When artists Richard and Victoria Mackenzie-Childs learned that they would have to find a new home for their 104-year-old houseboat, they never even considered New Jersey.
"I thought, 'Gosh, New Jersey?" Richard said, "But that's so far!'"
The couple moved from Pier 25 in Tribeca. "We had no idea how close Hoboken was," he said.
That was in 2006. Today, the ferry is part of Hoboken lore. It attracts curious historians, artists and even Hobokenites out for a run along the waterfront.
Uptown resident Paul Stylianou said he has always wondered about the Yankee, docked in the Shipyard Marina along the 12th Street waterfront.
"I've been watching it for a number of years, but only read bits and pieces about it in the local papers," Stylianou said. "I always wanted to check it out."
This past weekend, he had his chance. Along with his parents, Nick and Andria Stylianou, he took a guided tour of the last remaining Ellis Island ferry, now the floating home to the artists and caretaker Zach Shtogren.
"It's cool," said Stylianou. "It's just like a regular home." As he looked around, he decided he could definitely imagine living on the boat. "It's bigger than some Hoboken apartments," he noticed.
The Stylianous were amongst a constant stream of visitors that stopped by for a tour over the weekend, and the opportunity to peruse the couple's latest home furnishing designs.
Visitor Steven Vizena said he visited the boat before, but comes back whenever he can.
"They're work is always fun, always engaging," said Vizena, "I love the playful nature of her work."
But most came out of sheer curiosity.
"I have that really small boat docked over there," said Nick Gauchat, as he pointed to a small single-engine boat dwarfed by the Yankee. "I was always curious about this one."
During the tour, Gauchat heard the full history the ship from Richard Mackenzie-Childs, along with funny stories and anecdotes about life on a boat.
The Yankee took a long route to Hoboken. Built as an iron-hulled steamship in Philadelphia in 1907, it first served as a steamboat ferry in Portland, Maine, under the name Machigonne. In 1917, machine guns and canons were added to the luxury vessel as it patrolled Boston Harbor during World War I. After two years, it returned to ferry duties, transporting passengers between Provincetown and Boston.
In 1921, the ship voyaged to New York, where it became an Ellis Island ferry used to transport newly arrived immigrants to Manhattan. It has since been used an a Statue of Liberty tour boat and a ferry to Block Island.
Yankee spent seven years in a boatyard, designated to be used as scrap, before it was rescued and towed to Manhattan by Jimmy Gallagher, an antique dealer. Gallagher completely restored the boat, turning it into a fully functioning residence, though the engines have not been started since 2001.
He sold the boat to the Mackezie-Childs in 2003, for $365,000, which is less than what a typical two-bedroom Hoboken residence would cost. They kept it docked on Pier 25 in Tribeca, where Gallagher had it, until they were forced to find a new home because the pier was set to undergo reconstruction.
The family now pays $2,000 a month to dock the boat in Hoboken.
Prior to buying the Yankee, the couple had no experience living on a boat. One would never know when visiting now. The space is decorated exquisitely, mainly with the couple's own designs. They create colorful, eclectic home furnishing for every room.
They have rented the space for private events, but lately have opted instead to host open houses and community gatherings, such as poetry readings and school concerts.
"We prefer to do community-minded things, rather than commercial," said Richard Mackenzie-Childs. "Events that the community can come out and enjoy. We always have a huge response to the open houses."
This weekend was no different. With tours running twice-hourly from high noon to 9 p.m., the stream of visitors seemed endless.
The tours cost $10, with the proceeds going to the Hoboken Historical Museum.