What the heck happened to Newburgh?

Posted on September 20, 2016 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

The Dutch Reformed Church newburgh

The Dutch Reformed Church newburgh

The derelict Greek Revival style Dutch Reformed Church was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1835


The fate of a city often resembles the life cycle of a person. A city may experience prosperity for a few decades/ centuries; but one day, it may be destroyed due to wars or natural disasters, or it may simply dwindle and become neglected and forgotten. The world has witnessed the downfalls of majestic cities like Rome, Alexandra, Athens, New York, London, Shanghai, Baghdad, Detroit and the list goes on. Whether a city could bounce back and thrive again depends on many factors; most of the time, it is not within the control of its citizens or even the local government.

I am not sure how many people who live in New York have heard of the city called Newburgh, 60 miles north of Manhattan. Well, I haven't, and neither have my friend who has lived in the New York State and Connecticut for the last 20 years.

While en route to Storm King Art center, it was by chance that we decided to stop in Newburgh for a quick bite to eat. As soon as we drove into the centre, we were perplexed by how desolated the city was, and at the time, gobsmacked by the stunning European style architecture dotted around the city.


Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is the world's largest private holding of important original manuscripts & documents, and this Newburgh branch is one of the many in the US


Initially, my friend was reluctant to park the car as she was worried for our safety. The deserted streets and derelict buildings were a sharp contrast to the sunny and sharp blue sky. What happened here? We both wondered. I then searched the internet to try and find out more information and all I could find was a insightful newspaper article from the UK – Guardian – explaining the downfall of this city and how efforts have been made to resurrect it (judging from what we saw, the regeneration has yet to happen).




ms fairfax

Top two rows: murals in the city centre; Bottom: Ms Fairfax


We did eventually have lunch at a nice cafe called Ms Fairfax, where most of its interior and decor are upcycled furniture and parts brought back from a bowling alley after it closed down (a very creative idea). After lunch, we drove around the city briefly to admire the beautiful architecture scattered around the centre.

We lost count of the churches we passed by, which indicates that the city used to be very wealthy. And with its location – next to the Hudson river – it has all the right 'ingredients' to be a prosperous city like Greenwich, a wealthy town in Connecticut (which has similar European style architecture). Yet driving around the impoverished and slightly eerie city, we both felt quite depressed and did not want to linger any longer.


Masonic Temple newburgh

The Masonic Temple's cornerstone was laid July 10, 1914


According to the article and other info I found on the internet, the city was founded in 1709 by 50 Lutheran German immigrants, sponsored by Great Britain. And in 1752, the land was surveyed by the lieutenant governor for the Province of New York,Cadwallader Colden, who named it after Newburgh in his native Scotland.

To our surprise, one of the country's most historic site is also located here. It is the oldest house in the city, called Hasbrouck House. It was served as George Washington's headquarters while he was in command of the Continental Army during the final year of the American Revolutionary War (1782 until 1783). In 1850, the site was acquired by the State of New York – the first publicly operated historic site in the USA. It is now open to the public from April until October, and over the President's weekend that celebrates Washington's birthday in February.


American Legion Judson P Galloway Post 152

American Legion Judson P Galloway Post 152


Due to its riverside location, the city boomed during the second half of the 19th century and became a transportation hub and an industrial centre for different manufacturing enterprises. As the city flourished, many lavish public buildings, churches and luxurious mansions were built, including the grand Palatine Hotel built in 1893. But the city's decline started after the war when many industrial operations moved to other locations where labour costs and taxes were lower.


Hudson Valley Christian Church newburgh

The City Library, now Hudson Valley Christian Church, was designed by architect J. A. Wood and opened to the public in 1852


Sadly, it was an ambitious (failed) urban renewal between 1971 and 1973 that caused the city's ultimate downfall. The city knocked down nearly 1,300 buildings, mostly along its waterfront, including the Palatine Hotel. Residents lost their homes and were relocated elsewhere. Yet money dried up, and the plan never took off.



 The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Newburgh

Top row: Primera Asamblea De Dios Hispana church; Bottom row: The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Newburgh is the oldest Black Church in the Mid-Hudson Valley.


Attempted gentrification over the last few decades have failed, and the city has had to deal with many issues such as poverty, gang crimes and violence, drug trade, unemployment, illegal immigrants and racial conflicts. In recent years, increasing efforts to revive the city have been made by the Mayor, local residents and new businesses, but the road to recovery may take a long, long time.
You can learn more about the city's news via Newburgh Restoration, a blog by Cher Vick who is an urban planning student at Hunter College in NYC.







This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, New York, Social issues, Architectural conservation, gentrification and was tagged with architecture, New York, heritage, Architectural conservation, gentrification, Newburgh