Jewish Federation of
Greater Orange County
68 Stewart Avenue
Newburgh, NY, 12550
Last updated on: November 12, 2006
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Exploration and settlement
The area that became Newburgh was first explored by Europeans when Henry Hudson stopped by during his 1609 expedition up the river that now bears his name. He is supposed to have called the site "a pleasant place to build a town," although some later historians believe he may actually have been referring to the area where Cornwall-on-Hudson now stands.
The first settlement was made a century later, in 1709 by German Lutherans from the Rhenish Palatinate, who named it the Palatine Parish by Quassic. By 1750, most of the Germans had been replaced by people of English and Scottish descent, who in 1752 changed the name to the Parish of Newburgh (presumably after one of the Newburghs in Scotland)
The American Revolution
Newburgh was the headquarters of the Continental Army from March, 1782 until the latter part of 1783. While the army was camped at Newburgh, some of its senior officers began the "Newburgh conspiracy" to overthrow the government. General George Washington was able to persuade his officers to stay loyal to him. The army was disbanded here in 1783. Washington received the famous Newburgh letter from Lewis Nicola proposing that he become king here. It drew a vigorous rebuke from Washington. In honor of his refusal of that suggestion, Kings Highway, the north-south street behind the Newburgh headquarters, was renamed Liberty Street.
Growth of Newburgh in the 19th Century
Newburgh became quite prosperous during the Gilded Age that followed. With its situation on the Hudson River, midway between New York City and Albany, it became a transportation hub and an industrial center. Its industries included manufacturings of cottons, woolens, silks, paper, felt hats, baking powder, soap, paper boxes, brick, plush goods, steam boilers, tools, automobiles, coin silver, bleach, candles, waterway gates, ice machines, pumps, moving-picture screens, overalls, perfumes, furniture, carpets, carburetors, spiral springs, spiral pipe, shirt waists, shirts, felt goods, lawn mowers; shipyards; foundries and machine shops; tanneries; leatherette works; plaster works.
The Development of modern Newburgh
It has been a city with many distinctions. It is home to the first Edison power plant and thus was the first American city to be electrified. In 1915 it became one of the first American cities to delegate routine governmental authority to a city manager. Broadway, which at 132 feet (40 m) in width is one of the widest streets in the State of New York , runs through the city culminating with views of the majestic Hudson River. Newburgh was one of the first cities in the country to fluoridate its water
Newburgh played a pivotal role in television history. In October, 1939, RCA chose to test-market televisions in Newburgh, which was within range of the television signal of RCA's experimental station W2XBS. 600 sets were sold in Newburgh at a deep discount. The test-marketing campaign's success encouraged RCA to go forward with developing the new medium. Additionally, with consumer television production ceasing during World War II, those Newburgh households which purchased televisions during 1939 and 1940 were among the few to enjoy television (albeit with a greatly reduced programming schedule) during the war.
Newburgh in the 20th Century
Newburgh was hit hard economically by several factors in late 20th century, and the subsequent decline was precipitous. The industrial base of the city declined as industries relocated operations south, or to other locations with cheaper labor costs and lower taxes. The Hudson River, which previously served as the main means of transporting goods, lost much of its shipping traffic to trucking. The city's trolley system was shut down in 1924, in favor of buses. The nation moved to the automobile for transportation and, as with many other cities, there was a resulting migration to the suburbs. In 1963 the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge was opened, carrying Interstate 84 and spanning the Hudson River, bypassing the Newburgh waterfront and the City of Newburgh altogether. The ferry closed down soon thereafter – it was not revived until 2005 – and the waterfront area declined rapidly. In 1962, Lloyd's Department Store became the first major shopping center in the Town of Newburgh. Its motto was "Years Ahead" and the motto proved prophetic. Many features of Lloyd's, including widely divergent ministores under one roof, did not become common in other shopping centers for many decades. Lloyd's successfully drew a great deal of retail business away from the downtown area. In 1964, the Mid Valley Mall opened, also outside of the city limits in the Town of Newburgh, and attracted many long-established local businesses away from the waterfront and downtown City of Newburgh. Other retail shopping malls soon sprang up, all also outside the City of Newburgh, and the retail portion of the City was doomed. The city continued to lose its previously well regarded retail sector along Water Street and Broadway to the suburban shopping malls, which did not share the City's congested parking and traffic problems — or the perceived rising crime rate.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city's response to the economic decline was an ambitious urban renewal plan. The city's historic waterfront area, an area composed of several square blocks which included numerous historically significant buildings, was completely demolished between 1970 and 1973. Residents were relocated, or were supposed to be relocated, to newer housing projects around Muchattoes Lake in the city's interior.
A grand complex that was planned for the urban renewal area was never built when state and federal spending began to dry up after the 1973 oil crisis. To this day, the blocks which slope down to the river remain open, grassy slopes, offering sweeping views of the Hudson but generating no property taxes for the city. Public sentiment is mixed on whether they should be built on again at all, and the city's view-protection ordinances make it less likely. Below, the waterfront was developed in the late 1990s after the city was once again able to secure grants from the state's Environmental Protection fund for riprap (a type of stone) to stabilize the shoreline.
