From Ellis Island ferry to $1.25 million ultimate houseboat

The Yankee, a historic century-old ferry that served the Ellis Island immigration center in New York Harbor, is now being marketed as something else: a $1.25 million alternative to the city’s stratospheric housing costs.

“Luxury residential living space in Manhattan can run $2,000-$5,000 per sq. ft. This unusual opportunity is $125/sq. ft.” says the opening pitch on real estate brokers’ offering for the Yankee, owned for 14 years by Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs and now up for sale.

The 147’x29’x8’ vessel was originally the Dida, built in 1907 by Neall, Levy & Co., Philadelphia, Pa., as a steam-powered ferry for the Casco Bay and Harpswell Line based in  Portland, Maine. After serving as the patrol boat and troop carrier Machigonne in Boston Harbor during World War I, the vessel was acquired by U.S. immigration authorities, and became the Ellis Island ferry from 1921 to 1929.

A view of the Yankee's engine room. Photo courtesy Franklin Ruttan Brokers.

A view of the Yankee’s engine room. Photo courtesy Franklin Ruttan Brokers.

During the 1930s it operated as the New York tour boat Hook Mountain, before being acquired again by the Navy for World War II duty as a ferry for the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Sold by the government in 1947, it was renamed the Yankee, and the original 450-hp steam engine was replaced with a General Motors 12-567A diesel.

Laid up in 1983, it was sold in 1990 to Jim Gallagher of New York who began restoring it. In 2003, the MacKenzie-Childs couple, owners of a namesake furniture and home decorating company, purchased the Yankee and moved it to Pier 25 in Hoboken, N.J., to continue the restoration. It was added to the national Register of Historic Places in 1992.

The boat is now configured for five bedrooms and ample space for dinner parties on the old passenger deck. “The two bedrooms, kitchen, full bath and living room are all finished in high MacKenzie-Childs style,” the brokers’ listing notes.

Sleeping quarters aboard the Yankee. Photo courtesy Franklin Ruttan Brokers.

Sleeping quarters aboard the Yankee. Photo courtesy Franklin Ruttan Brokers.

Much of those fantastic contents will be going to auction on their own, although some can be sold to the next vessel buyer.

Having been out of commercial service for decades, the Yankee last year got an inspection after the owners made contact with the Coast Guard in preparation to moving the boat by tug to a new berth on Gowanus Bay in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. The vessel is approved for private dockside use.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

1 Comment

  1. Peter De Vries on

    What an amazing story Kirk! It’s really great to see that this piece of history has been conserved. In in what a charming way!
    To be honest I think the price of 1.25 mln is not that crazy at all if you look at the unique house you get, the location and the unique way of living that you will live. You’ll always have a story to tell if you have guests visiting you – that’s for sure! It actually makes me think about a houseboat holiday we had in Amsterdam, The Netherlands last year. We rented a former World War II transport vessel, with a hull that was completely made out of concrete and used after D-Day to supply the Allied troops with diesel and ammunition. Here’s a really cool website about this type of vessels: http://www.concretebarge.co.uk/02-canveybarge/3-history/01-history.htm And here is the result after a proper renovation: https://www.bookahouseboat.com/rentals/amsterdam-netherlands-spacious-family-houseboat-with-terrace-303 Quite amazing what you can do with a concrete barge!
    Actually I think the Ellis Island could make a wonderful houseboat hotel as well – I would surely stay there when visiting the city again!

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