The city of Dendermonde where the River Dender joins the River Scheldt across which an historic ferry plies to Kastel, is an ancient trading centre, 25 km north-west of Brussels and the same distance south-west of Antwerp.
Fishermen from Dendermonde specialised in catching eels that were sold all over Flanders. Cotton manufacturing was established there in the late eighteenth century and soon afterwards its port facilities were modernised. Ship-building was an important part of the port, and nine yards were actively building vessels between 1777 and 1835, many of them in the nearby community of Baasrode. In the second half of the nineteenth century the principal centre of shipbuilding was at Baasrode, where the industry was in the hands of the Van Damme and Van Proet families. Many of the craft they built were for inland waterways or for fishing, and they continued with tradition wooden construction methods until 1895-96 when both began to build iron ships. The Van Damme company took over that of the Van Proet family in 1955. As inland waterways faced increased competition for traffic from road hauliers demand for vessels diminished. The last new ship to be built at Baasrode was launched in 1972, although repair work continued until the closure of the yard in 1986.
The headquarters of the shipbuilding museum are in the historic house of the Van Damme family, which dates from 1830 and has ceiling paintings of 1852 and Art Nouveau frescoes of 1895. The museum extends into the shipyard where visitors can see dry docks and workshops with original machinery, a river barge of 1938 and a replica of a 16 m eel-fishing boat. The archives includes numerous models and more than 3000 plans of ships. Interpretive displays provide an overview of two centuries of shipping in Flanders.