Newburgh: City of Firsts

By   |  Photos by David McIntyre  |     |  Community Spotlight

An apocryphal tale says that George Washington’s Newburgh headquarters was where he “refused the crown.” Truth be told, the disaffected colonel who raised the question had no authority to appoint monarchs in the first place. What did happen, known to history as the Newburgh Conspiracy, involved Washington defusing anti-Republic grumbles among the officers by showing up unexpectedly to their meeting like the boss he was.

It wasn’t Newburgh’s last turn in the national spotlight. The city got a head start on most of the nation in electrification and telephony. In 1891, an observer named J. J. Nutt declared Newburgh “the most thriving city on the Hudson” with its “citizens full of spirit of public enterprise, with public institutions comparatively unequalled, and with apparently every factor and requisite to ensure its bright future as a manufacturing and commercial city of importance.” Other firsts—test marketing of televisions, Lucille Ball’s first turn on stage, the opening of the nation’s first truly all-in-one shopping destination—would follow, as would an exceptionally rough ride through deindustrialization and urban renewal.

Stunning river views, the second-largest historic district in New York and a long list of other factors have always inspired fierce love among lifelongs and newcomers alike, and today’s Newburgh is freshly vibrant. “We fell in love with Newburgh and wanted a place everyone could come and relax; at the time there was just nothing,” says Michele Basch, who opened a pub with her husband Dan Brown back in 2009. “When Dan, who’d been in the restaurant world for 20 years, would tell someone about his new venture on Liberty Street in Newburgh, they’d inevitably say, ‘Where?’ So it became The Wherehouse.”

Basch has a ringside seat thanks to her role on Newburgh’s Architectural Review Commission. “People who come up and fall in love with the city and buy a house that they think is fabulous, with a great deal and more space and so on, do want to do the right thing,” she says. “And we work with them, not against them. We’re not this wall that opposes any changes—this isn’t Disneyland.”

Mixed-use developments are underway on both Broadway and Washington Street, where the former Washington Street School will be home to a small local brewery, retail, and market-rate housing. Sullivan County-based Foster Supply Hospitality is creating an “urban resort” with hotel, spa, event space, and dining facility on Grand Street, in the former Masonic Temple, YMCA, and American Legion buildings. The outlying shopping mall that helped stifle city retail for decades has been repurposed as a Resorts World casino. And actress Natasha Lyonne chose Newburgh’s Umbra Studios as home base for the production of her smash hit Peacock series “Poker Face.”

The Newburgh Scene

“Newburgh has an enormously large number of Hispanic restaurants that nobody ever talks about,” says Basch. “Whether you want Mexican, Peruvian, Dominican or Jamaican; there are restaurants all over the place and they are very, very good. We may not have a major supermarket, but we have a butcher right on Broadway, amazing Mexican bakeries, grocery stores with incredible flan and sweetbreads and hot chocolate. We have real stores, old-school places like Hale’s Hardware and Home Supplies and Ace Drugs—full-service independent stores that have been serving the community for decades.”

Peter “DJ Pete Pop” Papageorgantis, manager/owner of Anna’s Restaurant on Broadway.

The Liberty Street corridor where Brown and Basch kickstarted the resurgence has expanded, she says. “Right on Broadway, you’ve got Two Alices coffee shop and Mama Roux, which is amazing Cajun food. And there’s Newburgh Mercantile, which is mostly fantastic framing but also has some arts and crafts and gifts. On Liberty Street itself, we have Mrs. Fairfax—great food there!—and Seoul Kitchen, Korean food and marvelous ramen. There’s a new little grocery store about to open with grab-n-go, Going South, where until recently there was nothing. And there’s Toasted, a bistro with some really happening nightlife.”

There’s still more nightlife down by the waterfront—a long strip of restaurants and pubs with five-star views that include Jet Ski, a recently opened tiki bar from Liberty Bistro owner Michael Kelly.

The Newburgh Housing Market

“If activity is down, it’s just because inventory is down,” says Chris Hanson, broker and owner at Hanson Real Estate Partners, “and that’s hardly unique to Newburgh—walkable town centers are very desirable right now, and there’s just not a lot of that available. People who come in with a set list of criteria and a certain budget, it becomes a matter of whether the market has that right now.”

Newburgh, he says, is smoking hot. “We used to have to woo buyers who loved a specific house but were scared by the city’s rep into discovering that Newburgh is actually quite safe and lovely, usually by introducing them around,” Hanson says. “That’s turned on its head now—we have a fair number of people coming in who specifically want to move to Newburgh as soon as they can find the right house, which is really cool.”

At the time of this writing, there were a couple of three- and four-bedroom places in need of considerable TLC being offered for under $200,000. Turnkey homes, condos, and a few larger houses were available in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. A renovated 1930s Craftsman with four bedrooms, a grand staircase, and expansive river views was on the market for $699,000, and you could get your hands on a vintage brick with seven apartments for $669,000.

In the surrounding, eponymous town, you can find pristine, newly constructed four-bedroom Colonials and ranch homes in that range, some on larger lots, others in subdivisions. A grand new four-bedroom of stucco and stone, featuring river views and three-car garage was for sale in prestigious Balmville for $1,060,000. 

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