Gone is the watering trough, the elm tree next to it, and George Washington, who stopped his horse in the shade for a drink. Idling automobiles on four paved lanes now wait for the light to change. Washingtonville had once been an important farming community—10 dairy farms and two milk processing plants were proof of that. Most of the farms have been developed in the last 30 years, changing the landscape dramatically from the once quaint village to a busy bedroom community for the New York metropolitan area. Between 1980 and 2000, the population increased fourfold, from 2,000 to 8,000.
In early September, an Auto Zone chain store opened across the street from Washingtonville Auto Parts, which has been doing business in the town for 25 years. “I felt like someone told me I had cancer,” owner Michael Cook says. An auto parts expert who favors classical music, Cook offers “moto” therapy to regular customers to help them determine what their auto needs are. Residents were so up in arms about the Auto Zone that they began to react. There was a petition against the Auto Zone going around with 2,000 signatures on it. “This has been a really amazing example of a community rallying together,” Cook says. “I was worried about the disintegration of community. With everyone texting and using cell phones and the Internet I started to think that customers wanted to be anonymous. My worry was that they don’t want personal service anymore. This has woken people up!” says a grateful Cook. “I am doing my best to be worthy of their business.”
“Washingtonville has a cultlike following as far as loyalty to local businesses is concerned,” says Chris Vohl, owner of Brookside Auto & Tire on Hallock Drive. Vohl, who grew up in the area, is the president of the Greater Washingtonville Lion’s Club. He points out that the fact he feels safe enough to put his phone number on the donation collection attests to the small town nature of the town.
You can find dance and yoga studios within walking distance of Washingtonville’s main intersection. Janalee’s School of Dance and New York Performing Arts Center both offer jazz, tap, ballet, and contemporary dance classes as well as yoga. There’s also the Corner Candle Store, a tasteful menagerie of gifts and cards. The boutique, owned by Joanne Fine, has been a mainstay in the town since the 1970s. Brotherhood Winery, America’s oldest, is also right downtown and is Washingtonville’s premier tourist draw. One can tour the cellars, stomp on grapes, picnic in the courtyard to live music, and sample their award-winning wines.
Orange County settlement began in earnest in the early 18th century as small hamlets popped up wherever a mill could be situated and powered by water. The need for decent roads developed as farmers had to get their grain to the mills. Because farmers came from many directions, crossroads sprang up. Local residents were often asked to take on the duty of clearing brush and trees from the sides of a public road and making sure the bridges and dirt roads were in good condition.
New Windsor Town Historian Glenn Marshall also noted that the original village of New Windsor was located on the river’s edge by Plum Point. There were taverns and brick and glass manufacturers and a print shop. One of the region’s first newspapers, The New Windsor Gazette, was established in 1790. But since the port just north was bigger and could offer more opportunity, business moved to Newburgh.
The site of the former village on the Hudson is now home to petroleum tanks. New Windsor as we know it today lacks this municipal center and can seem disjointed. “There’s no one place with a bunch of cute little shops,” says New Windsor Town Supervisor George A. Green. The new Dunkin’ Donuts that opened across from Stewart Airport’s main gate in mid-November is just as likely a hangout as any in what seems to be a centerless community. Small points of interest are separated by miles of highway and a large industrial area along Route 300. One gets the feeling that the highways are leading elsewhere. According to Marshall, the town designation came to pass when a bunch of farmland that was subdivided for development.