Newburgh Again: The Palatial Palatine

By Helen Ver Nooy Gearn, Newburgh Historian, as printed in The Orange County Free Press; Tuesday, December 19, 1972

In 1972 the south east corner of Grand and Third Streets is a below-the-street black-topped parking lot, ugly if utilitarian. A far cry from the proud hotel envisioned in 1892 by Newburgh’s Board of Trade as an “ornament to their city.” Nor does it relate to the tall white house, 132 Grand St., owned by Mrs. Hector Craig whose husband had been a member of Congress. Mrs. Craig sold the house in 1889 to John J. Moore. By 1891 when John J. Nutt published his history “Newburgh” his picture of this nice house was titled “the Home of the Hon. and Judge H. M. Hirschberg.” At the left in this picture the rectory of the Dutch Reformed Church can be glimpsed.
Unfortunately the building situated on the south of this house cannot be seen. The home of Dr. W.A.M. Culbert had been designed by Andrew Jackson Downing and his youthful partner, Calvert Vaux, in the Downing architectural studio in Highland Gardens. This fine house is still in existence. Its late vandalizing is a comment and a comparison, no doubt, of the cultures of its time (circa 1852 and 1857) and of today.
“The Palatine Hotel, Newburgh, N.Y., H. N. Bain & Co. Proprietors”, “The Model Hotel of the Hudson Valley,” “Finest Hotel on the Hudson between New York and Albany,” and the “Largest Hotel in Newburgh in the Heart of the City” were some of the early advertisements to be found in old books and magazines. Quite early the hotel was “catering to automobile motoring parties and tourists.”
The hotel was opened In1893. In 1895, there were only 30 automobiles in the United States. In 1905 they were still thought to be a rich man’s toy although they had increased to about 77,888.
For the wealthy middle class the 60 mile drive from New York City to Newburgh soon made the hotel a fine location. Newburgh came to be about a nice day’s outing from the metropolis. After an overnight or more stay in a well-run inn with good cuisine and amidst scenic surroundings the guests spread the fame of “mine host” and of his inn.
A porch crossed the entire width of the hotel’s top floor on the river side. From this and from all of the rooms on that east side stretched the panorama of the jeweled Hudson and its enclosing mountains.
In the block across Grand St. on the south side of Second St. was the quaint and venerable St. George’s Episcopal Church, the oldest parish in Newburgh, its stone had been quarried in stone cuffing bees at the Gardner’s quarries just to the west of the community.
North of Second St, Newburgh’s Orange County Courthouse centered in its block of green grass and great trees its classic columned portico.
John Schoonmaker, Newburgh’s leading merchandizer, had his well proportioned white clapboard house, 135 Grand St., on the north west corner of Third and Grand Streets. One block west of this rose the delicate spires of Trinity Methodist Church. To finish the square, The Dutch Reformed Church (now on the National Register) raised its two-story Ionic Columns in the simple purity of line of its facade. It had been designed by A.J. Davis for the Warren firm in 1835. Trinity Church whose architect was Rembrandt Lockwood (also the designer of St. Patrick’s) was begun in 1860. The Courthouse was the plan of Thornton MacNess Niven of 1841 and Arnout Cannan became the architect of the Palatine Hotel.
The busy Hudson and its steam boat docks and the railroad stations were only 4 or 5 blocks away. The hotel’s free carriage later bus, met the boats and trains.
In the spring of 1892 the ten member Newburgh Board of Trade had acquired an additional 17 members. Perhaps it was due to this infusion of new blood but at any rate the Board decided that what Newburgh then needed was a fine hotel. The forceful imaginative Col. Wm. D. Dickey suggested that a hotel should be erected under the auspices of the Board. When another member asked dryly if he would give money toward such an experiment the Colonel immediately pledged $1,000. (Col. Dickey was one of those responsible for the opening up of Washington Heights). The Board’s decision that the structure should be such that it would be an ornament to their city resulted in an imposing and handsome edifice.
Stock to the amount of $80,000 was solicited by the Board. The Palatine Hotel Co. was formed with a $65,000 stock subscription. Later $60,000 worth of bonds due in ten years was sold. Those first trustees were: J. M. Wentz, John Schoonmaker, B. B. Odell, Jr. (later Governor of New York), Col. Wm. D. Dickey, and W. H. Weston with E.T. Skidmore as President.
Those hardy European settlers of the Parish by the Quassaick, as the early community was called, refugees from the
Palatinate of the Valley of the Rhine was honored by the inn’s name, The Palatine Hotel.
In Poughkeepsie two brothers Francis N, and Horace N. Bain had been successfully running the Nelson House. It was they who were given the lease of the Palatine. Francis N. Bain was to personally supervise at the Palatine and Horace N. was to remain in charge of the Nelson House.
