Newburgh, NY is described in many ways, depending on whom you ask. Some call it the most notorious city in New York, famous for crime and urban blight. Others describe it positively as the next Brooklyn, on its way to becoming a hot spot for the hip and trendy. Depending upon your point of view, it’s both.
Newburgh was headquarters for George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. The building, an 18th-century farmhouse, still stands in the center of town. During the nineteenth century, it was home to some of New York’s most visionary architects: the revered Andrew Jackson Downing and his associates including Calvert Vaux and Frederick Clarke Withers. They embodied the architectural schools of Grand Second Empire Victorian, Gothic Revival and Queen Anne houses which dot the city to this day.
But the city has suffered a multitude of ills which have caused Newburgh’s recent decline into crime, drugs and decay. De-industrialization started the decline, as factories moved south or off shore, leaving the waterfront a collection of empty factories and warehouses and putting thousands out of work. Urban renewal efforts knocked down a third of the city’s older homes, including some of Downing’s Grand Victorians. The construction of the Newburgh-Beacon bridge was the final blow. Instead of creating traffic into downtown Newburgh, the highway routed travelers around the city. Soon, white flight took off and many of the city’s residents moved to the suburbs or out of the area completely. New shopping malls sprang up to meet them, dooming department stores and independent retailers downtown. Now, more than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Blighted buildings pockmark the street-scape between renovated homes, and the city has a well-known gang and drug problem.
But now the good news. Newburgh is coming back, and by the look of things, the city has help in pulling itself up by its bootstraps. A number of non-profits are working to re-build and restore Newburgh. Typical is NewburghRestoration.com, which aims to rebuild the city “by encouraging economic development, new businesses, rehabilitation of houses (vacant and occupied), home ownership, and the Newburgh arts scene.”
Newburgh is also getting help from Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, who recently outlined legislation that hopefully will force banks to take responsibility for abandoned properties. Officials estimate 10 percent of Newburgh’s homes are in some stage of abandonment. Schneiderman also proposed a separate bill that would double the number of land banks in New York State from ten to twenty. Land banks are state-funded nonprofit organizations that pay to rehabilitate vacant properties. And the efforts are not just in rehabilitating properties. Habitat for Humanity has built 72 neo-Victorian homes for low-income families in some of Newburgh’s most challenged areas.
Business is also coming back to Newburgh, and it is appealing to the city’s recent move toward the hip and stylish. One typical newcomer is Newburgh Art Supply, appealing to the city’s burgeoning arts community. Likewise is The Wherehouse, an upscale new restaurant featuring grilled meats and vegetarian entrees. Thornwillow Press is a printer and publisher of handmade, limited edition books. Commodore Chocolatier, a Broadway St. based candy manufacturer creates high-quality artisanal chocolates. The Downing Film Center, a small screen movie house specializes in bringing independent, foreign, and classic cinema to the city’s new upscale residents.
Here are some helpful and fun links that will help you learn more about Newburgh and the area:
Restaurants/activities etc: http://newburghonhudson.com/
Chelsea Marina & Yacht Club: www.chelseayacht.org
The Powelton Club: www.thepoweltonclub.com
Historic Homes & Attractions:
The signs of renovation are everywhere, in the small steps that show things are slowly changing for the good. On Parmenter Street, more than a dozen attractive Habitat for Humanity houses are now occupied by a very diverse group of owners. In the Heights section and past the Nora Cronin Presentation Academy, a new private middle school for girls has been started, run by Sister Hernandez. St. Francis of Assisi church on Benkard Street runs one of the largest food pantries outside of Manhattan and is a stabilizing presence. It’s new priest, Father Dennis Drinan worked in the private sector on Wall street and in the computer field before joining the priesthood. His specialty is turnarounds.
Just a few blocks over, The Newburgh Armory Unity Center is doing great things for the city of Newburgh with the help of local philanthropist William Kaplan. Across town Mount Saint Mary’s College is booming. Start Up NY, http://startup-ny.com, Governor Cuomo’s innovative program is working with colleges like Mount Saint Mary’s and Newburgh’s other college, SUNY Orange: Newburgh Campus to generate private-public partnerships and jobs.
Admittedly, the city has a long way to go, much like Brooklyn did in the sixties and seventies. But like Brooklyn, Newburgh appears to be on the rebound.