Newburgh (City)

November 1, 2010


Newburgh (city) is in Orange County, NY, which is 60 miles north of New York City and 90 miles south of Albany.  The city is in between the Town of Newburgh and the Town of New Windsor. Henry Hudson stopped by during his 1609 voyage and deemed the city “a pleasant place to build a town.” The population was reported by the Census as 28,300 in 2000. The demographics of the city are about 45% white and about 35% black. The median income of the city is approximately $30,000. Many people within Newburgh work in the construction industry and there is an opportunity in real estate development. The citizens have five elected officials, a mayor and four city council members that are all elected for four-year terms. Currently all four council members are elected city-wide and Newburgh voters decide whether or not to split Newburgh into eight wards and elect one council member from each ward. Newburgh maintains a strong local Republican Party, despite the demographics and urban trends favoring the Democratic Party. Valentine and several other recent current mayors and council members, as well as Assemblyman Thomas Kirwan are Republicans. Currently, though, the Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the City Council and an independent documentary made in 2004 was made about the mayoral race in Newburgh called “Saving Newburgh.” Economically, the city is known for its manufacturing of cotton, woolens, silks, paper, felt hats, baking powder, soap, paper boxes, brick, steam boilers, tools, coin silver, bleach, candles, ice machines, pumps, moving-picture screens, overalls, perfumes, furniture, carpets, shirts, lawn mowers, and automobiles. Surprisingly, this is not even the complete laundry list of things that the city manufactures. The city is also home to the first Edison power plant, which means that it was the first American city to be electric-powered. Another interesting fact about Newburgh is that it is home to one of the widest streets in NY State, which is Broadway at 130 feet wide. The industry took a hit in the 20th century as industry moved south or to where taxes and labor were cheaper. The urban renewal plan of the 60s and 70s tried to counteract the economic decline, but failed. This failure was partly due to the 1973 oil crisis, because there was no funding left for the project. There were also historical boycotts and race riots during this time period, which was not advantageous to the urban renewal plan. Environmentally, there are also issues. The city has a combined runoff and sewage system, and the city is known for dismantling automobile motors. Breaking automobile motors into their separate parts is problematic because leaking fluids into the local environment often follows. In particular, there was an engine fluid spill in 1994 at the Jonas Automotive site, which contaminated the local soil. In addition, there was another spill in 1998. Brownfields are also an issue in Newburgh, which are abandoned or idles properties that if they were redeveloped, they would cause the dredging of hazardous materials which would lead to environmental contamination. The ultimate goal of the city’s urban renewal plan is to curb urban sprawl development that involves the movement or expansion of the suburban area. They are also trying to improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion thereby reducing emissions, and preserve open or unused land.

–Ashley and Ian

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument that stands today in the center of Fort Greene Park is a 1908 memorial to the 11,000 men, women and children who died in extremely harsh conditions on the British Prison Ships during the Revolutionary War. The Monument, which is sometimes referred to as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, stands in the center of what was then called Fort Putnam, named after General Putnam. The Monument that exists today is actually the third incarnation of this sacred shrine.

During the American Revolutionary War, which began in 1775, the British arrested thousands of soldiers, sailors, and private citizens on both land and sea. Many were imprisoned simply because they would not swear allegiance to the Crown of England. Besides American civilians and resistance fighters, the British captured the crews of foreign ships on the high seas, especially Spanish vessels. The apprehended soldiers, sailors and civilians were deemed by the British to be prisoners of war and were incarcerated. When the British ran out of jail space to house their POWs they began using decommissioned or damaged ships that were anchored in Wallabout Bay as floating prisons.

Life was unbearable on the prison ships, the most notorious of them being the Old Jersey. Disease was rampant, food and water were scarce or nonexistent, and the living conditions were horrendously overcrowded and unsanitary. If one had money they could purchase food from the many entrepreneurs who rowed up to the boat to sell their wares. Otherwise, the meager rations would consist of sawdust-laden bread or watery soup.

A great number of the captives died from disease and malnutrition. Their emaciated bodies were either thrown overboard or buried in shallow graves in the sandy marshes of Wallabout Bay. Even though the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia in 1782, the surviving prisoners were not freed until 1783, when the British abandoned New York City. (After the war, the British Commander in charge of the Prison Ships was brought up on war crime charges and was subsequently hanged.)

In the years following the war, the bones of the patriots would regularly wash up along the shores of Brooklyn and Long Island. These remains were collected by Brooklyn residents with the hopes of creating a permanent resting place for the remains of the brave Prison Ship Martyrs, as they came to be known. In the early 1880’s the first Martyrs’ Monument was erected by the Tammany Society of New York. It was located on a triangular plot of land near the Brooklyn Navy Yard waterfront in what is now called Vinegar Hill.

The Brooklyn fort was renamed for General Greene and rebuilt for the War of 1812. When the threat of war passed, locals enjoyed visiting the grounds of the old fort for recreation and relaxation. The City of Brooklyn designated the site for use as a public park in 1845, and newspaper editor Walt Whitman rallied popular support for the project from the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In 1847 the legislature approved an act to secure land for Washington Park on the site of the old fort. The improvements were complete by 1850. In 1867 landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central and Prospect Parks, were engaged to prepare a new design for Washington Park as well as a new crypt for the remains of the prison ship martyrs.

The remains of the prisoners were moved to the site in 1873 into the newly created 25 by 11 foot brick vault. Twenty-two boxes, containing a small fraction of the total volume of remains, were interred in the vault. Towards the end of the 19th century, a diverse group of interests including the federal government, municipal and state governments, private societies, and donors, began a campaign for a permanent monument to the prison ship martyrs. In 1905 the well-known architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White was hired to design a new entrance to the crypt and a wide granite stairway leading to a plaza on top of the hill. From its center rose a freestanding Doric column crowned by a bronze lantern. President-elect William Howard Taft attended the monument’s dedication in 1908.

Sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870–1952) created the monument’s bronze pieces — the large urn or decorative lantern (never functioning) as well as four eagles that were once mounted to the corner granite posts. The eagles were removed to storage after being repeatedly vandalized. A tablet over the entrance to tomb, also in storage now, was donated by the Tammany Society, and was originally the cornerstone of the Navy Yard vault. An elevator and stairs for the interior were installed in 1937; both were removed in 1948 after the monument was renovated. In 1970 the elevator pit was filled in.

A $3.7 million reconstruction project, beginning in 2004, saw the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial restored to its prior glory. A new spiral staircase was built inside the memorial, and some of the bronze eagles were replaced in addition to a restoration of the surrounding plaza and the crypt itself.

-Gabrielle and Ian

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