Is it likely that in 1892 the Newburgh Board of Trade was looking forward to 1909 when the tremendous Hudson –Fulton Celebration was to occur? However the hotel’s accommodations were being spoken for well in advance of that five-day event, the commemoration of the two men, who had been each in his time so important to the Hudson Valley. (And by the way Newburgh and its Area Neighbors should be planning now for the 1976 celebration of the success of the struggle for American Independence that ended in this area in 1783.)
Hotel rates were set at $3.00 and $5.00 a day. Was this with food? Later they dropped into the European plan with the hotel charging only for rooms and the patron able to go about seeking other eating places. A much better plan for the tourists but probably hard on the restaurant part of the hostelry.
In the Metropolis physicians recommended patients come to the Palatine for rest and a change of scene in healthful surroundings and the American Automobile Association added its sanction on the hotel’s noteworthiness.
Of its 116 rooms half of them could be turned into suites with private baths. The cafe was a dream of Flemish oak and marble and the firm of W. J. Sloane & Co., of New York loaned their prestige in decorating and furnishing of the hotel.
Perhaps it was not the “Grand Hotel” but the Palatine not only wined and dined Newburgh’s first family’s but many of the country’s famous passed through its door and under its Tiffany-type glass tympanum. Fairly extensive research through the offices of the Urban Renewal Agency, those of the several realtors and of the lawyers who were Involved in some way In its various sales has left the old registers of the hostelry still undiscovered, Thus It has been hard to authenticate with dates and documents the elite visitors.
Some of the great that have been turned up in the news articles are: “Fiorelle La Guardia
Lillian Russell, Alfred E. Smith, Thomas E. Dewey, Averill Harriman, Harry K. Thaw, Thomas A. Edison, Charles Evans Hughes, Benjamin B. Odell, Jr. and others.”
Several interesting visitors have been orally authenticated by Mrs. J. Townsend Cassedy. Her father, Benjamin Barker Odell, Governor of New York State, had refused to run as Vice President on the ticket with William McKinley only to see Theodore Roosevelt who did accept that nomination become President on the death of President McKinley. Apparently no ill feeling existed between the two important figures for Mrs. Cassedy tells of the meetings of B. B. Odell and Theodore Roosevelt at the Palatine to plan political strategy.
The story of Margaret Leech the prize winning author and her connection with the hotel is another of Mrs. Cassedy’s contributions. In 1960 Margaret Leech’s biography “In the Days of McKinley” was awarded the Bancroft Prize for historical writing. However this was not the author’s first opus on this subject. She and her family were living at the Palatine in Newburgh when In 1901 President McKinley was assassinated (shot Sept. 6 died Sept. 14, 1901). His death aroused so great a sorrow in the heart of the seven year old Margaret that she wrote a short article and poem about the slain President whom she had respected and revered. Her youthful work was much admired by guests in the hotel and her family’s Newburgh friends.
Margaret Leech had already written in 1940 the Pulitzer Prize winning “Reveille in Washington,” the fascinating story of the Civil War Years (1860-1865) in the Capitol, “The Back of the Book,” “Tin Wedding” and collaborating with Heywood Broun the “Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord” all of which were works of note.
From the daughter of Francis N. Bain, 1st proprietor, we have the following authentication: Mrs. John Nolle (Francis Bain Nolle) reminds us that the early Opera House on 2nd Street, just east of the hotel and the Academy of Music, on Broadway, west of Grand Street, supported interesting plays and singers. In fact, many of the plays that were to run on Broadway in New York City had try-outs in Newburgh. Also, Newburgh on the circuit of the early producers tours.
Of the “greats” who trod the boards of the two Newburgh houses John Drew Barrymore and his daughter, Ethel Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., his first wife and little son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Chauncey Olcott, the splendid singer, all stayed at the hotel when their plays were being shown at the theater.
Burr Mackintosh, a famous photographer, was another of the hotel’s guests. Henry Miller, theatrical producer, brought his plays for try-outs and also the plays he ran on the regular tour circuit.
Laura Creuse was one of his discoveries and spent her time at the Palatine between her hours in the theater.
Of the tale of the years when the Palatine and its owners began to lose heart—well many Newburghers regretfully watched this happening. Newer hotels and then motels brought in competition. Hostelries could no longer depend on just the elite to stay economically healthy. The city like all cities began to deteriorate though even before signs of this became acute the hotel’s illness did.
Various schemes were planned. One of them consisted of the turning It into a club for the elderly.
