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A City of Contrasts


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:55 pm

Mention Newburgh and chances are pretty good that peaceful, idyllic settings won’t come to mind. What most people envision when Newburgh comes up in conversation is crime, poverty, and abandoned buildings—urban blight in all its glory. Because of the number of female-headed households, a high unemployment rate, poverty, and the percentage of adult residents without a high school diploma or GED, the city was listed as one of the state’s most distressed cities in the early 1980s which it remains to this day. And according to the US Census, a little over 25 percent of Newburgh’s population lived below the federal poverty line in 2000. Like many inner-city areas, Newburgh has its tribulations. But it also has its triumphs.

Nestled at the northeastern tip of Orange County, the City of Newburgh only has 3.8 square miles of land but is home to the state’s second largest historic district and even has two sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places—the Dutch Reformed Church and Washington’s Headquarters. Gorgeous views of the Hudson River? Newburgh’s got that. Stunning architecture complete with a bevy of Gothic, Greek, and Colonial revival-style buildings that could rival many a Brooklyn neighborhood? Yep, it’s got that too. The beauty of the area and the fact that it is only 60 miles from New York is a huge draw for folks who may work in Manhattan but want to live and play a little further north.

“If you look around, it’s gorgeous,” says Barbara Ballarini, who moved to Newburgh in 2005 with her husband, Edwine Seymour, and the couple’s then two-year-old daughter to open Caffé Macchiato, a restaurant that sits directly across the street from Washington’s Headquarters on Liberty Street. “For us, it was the Hudson River, definitely. That and the idea that we’d be in front of one of the most historic areas in the city.”

“Owning a brownstone in any of the five boroughs [of New York] is virtually impossible,” says 25-year-old Long Island native Cherry Vick, who plans on relocating with her fiancé after their wedding later this year. “So I started looking here.”

A self-proclaimed history buff who already commutes to New York for work, Vick says she began looking for information about areas to the north and was impressed by the photos of old buildings and historic properties in Newburgh that she was able to find online.

“What struck me was the architecture. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before Newburgh goes through the same restoration process as the boroughs in New York,” she says. To get others who may be looking for a great spot to put down roots and raise a family to see the city in a more positive light, Vick began a blog last year about Newburgh’s restoration and renovation efforts by individuals and groups like Habitat for Humanity.

Before Newburgh was even a city, it was declared to be “a pleasant place to build a town” by Henry Hudson when he made his expedition up the river in 1609. Still, the first settlement wasn’t made until 100 years later by German Lutherans who named the area the Palatine Parish by Quassic. By the middle of the 18th century, the area was comprised mostly of folks of English and Scottish descent who changed the name to Parish of Newburgh after a place in Scotland in 1752. Newburgh was the Continental Army’s headquarters from 1782 until the army was disbanded, near the end of 1783. Not only did General George Washington sleep here, he also received the letter suggesting he become king here as well. Legend has it that to honor his vehement refusal to become a monarch, the name of the street behind the headquarters was changed from Kings Highway to Liberty Street.

Originally the county seat of Ulster County, Newburgh became part of Orange County when the boundary lines were redrawn in 1789. Eleven years later it was incorporated as a village and was eventually chartered as a city in 1865.

Because of its location on the Hudson between Albany and New York, Newburgh became a transportation hot spot during the industrial boom of the 1800s and enjoyed its economic peak when manufacturing industries moved in. But when those same businesses began to relocate out of state and country in the late 20th century and transportation activity shifted from the river to the roads, it ushered in an economic decline the city is still trying to climb out of today.

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