The Hudson River Maritime Museum was founded in 1980 by steamboat and tugboat men, as well as local citizens who wanted to preserve the shipping history of the Hudson River. Kingston’s role as the most important port between New York and Albany in the 19th century made it the logical place to establish a Hudson River maritime museum. Kingston/Rondout was the terminus of the Delaware & Hudson Canal which brought anthracite coal from eastern Pennsylvania from 1828 to 1898 to be transported on the Hudson River to New York and other ports at a time when coal was the dominant fuel in use. Kingston was also an important stop for passenger steamboats bringing vacationers to the area, many of whom traveled on to the Catskills. In addition, Rondout Creek was the home of the Cornell Steamboat Company tugboat fleet, the dominant towing company on the Hudson from 1880 to the 1930s, a time when much freight was transported by boat.
After acquiring property and a building on the Rondout Creek just off the Hudson, the founders, Board, staff, and volunteers began the process of creating a museum with collections, exhibits, and programs which has continued and expanded to this day.