After the retirement (1920) and later death (1936) of Francis N. Bain at his charming home, 77 Third St., Carl Willmsen became the owner and manager. It was he who put the hotel in 1929 on the European Plan. On his death in 1944 his wife took over the ownership. When she died in 1949, 27 employees were left legacies but Leo Dunn, manager at the time received all of the stock in the hotel.
The Levinson and Copans firm of Newburgh realtors bought the property in 1952 and leased it to Glenn M. Lovejoy and his mother, Viola K. Lovejoy.
Renovations in 1950 added a fire escape to the rear of the building, in 1952 a colonial cocktail lounge and in 1957 $60,000 more was spent in a renovation on the north side of the main floor that added another cocktail room and dining rooms. The tide of failure made these of little value. Perhaps had they spent that on more elevators- but who knows.
On December 19, 1957 Augustus W. Bennet filed the petition for bankruptcy for the Lovejoys.
In December of 1970 the razing was begun of the “ornament to their city” of the Newburgh Board of Trade of 1892. Could it have been saved? If so to what use could it have been put?
Now preservationists hope that the concept of the Newburgh Courthouse Plaza will come to pass. For it the City Club of Downing and Vaux, the Courthouse of Thornton M. Niven and A. J. Davis’ Dutch Reformed Church will be part of a handsome pattern that includes the fine building now owned by Beatrice D. Griffin and those excellent houses from Third St. south to the Post Office on Liberty Street’s west side.

Why did New York City folks drive 60 miles to visit this site in the early 1900s?

From the Sound and Story Project , a narrative by Warren Boyd

The mission of the Sound and Story Project of the Hudson Valley is to strengthen community through the power of listening. We believe by sharing the stories of ordinary people we can help each other become more aware of our own history and more connected to each other and the place where we live.



Newburgh Again: Hotel Marked Era Of Splendor in Newburgh

By Ruth Valenti, Evening News Correspondent, as printed in The Evening News; April 3, 1987

   The Palatine Hotel at the corner of Grand and Third streets in Newburgh had its gala opening on July 6, 1893. It was hailed as the “queen of hotels” and had electric lights!
   The five story, red brick structure featured a porch crossing the width of the top floor, providing guests with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and the surrounding area.
   The proposal for a fine hotel was made by the Newburgh Board if Trade in 1892. Col. William Dickey pledged $1,000; $60,000 was the original projected cost and $80,000 in stock was solicited by the board. Some legal action was needed to get the funds and the eventual cost was $150,000. (It seems estimated costs are never the final figure!)
   The Palatine Hotel Co. was formed and the first trustees were J.M. Wentz, John Schoonmaker, Benjamin B. Odell Jr. (who later became governor of the state), Col. Dickey, W.H. Weston and E.T. Skidmore, president.
   Francis N. Bain was to supervise the Newburgh facility, while his brother, Horatio, remained in charge of the Nelson House in Poughkeepsie.
   At the gala opening hotel men came from far and wide, including the well-known Oscar TschirkyOscar of the Waldorf“!
   People came by horse and wagon, carriage, bicycle, and a few noisy automobiles, according to contemporary reports. There were only 300 automobiles in the U.S. in 1895, and hotel proprietors wisely said the Palatine would “cater to automobile motoring parties and tourists.”
   The 60-mile trip from the metropolitan area provided a fine outing and overnight stay at the new hotel. Even physicians recommended a visit to the Palatine where weary patients could rest and recuperate, and the American Automobile Association added its sanction to the splendid facility.
   There were 116 rooms and half could be turned into suites with bath. There was a cafe of Flemish Oak and one writer described “the huge old dining room, adorned by palms, with gleaming white tableclothes, sparkling glassware, lustrous silverware and a baby grand piano in one corner.”
   A brochure issued in the late 1930’s listed the tariff schedule: a single room with running water, bath adjacent – $2.25 to $2.50; double room with running water, bath adjacent, $3.50 to $4. For another 50 cents, occupants could have a private bath.
   Ample parking facilities and golf privileges on several courses were included and the Palatine Hotel was the site of weekly luncheon meetings of the Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.
   The rich and famous who visited the Palatine included New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Gov. Alfred E. Smith and actress Lillian Russell. Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Odell met there to plan political strategy.
   Bain retired in 1920 and died in 1936. Carl Wilmsen, later his wife, and then Leo Dunn were successive managers of the elegant hotel. Levinson and Copans, realtors, bought the property in 1952 and leased it to Glenn M. Lovejoy and his mother, Viola.

Robert J. Wilson’s “The Housing Tract” 1935-1949

written by Robert J. Wilson, Jr. 

