Newburgh is a prime example of what's happened along the East Coast," says David McTamaney, retired high school English teacher and lifelong Newburgh resident. "So many industrial towns such as ours have seen their height, they came down, and now they're trying to adjust to the 21st century."
Located just over an hour north of New York City on the western shore of the Hudson River, Newburgh is a diverse, historic community which was once considered the jewel of the Hudson Valley. But Newburgh has seen hard times over the past few decades, being hit especially hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs after World War II. Fortunately, it has recently shown signs of life: new businesses opening in long-abandoned storefronts, renewed interest in the many historic sites in the city and town, and an emerging and vibrant artistic scene as artists flee New York City for the natural beauty and readily available studio space of the Hudson Valley.
Washington Stayed Here
George Washington had as many as 165 headquarters during the Revolutionary War. In none of them did he live longer than in Newburgh, where he stayed from April 1782 until August 1783. Today, Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site welcomes over 20,000 visitors each year. It was here that Washington wrote the orders of cessation of hostilities, ending the war. He also rejected the offer of a monarchy over the newly formed United States of America while in Newburgh, wrote the Circular Letters (which became the basis for the Constitution), and created the forerunner to the Purple Heart, the Badge of Military Merit.
The new exhibit, "Unpacked and Rediscovered: Selections From Washington's Headquarters' Collection," opens December 1 and features over 1,300 artifacts from the museum's collection dating back to the Revolutionary War.
200 Years of Architecture
Newburgh boasts the largest contiguous historic district in New York State, and to drive down some of the streets is to travel back in time. Well aware of this treasure, Newburgh takes pains to ensure the district remains intact. "The city's architectural review commission is diligent about ensuring that renovations and new construction within the historic district are in compliance within a set of guidelines," says Newburgh City Manager Richard Herbek.
Ironically, the crowning achievement of Newburgh architecture is not a building, but a park. In the center of the city sits Downing Park, a 35-acre open space of hills, valleys, serpentine paths, water features, monuments, an amphitheater, and a two-and-a-half acre pond. If Downing Park reminds visitors of New York City's Central Park, that's perfectly understandable, as the two parks were designed by the same people. Partners Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the park, which opened in 1897, and is named after Andrew Jackson Downing, their mentor and the father of American Landscape Architecture. "This is considered the heart of the city," says Chris Tripoli, Executive Director of the Downing Park Planning Committee, and today it receives around 300,000 visitors annually, is home to Newburgh's Summer Farmer's Market, and is used for numerous concerts and community events.
Front Street River Walk
The opening of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge over the Hudson in 1963 connected the two sides of the river but took a tremendous toll on Newburgh, already reeling from the decline of its manufacturing sector. Suddenly traffic that once drove through Newburgh now drove around it instead. For a time, it seemed as though the city was destined for the footnotes of history, its industry gone, its infrastructure hopelessly outdated. "Many of the buildings that we have in Newburgh that once held factories would no longer be suitable [for manufacturing]," says McTamaney. "OSHA would close them down in a day if they tried to do the same thing [they once did]."
But a funny thing happened on the way to the scrap heap—Newburgh bounced back. One of the most stunning examples of this renewal is the Front Street River Walk, Newburgh's Restaurant Row on the River. Close to a dozen restaurants sit along the water's edge, offering a stunning vista in a wide variety of cuisine. Swing by for fish at Captain Jake's or Cena 2000, indulge in Havana 59's Cuban-American fare, or get some of the best BBQ on the Hudson at Billy Joe's Ribworks. A couple of blocks away is the Newburgh Brewing Company, which opened its exquisitely renovated 6,000-square-foot tap room is always a great place to end an evening.
Art's Many Shapes and Sizes
In the last few years, Newburgh has become a haven for artists, lured by the abundant and affordable studio space. Once surrounded by Newburgh's natural beauty, they choose to stay, adding to Newburgh's growing arts community. "You start seeing folks looking at some of these big old warehouse buildings and saying what can I do there?" says McTamaney. "There are several artists that are moving here from Brooklyn and New York City." In October 2012, a number of Newburgh artists organized the Newburgh Open Studios Tour. 32 artists opened their doors to the public for the weekend in an event that brought in hundreds of people.
"Arts have always been extremely important to the City," says Herbek, pointing to the Ritz Theater on Broadway, which served as an entertainment destination in Newburgh's heyday, featuring performances by legends such as Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, and Frank Sinatra. The tradition continues with the newly-renovated Railroad Playhouse on South Water Street, the Newburgh Actors Studio on Broadway, and the Downing Film Center on the Front Street River Walk.
For those looking for something with more horsepower, the Motorcyclepedia Museum on Lake Street opened in the Spring of 2011. Director Ted Doring has spent the past 40 years collecting remnants of 120 years of motorcycles which are spread out over 85,000 square feet of museum space. Doring, a longtime Newburgh resident, says that Newburgh is and always has been a motorcycle town. "There was always a Harley dealer in Newburgh," he says. "Motorcycles are pretty blue collar. If a young guy had a good factory job, he'd buy a motorcycle."
The Future Is Bright
"I think there's a lot of momentum [in Newburgh]," says Cathy Collins, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh. "People really do want it to succeed." You can see that momentum all over the city: in artistic murals going up along Broadway, in the vibrant business along Front Street River Walk, in the new businesses opening up. What started out as isolated pockets of renewal has grown into a larger web of a community in rebirth. "It seems that there's an increased amount of interest in coming to Newburgh," says Herbek. "There is a, I think I would use the word renaissance, taking place here."
For inspiration, Herbek points to another river town just down the shore that fell on hard times. "It took Peekskill a couple of decades to get to where they are today," he says. "And it's going to take a while here. But I see a lot of promise. I think we're in a real transformative state right at the moment. I see a lot of positive things happening here.
Bishop Dunn Memorial School
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