In the early 1960s, city manager Joseph McDowell Mitchell and the council attracted nationwide attention and the admiration of political conservatives when they attempted to require welfare recipients to pick up their payments at police headquarters. Mitchell later announced a program aimed largely at blacks on welfare, whom many in the community blamed for its economic problems. The program would have denied welfare payments to all after three months except the aged, the blind and the handicapped. Those affected would have largely been single mothers of young children, the only category in which blacks were predominant. The program also would have denied payments to single mothers who had working relatives living in the city. After opposition by both state and federal officials, the program created a national controversy and never went into effect
Along with the failed urban renewal, the 1970s in Newburgh were also marked by race riots and other tensions. The last big one, in 1978, led African-American students at Newburgh Free Academy, the city's public high school, to boycott classes, and ultimately to a major reorganization of the school system.
These tensions flared up again during the city's hotly contested 1995 mayoral election. Allegations of electoral fraud had dogged the city's first African-American woman mayor, Audrey Carey, since her 1991 victory in a four-way race. Supporters of Republican candidate Regina Angelo (now a Democrat herself) alleged that many registered voters in neighborhoods Carey had carried heavily used false addresses. In response, four years later deputy sheriffs were stationed at polling places and challenged voters to provide proof of residency and identity.
Although she won, Carey's supporters claimed that the deputy sheriffs had singled out minority voters for such challenges, and accused the Republicans of voter suppression. These tensions were only aggravated when the council selected the county's Republican chairman at the time, Harry Porr, as the new city manager. Animosity between Carey and Porr and their respective supporters dominated city politics in the late 1990s. Carey was defeated by Tyrone Crabb, a black man running on the Republican line, in 1999. Porr was fired (rehired and fired again in 2001). Crabb died suddenly of a heart attack ten days before he was slated to take office. The vacancy was filled by his widow, Mary.
Newburgh in the early 21st century is more racially diverse than it used to be, as a growing Latin immigrant (mainly of Mexican descent) population complements the city's sizable African American contingent. Economic development is a major concern, but poorly realized, as the good jobs once found in the local manufacturing sector have not been replaced. Pockets of poverty persist in the city, often mere blocks away from its many historical and architectural landmarks (some of which are themselves in serious need of repair). In addition to this, the city has been facing issues regarding illegal immigration, like many other cities across the United States, ranging from overcrowded apartment buildings to mild racial conflict.
Preserving the past
Newburgh's preservation history can be traced all the way back to 1850 when Washington's Headquarters was designated a state historic site, the first in the country. Newburgh's Historical Society was founded in 1884. It purchased the David Crawford House, its museum, in 1958, saving it from being demolished to make way for a parking lot for a funeral home.
The city was designated a Preserve America community in 2005 and it also signed an agreement with the State Office of Historic Preservation as a Certified Local Government community. Its East End Historic District, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as that and the Montgomery-Grand-Liberty Streets Historic District, has the most contributing properties of any historic district in the state.
While the city's historic architecture, featuring historic designs by Calvert Vaux, Andrew Jackson Downing and Frederick Law Olmstead, has attracted a stable core of preservation-minded community activists willing to spend the time and money renovating houses, much work remains to be done. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the city government warehouses a large stock of in rem properties within its Historic District that have fallen into disrepair as a result of its inability to secure them. Despite progress from the early 1990s, poverty remains a major (and visible) problem. The 2000 census found that two of the city's five census tracts are among the poorest in the entire state. In 2004 the state declared it one of the state's five most "stressed" cities, based on a mix of statistics like families headed by single mothers, abandoned buildings, unemployment, residents under the poverty line and adults without a high school diploma. Local citizens and city officials blame the county's Department of Social Services for making problems worse by using the city as a dumping ground for its poorest clients. County officials respond that they are only sending people where housing costs are the cheapest.
The city is on the west bank of the Hudson River. Next to it, the land rises at first sharply to a bluff, where many historic homes are located due to the sweeping views it offers of the Hudson Highlands to the south, Mount Beacon to the east and the bridge to the north; then more gradually to a relatively level western half. There are some notable hills in outlying areas, such as Overlook Terrace in the city's southeast corner and Mount St. Mary's at the northeast.
The lowest elevation in the city is sea level along the river; the highest is roughly 690 feet (210 m) on Snake Hill along the city's southern boundary with the Town of New Windsor.
Newburgh is located at (41.503193, -74.019636)
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.8 square miles (12.4 km˛). 3.8 square miles (9.9 km˛) of it is land and 1.0 square miles (2.5 km˛) of it (20.08%) is water.
New York State Route 32 and U.S. Route 9W pass through the city. New York State Route 17K and New York State Route 207 also reach their eastern termini within city limits. Interstate 84 passes just north of the city and the New York State Thruway is not far to the west.
As of the census of 2000, there were 28,259 people, 9,144 households, and 6,080 families residing in the city. The population density was 7,393.6 inhabitants per square mile (2,856.2/km2). There were 10,476 housing units at an average density of 2,740.9 per square mile (1,058.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 42.33% White, 32.96% Black or African American, 0.71% Native American, 0.76% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 18.11% from other races, and 5.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 36.30% of the population.
There were 9,144 households out of which 40.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.1% were married couples living together, 25.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.5% were non-families. 27.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.97 and the average family size was 3.62.
In the city the population was spread out with 33.2% under the age of 18, 12.7% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 16.1% from 45 to 64, and 9.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females there were 90.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,332, and the median income for a family was $32,519. Males had a median income of $26,633 versus $21,718 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,360. About 23.0% of families and 25.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.3% of those under age 18 and 16.1% of those age 65 or over.