“Early” Colonial Terraces
The connection between my immediate family and the neighborhood my mother always loved, and called “the Housing Tract”- and which the developers called “the Garden Spot of Newburgh”- began in October, 1925, when, just married, Robert J. Wilson, a sales clerk at the DuPont Fabrikoid Works, and the former Margaret “Marg” Jackson set up housekeeping in one of the four apartments at 19 Norton Street in the Colonial Terraces.
In Aug. 1926, my sister, Barbara “Bunny” Wilson, was born at St. Luke’s Hospital, and shortly thereafter, the family moved to 23 Bush Avenue. Then, in about 1930, they moved again, to 161 Fullerton Avenue. Near neighbors there who became family friends were “Blondie” and “Allie” Reed and their son, Ron. Blondie was a fireman, and ultimately became Chief of Station at the firehouse on Dubois Street, near South. Family stories relating to our stay on Fullerton Avenue include my sister breaking her leg somehow, when she was about three years-old, and a pet Cocker Spaniel named “Ginger,” who one day ran out into the street and was totaled by the car of an NFA student hurrying to school (or at least that’s how the story goes).
By early 1934, expecting an addition to the family (me), the Wilsons moved to 29 Bush Avenue, the first home that I knew after having been born at St. Luke’s in December, 1934. A month later, Geraldine Ferraro was also born at Newburgh, at her family’s home at Dubois and First Streets, and not in the hospital. Ferraro-Zaccaro confirmed this fact via a chance meeting with me at LaGuardia Airport in 1986.
I guess that I became aware of life beyond the walls of our home in early 1937, and first knew that I lived on an especially interesting street in a great neighborhood. But one of my early memories is still not a pleasant one…before my eyes, my sister sat on, and fractured, my little wooden “kiddy car” on which I used to tear up and down the sidewalk in front of our home. Happily, my parents replaced it quickly with a real metal tricycle. The storm had turned into sunshine!
Another early memory from 1937 or so: looking up into the sky from my front yard one summer day, toward the sound of engines revving, I saw for the first time a mighty dirigible heading south toward New York. Was it possibly the “Los Angeles”, the “Akron,” “Macon,” or maybe even the “Hindenburg?” I don’t know, but the sight was so overwhelming to me as a three-year-old, that I never have forgotten it!
My best friend in those early days was a little black and white dog named Peppy (short for Pepper), who belonged to our next-door neighbors, the Schneiders. Our relationship blossomed to the extent that I have been a dog-lover every since.
Beyond my front yard and sidewalk, the world slowly emerged. Our immediate next-door neighbors at 29 Bush were the Schneiders and the “Hobie” Lent family. Further north on Bush, at the corner of Bennet, were the Dederick family, whose son Bobby, who later in life was a reporter for “The Newburgh News,” was an early pal. Bobby comforted me once, during the onset of a thunderstorm, saying that it was only “the fairies bowling.” Ironically, Bob now lives in Ulster County, near the Catskills, where Hudson’s sailors bowled, according to the legend of Rip Van Winkle, creating the thunder that the early lowland settlers heard.
In the same row-house building as the Dedericks, came in 1938, I think, young Lothar Marks, a refugee from Nazi oppression in Germany. Lothar quickly adapted to life here, and became a good pal. I was pleased when my mother gave Lothar a basketful of Easter egg candies (which, frankly, I didn’t like the taste of), when the occasion came up. Lothar later became a classmate at West Street School, and he and I both enjoyed drawing warships and ocean liners in Miss Sally Tweed’s first grade classroom.
The Herbert family lived at the northwest corner of Bush and Norton. Mr. Herbert worked for the Roosa Furniture Company on Broadway. The Herbert’s had two sons, Stewart and Richard, several years older than me. Richard was my boyhood idol, and my parents always said that I patterned my way of walking…when I was just learning to walk… after Richard’s gait. I still walk that way. Richard resides at Sylcox, as of this writing.
On the east side of the upper Bush Avenue block in those days, lived the Carey family at the corner of McKinstry Street, and next to them, in the two-family frame house, lived the Evarts and Nelbach families. Mr. Evarts was a math teacher at NJHS, and his daughter Jane was a friend of my sister’s. Mr. Nelbach was in the automobile business in Newburgh. Their children were Dorothy and Art, Jr. Mrs. Nelbach, I adored. She took a liking to me, and used to sing “Three Little Fishies in the Itty-Bitty Pool,” to me, to my great delight. I think I even may have been in love with Mrs. Nelbach. She was a bright, vivacious and attractive lady, indeed. On the northeast corner of Bush and Norton lived the Ernst family, who owned two tiny Pekinese dogs who “yip-yipped” all day long if agitated.
