Preserve America Community:
Newburgh, New York
Newburgh, New York (pop.25,000), is sited on a hill with breathtaking views of the Hudson River. In 1609, Hendrick Hudson sailed up the river, seeking the far ocean, and on his return he noted that the knoll where Newburgh sits "is a very pleasant place to build a town upon."
First settled by religious refugees fleeing Germany in 1709, Newburgh was the site of Gen. George Washington's Headquarters from 1782-1783 during the War of Independence. The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army worked and resided at the Hasbrouck family's farmhouse, 12 miles north of the forts at West Point. Acquired by New York State in 1850, Washington's Headquarters was opened to the public July 4, the first publicly operated historic site in the United States.
Surrounded by farms, Newburgh became a trading hub, thanks to turnpikes and its deep-water port. In the age of steamboats, Newburgh linked farmlands to New York City. Steam mills and other industries contributed to its continuing prosperity. Many renowned architects designed homes and buildings in Newburgh.
From the 1960s to 1990s, the city suffered a precipitous decline due to urban renewal, suburban flight, and the decline of the industrial economy. By 1981, the Federal Government put Newburgh on the top of its list of the most distressed urban areas in the country, and in 1996 The National Trust for Historic Preservation called Newburgh's East End Historic District, home to more than 4000 significant buildings, one of the "11 Most Endangered Historic Places" in the country.
Today, Newburgh is involved in multi-faceted preservation efforts to revitalize the quality of life in the community. One developer, using Federal low-income housing and historic rehabilitation tax credits, has restored at least 30 historic 1850s rowhouses as affordable rental units.
First-time buyers in the historic district have access to grants through the Newburgh Housing Authority. Newburgh's Preservation Association, Development Association and Community Improvement Corporation organize an annual program on "Affordable Historic Housing & Commercial Development Opportunities."
To help the city's economy grow through tourism, a "Museum Row" linking museums and historic sites has been proposed, and Newburgh participates in the Hudson Valley Heritage Area. Landscaping in the Olmstead/Vaux designed Downing Park was recently restored to its original plan, and its restored Shelter House serves as the city's visitors' center.
The Historical Society hosts events at Crawford House (1839), and the 1841 Courthouse houses Newburgh's Heritage Center. One of Newburgh's treasures is the former Dutch Reformed Church, the only surviving Greek Revival church by renowned architect A.J. Davis. The monumental structure, standing like a beacon overlooking the Hudson River, was an object of civic pride for years.
Though the building remains almost as Davis designed it in 1835, neglect and decay since the congregation left in 1967 have made it a symbol of the city's decline. Citizens have organized to protect and renew the church, obtaining a "Save America's Treasures" grant in 2000 and National Historic Landmark designation in 2001. The Restoration Committee works closely with the city, which owns the church and contributes matching funds. Planning for productive reuse is now underway.
For more information
Newburgh Preservation Association: www.preservenewburgh.org
Dutch Reformed Church Restoration Committee: www.newburghdrc.org
Historic Newburgh: www.newburgh-ny.com/HistoricNB
Posted April 30, 2009