiquitous sight of these smoke-belching work horses festooned with manila and wood fendering, decks bunkered with coal against a back drop of elaborate detail work that tended to belie the strict functionality of these old girls, has been replaced by that of sailboats, cruisers, and catamarans lining the docks.
For one weekend each year, however, Waterford’s historic waterfront is transformed back into a rendering of its commercial heyday during which names like Godfrey, Coyne, Bushey, Matton, Kehoe, and Cowles figured so prominently. Tugs new and old moor stem to stern for adulation and education, enchanting the young and reminding the young at heart of days gone by.
The event is sponsored annually by the Town of Waterford and the Waterford Maritime Historical Society, in addition to many generous corporate sponsors. Usually held the weekend after Labor Day, the festival has grown steadily and attracts approximately 25,000 people to this sleepy canal town in the heart of upstate New York’s Capital Region. In addition to tours of the vessels and other displays, there is an ample supply of music, food, children’s activities, vendors, boat rides, fireworks, and family fun.