On one-block McKinstry Street in “the Housing Tract” in the later 1930’s lived two families that I remember: the Lyles and the Stocks. Jim Lyle was a pillar of St. Mary’s Church and a member of the Knights of Columbus. That duly impressed my young self, as I imagined gatherings at a Round Table, exciting tilting contests, and Arthurian romance. I somehow doubt this was the way these Knights in Newburgh spent their time! The Stocks had a son named Harry, many years older than me, who was a bit mentally challenged, and was another great pal. Harry responsibly delivered the “Newburgh News” throughout Colonial Terraces for many years. Harry was teased occasionally by some of the other, older kids in the neighborhood, but I remember that I liked and respected Harry a great deal. I think he liked me, too. He unfailingly reminded me, at about naptime in the early afternoon when he would see me, that it was “time for beddie-bye, Bobby.” I’ll never forget Harry for his friendship with me.
On upper Norton Street, next to the Ernsts, lived the Merediths, who had two young daughters, Jane and Susan. Jane was about my age and Susan quite a bit younger. They had a great porch-swing, and I used to scheme up ways to have Jane invite me over to use it with her. Across Norton lived the John Hopper family, with their children, Jo, Jimmy and Judy. Jo was my sister’s age, and was a friend. Judy was a year older than me and was a frequent playmate with Janie Meredith. John, the father, worked with my dad at the Dupont Fabrikoid plant. The Hoppers had a great toy that I admired, which was usually placed in a corner of their living room. It was a small (but large to me) stuffed toy bear mounted on wheels, and ride-able. Wow, did I envy Judy for being able to ride it at will!
Further up on Norton, just below Farrell on the south side, lived the Stimpson’s. Ed Stimpson was also an employee at the “Fabby.” His wife, who all of us kids in the neighborhood called “Auntie,” was great, and I took advantage of that. I would frequently appear at her door, usually with someone, and ask her if she had any Ritz crackers to pass out. They were a favorite of mine, and still are. Soon, Annie got to calling me “Ritz Crackers” when she saw me at the door. What a wonderful lady she was! Also on Norton then, next to the Meredith’s lived the Poinsett family. I always wondered if they or anyone in the family had anything to do with the naming of the Christmas flowering plant. Were there possibly botanists in my old neighborhood?
Around the corner from Bush, on Bennett Street, was, and still is, a two-family frame house across the street from the tennis courts. There lived the McNair and the Coppola families. I remember the Coppola’s very healthy young son, Junior, and his pet parrot. Others tell me that the Coppolas once held a wake for a family member on their enclosed front porch, with the deceased on prominent display there. I confess that I do not remember this memorable event in the neighborhood. It must have happened after our family temporarily moved away from the “the Housing Tract” during the early W.W.II years.
Although Lilly Street parallels part of Bush Avenue on the west, I don’t remember the names of many families on Lilly in the late 1930’s…with one exception: the elderly widowed sisters, Margaret McNeal Wilson and Susan McNeal Worden, who shared a home on the west side of Lilly for a few years in the mid-1930’s. Mrs. Wilson was the only grand-parent I ever knew and Great-Aunt “Su-Su” was my only great-aunt. They were wonderful people: I think my “Nanna” favored me a bit, and “Su-Su” favored my sister, but they were both great to both of us. My grandmother had been widowed since 1903, and Aunt Su-Su, since 1912. Since then, they had taken various apartments and homes in Newburgh, usually together, and after Lilly Street, moved to a bay-window apartment on Montgomery Street, across from Zillig’s Funeral Home, which featured a magnificent view of the harbor, the river, the bay, and the mountains behind Beacon and Cornwall. But that’s another story, and another neighborhood.
Below Norton, on the west side of Bush, at the southwest corner, lived the Eulers and their young daughter Nancy. In later times, the Elders (Bill was an athletic coach and teacher at NFA) lived in this house. On the southeast corner of Bush and Norton lived the Cheneys. They had two sons named Clark and Dick, who was nicknamed “Owl”. The Cheneys had a nonpareil family talent: they were all wonderful tune-whistlers and Mrs. Cheney was best of them all.
I got to know most of the folks on Bush Avenue below Norton better in the 1943-1949 period, but there was one family who was very important to me and who lived and worked there before 1941. This was the Gee family, and “Wattie” (for Watson) ran the variety store at the far-down corner of Bush and Fullerton in those years. Wattie was every Colonial Terrace’s kid’s friend around about 1939 and 1940, because there was where you could get penny pretzels, soda from the fountains, and find comic books. I used to try to work my charms on Wattie to buy a pretzel on credit, and more often than not, he let me (if I were alone). Maybe he did this for too many kids, because a few years later, he closed the store and went back to work for the Erie Railroad in the Maybrook Yards.
