It always seems so easy to beat up on Newburgh NY. At times I think it has become part of our Hudson Valley culture, but there is more to this river city than meets the eye these days. There is a rolling gust of energy being generated by civic minded and creative people who aim to breath new life into this city. And while this is certainly a challenging effort at resuscitation, it is in the minds of many an achievable one.
Often we need to understand or feel the past to envision the future. It’s not a matter of dwelling in it, it’s a matter of understanding it so that it may guide future efforts. Here’s a quick spread on the city’s history- The spot that Newburgh NY rests on drew some attention from Henry Hudson on his sail up the Hudson River. His navigator seemed to think it would be a great place to build a city. In 1709 folks from the Rhenish Palatinate settled there. Later on in the same century, George Washington and the Continental Army headquartered there. The Civil War period saw Newburgh men marching off to war as part of the legendary 124th Orange Blossoms Volunteers. During the Industrial Revolution the increase in commerce and manufacturing popped Newburgh NY onto the number two spot of most prosperous cities on the river. During its existence, Newburgh NY bagged thousands of sites of historical significance in its East End alone with a list of noted architects that includes the likes of A.J. Davis, A.J. Downing, and Calvert Vaux. Things were looking good!
And then- the death of river traffic, loss of industry, new highways that by-passed the City of Newburgh, mismanagement by local government, an international welfare scandal, businesses and consumers heading to town malls, stepping on several landmines disguised as urban renewal, and regularly scheduled political scandals all came together to bring down the once prosperous city. In 1952 the National Municipal League and Look Magazine chose Newburgh to receive the All American City Award. Three decades later in 1981 Uncle Sam placed Newburgh at the top of his most distressed urban areas in the country list. In 1996 Newburgh’s Historic East End District was placed on the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.
There you have it. A riches to rags story indeed. This presents us with a very demanding social and ethical issue. We owe! We, as citizens of the Hudson Valley, owe much to the City of Newburgh. What would our Hudson Valley be like if Newburgh never existed? What a gaping wound that would have opened in our history, our culture, and our economic development. What will our valley be like if Newburgh can’t recover? The revitalization of this area treasure should be of concern to all of us. It is part of our total Hudson Valley weave. If one strand breaks or fails it all unravels.
Take a look at the Newburgh images below. Feel the past and envision the future. Imagine what the city and life within was like and then try to envision what it might come to be again.