In early 1941, we were forced to move from 29 Bush Avenue, because our landlady had to sell the house, and we couldn’t afford to buy it then. My mother was crushed- no other vacancies were available in “the Tract,” so we moved into temporary exile, to Gedney Way, to another great neighborhood in old Newburgh. But we would return in 1943, to Farrell Street at Norton, right in the midst of another part of “the Housing Tract.”
Our landlord at 2 Gedney Way was Stanley Johnson, the Orange County District Attorney. He decided to sell this house in 1943, and encouraged my parents to buy it (the price was $3,000). However, my mother was most anxious to move back to the Terraces, and a unit was available at 11 Farrell Street, at the southwest corner of Norton Street, a house owned by Otto Brown, the Newburgh Buick dealer. With no hesitation, we moved back to “the Housing Tract” in November 1943.
I’ll not mention the Gedney Way years here again, except to recount an unusual circumstance. My mother was called to County Jury duty in Goshen during that time. It was for a murder trial involving a man named Warden who had allegedly murdered his wife. The judge was Graham Witschief, the defense attorney was Henry Hirschberg, and our Gedney Way landlord, Johnson, prosecuted the case. I don’t know why mother was not dismissed. At any rate, the jury unanimously declared that they agreed with Hirschberg that his client was guilty only of temporary insanity, and my mother and other jurors received a grateful Christmas card from Warden for many years afterwards. Maybe Johnson should have called for her dismissal after all.
Our immediate next-door neighbors in our “new” old neighborhood on Farrell Street were the Gene Lavarellos, whose children then were Gene, Jr., Joan, and Anne. Gene was a pal of mine, and the girls were a bit younger. Gene, Sr. was a partner with his dad and brother in a grocery store on the north side of Broadway. A lot of the store’s business required delivery of orders phoned in, and a treat for Gene, Jr. and me back then was to be allowed to ride in the back of the open-sided delivery van and help his dad with unloading the groceries. I got to know many parts of Newburgh neighborhoods, such as Willett Avenue, Shipp Street, Larter Avenue, Nicoll Street, and Benkard Avenue, for the first time. Once I had gotten my first man-sized bike in 1946, these earlier trips made it easier for me to explore other interesting “new” neighborhoods that were part of the pre-post-war Newburgh scene.
On the west side of Farrell, south of the Lavarellos, lived the Bill Swains. He was in the liquor sales business and always had trunks full of promotional items for liquor stores and bars that were obsolete and slated for disposal. The best treasure I obtained from Swain was a huge, full-color framed wall map of the world, “During World War II.” It had only a modest logo of Carstairs or Seagram’s in the lower right corner, and the map was sure neat. I learned most of the geography I know today from that map…certainly more than I ever learned from Miss Smith of the 5th Grade at West Street School in 1944. Next to the Swains lived the Smith family, which included three sons: George, Jr., known as “Snuffy,” “Buddy,” and young Bobby.
The Kavanaugh family, with youngsters Connie and Bill, lived just south of the Smiths. In fact, Bill Kavanaugh still lives in that home. The late Connie, who later became the wife of Bill Volpe, was my one of my sister’s best friends for more than 45 years. The Kavanaughs had a large doghouse just behind their back yard, which the neighborhood boys used occasionally as a hiding place during “Kick the Can” or “Hide and Go Seek” games.
The Templetons lived next to the Kavanaughs, in the last dwelling on the west side of Farrell Street, near Third. They had a young daughter named Carol. Carol innocently snitched on a group of us boys when we once not so innocently broke into a home around the corner on Third Street we thought unoccupied or abandoned. That earned us a brief visit to the Police Station in the custody of Officer Cullum, also a Farrell Street resident, fortunately. Our trip there turned out to be facilities tour in the basement of City Hall. You can be sure that that action cured us of our uncivilized curiosity, and reformed us thoroughly.
Crossing Farrell to the east, or apartment building side of Farrell, and going north from Third Street, the first eight-unit structure was owned by the Max Thomfordes, an “older” foreign-born couple who also lived in one of the units. Those of us in the neighborhood often targeted “Maxie” for pranks on Halloween Eve. I don’t remember the names of any other tenants of that building in the 1940’s, unfortunately.
In the next building, a four-unit structure, lived Hartmann Schmidt, a Dupont Fabrikoid executive, and his elderly mother. The Pudner family, with children Peter and JoAnne, also lived there, and Mary Noble and her two sons, Dick and Bob. Dick was nicknamed “Snowball.” When he and I were both at North Junior High, several times he and I played hooky and went down to the Ferry and rode back and forth all day. Once we even got off on the Beacon side, and were playing near the cable crossing buoy there when we were chased away by a Ferry engineer, “Chol” McCullough, a cousin of my mom’s. He spotted us there dangerously close to a high voltage warning sign. I didn’t know who he was, but he sure knew who I was. I guess he never told my mom about it.
Bob Noble had acquired an ancient Model-T Ford, and Dick and I once went on a ride with him across the river and down to “Dick’s Castle” near Cold Spring. The car was so old, we had to stop occasionally and Bob would open the compartment to the “magneto” and file the carbon off its electrical terminals. It was a great adventure.
In the four-unit apartment across from the head of Norton Street lived the Hotaling, Kenney, Porter and Van Alst families. Young Billy Hotaling was a pal of mine, and we used to spend hours playing “catch” on the broad lawn in front of the building. The Kenneys had a young daughter who succumbed to leukemia shortly after Christmas 1948, I think. It was a sad event for the neighborhood indeed. “Minnie” and Al Porter were relatives: Agnes “Minnie” was my mother’s youngest sister, and J. Albert “Al”, was a draftsman at the Fabrikoid plant. They were childless, had lived out on Little Britain Road for several years, and they always had show-dog quality wire-haired terriers named “Tess” as part of their family. The Van Alsts included Jean and her aunt, Mrs. Van Duser. Jean later married Ed Kohl of Newburgh, and they lived across the street on Powelton Circle from my sister’s family for many years. The Kohls still live there.
The intersection of Farrell and Norton Streets, with its three storm sewers, was a great play area for us in the neighborhood, on the lightly traveled streets of those days. We played “Kick the Stick” there, an easy game. We angled a short stick against the sewer on the northwest corner, facing it south toward Third Street. Whoever was up kicked the stick toward the defense and attempted to reach first base (the manhole cover at the southwest corner) before being tagged with the stick. The next goal for the runner was to reach second base, the sewer on the east side of Farrell. I think we had to create third base out of loose stone in the gutter, north of second, and equidistant from second to home, counterclockwise. The manhole that was home plate for “Kick the Stick” was also home for “Kick the Can.”
The great blizzard of December 27-28, 1947, dumped several feet of snow on the neighborhood, as well as everywhere else, and creating forts, engaging in snowball fights, and sledding all the way down Norton Street, or turning left onto Bush from Norton, and trying to reach Fullerton Avenue, gave us great sport for what seemed like weeks.
Further north on the east side of Farrell, in the next four-unit apartment, lived three families that I knew: the Weltziens, with attractive daughter Barbara; the Rechtschaffners; and the Wileys, Mary and Howard, who were my mother’s older sister and her husband. The Wileys actually moved there in about 1948, and only lived at that location for a short time. But for a brief period in 1948-49, all three of the former Jackson sisters and their husbands were living no more than three dwellings from one another.
The last apartment building on the north side of Farrell was an eight-unit structure, and I only knew two families who lived there: the Taylors, with Johnny and Joan, and the Cullums (mentioned earlier- he was a Newburgh police officer). Johnny was a pal of mine an done of the neighborhood gang, and his sister was just a bit older than me. I recall that she was active in dramatics at NJHS.
Going south from McKinstry Street on the west side of Farrell, the first building is an eight-unit apartment house. There lived the Lewis family, whose sons Bill and Bob (Bucky) served in W.W.II. Bucky was an old friend of our family and introduced my sister to her husband-to-be in 1947 or so. Bucky owned an ancient Rolls Royce at that time that was the talk of the neighborhood. If it got two miles to the gallon of gas, it took a quart of oil to go the same distance. Also in this building lived an elderly lady named Ella Johnston, who was terrified of our dog “Blitz,” who was all bark and no bite. Also in this building lived the Warren Kimball family, whose son Larry was one of the neighborhood gang. When he got to NJHS, Larry took up the tuba, which fascinated me. Billy Hotaling, Larry, Gene Lavarello and I were the usual participants in the drawing or comic-reading sessions on my front porch during the summer seasons.
Next south, in the two-unit building, lived a lively family of Irish descent whose name I have completely forgotten, even though they had two sons just a bit younger than me. I remember the house well, though, because in a corner of its back yard was a cherry tree that bore tasty fruit each year without fail. Next door to the south lived the Hess family, with sons Richard and Bob. Bob was an on-and-off beau of my sister just before the war years, and was a very popular and good-looking fellow whose resemblance to a movie star of that time spurred his friends to nickname him “Gabe.” After the war, Bob worked for awhile at the Coke Bottling Plant up at Broadway and Grove, and when any of u would go to Crystal Lake to swim, and if Bob were working in the filling room there next to the window, he’d pass us out a few just-filled small bottles of warm Coke. It couldn’t have tasted better!
Next to the Hess family lived the Scotts, who had a daughter about my age, and next to them, on the northwest corner of Farrell and Norton, lived the Terpennings, Charles and Helen, and their son, Charles, Jr., who was in the U.S. Marines as an officer during W.W.II.
Down the north side of Norton, from Farrell, the Ward family occupied the next dwelling. The father, who bore a bit of a resemblance to Governor Thomas Dewey, was the minister of the church next to the old library on Grand Street. The Ward children were Bobby and Timmy. Bobby was a frequent playmate. He once owned a little tin Bond Bread Sheriff’s badge, which somehow ended up one day in my pocket. I must have swiped it from him after being defeated in a neighborhood snowball fight.
Next to the Wards, going west, lived the Poinsetts, whose family at some point may have been involved with the discovery of the popular Christmas season plant. They were a rather elderly couple, and I believe that he had worked at the Fabrikoid plant for many years and was retired. The next house, across the driveway, was where the Merediths lived for many years, and with whom I had contact when I lived in Bush Avenue.
On the south side of Norton, going west from Farrell, lived the Stimpsons, and next to them, the Becker family, including son Russell. Next came the Westcott family and next to them the Hoppers. Next were the Comegys family, and next to them and just behind the Cheneys on Bush Avenue, lived the Hazletts.
To the west of Bush on Norton lived the Baxters, with children Carol, Mary Anne, and Billy. I cannot recall the name of the inhabitants of the frame house next door. Then came two eight unit apartment buildings facing each other across Norton between Lilly and Norton. I don’t recall the names of their occupants, other than having been aware that my parents once lived at Number 19.
On Lilly Street I remember the Tooheys (son “Red” and a daughter), and the Stantons (Billy, John, and Betsy were their kids.) The Stantons were one of the first families in the Housing Tract to own a television set. It had a very small screen, and a large liquid-filled lens was deployed to enlarge the picture. A couple of us boys used to sneak into their yard and peek through the living room window, just to catch a glance at the fascinating TV picture. Remember- this was back in 1946 or 1947.
Back to Bush Avenue. Next to the Cheneys, on the east side below Norton lived the Kubinas. The Kubinas’ sons were Charles and John. The younger son, John, owned a motorcycle and wore a black leather jacket when riding it.
Next came O. Roy Greene and his wife. Rev. Greene was the pastor of St. George’s Church, and his wife taught piano in her home. Next to them were the Bill Kennedys. Bill, “Gin,” Terry and Dennis were very close family friends. Bill was a local attorney who also ran a taxi business for awhile with another Newburgher named Johnny Genter. Bill was a great friend for anyone to have. He served a term as City Manager during a most difficult time in the 1950s, and this work wore down his constitution. He passed away much too early in life.
The Merald Orths lived next to the Kennedys on the north end of the four-unit brick structure down on Bush Avenue. Merald was the print-shop instructor at NFA, and was part owner of a print shop on Broadway. His wife was Helen, and their children were Diane and Don. Merald, or “Shorty,” as his poker-playing cohorts called him, was from Oswego. His daughter married Mike Gilligan of Prospect Street, one of Bill Kennedy’s many nephews, and the Gilligans later lived around the corner on Norton Street.
Next were the C. Everett Stevens family, consisting of “Stubby,” his wife, Annie, and their son, Charles. Stubby was the football coach and later athletic director at NFA in the 1940’s. They were great friends of my parents. They were originally from Walden, and for several years we would go out to Walden with the Steven’s to watch the 4th of July fireworks there.
Next to the Stevens lived the elderly widow, Minnie Ward, and later the Bill Browns. Bill was a science teacher at NJHS and later at NFA, and eventually became a part of the Newburgh Board of Education administration. He was a great science teacher, and a favorite of mine, even though he was a tough disciplinarian. In 1936, he let me join the NJHS Science Club- I was the only 7th Grader allowed in. I was really honored. (What they did mostly was run the film projectors in various classrooms and the auditoriums… not quite science, but what the heck, it was fun.)
At one time the Browns lived in the house next door to the Minnie Ward house. Before them, the O’Brien family lived there. They had a charming teen-age son named Jack. I don’t know what happened to them after Bush Avenue in the mid-1940s.
The last building on the east side of Bush Avenue, just before Third Street and facing what is now Clinton Square, held four dwelling units. On the north end lived the Bligh family, which included father Bill, mother “Pete”, and son Bob, who was a splendid athlete in his NFA days. Other families in this building were the Frank Mastersons (he was the older brother of George “Lanky” Masterson, the celebrated NFA basketball coach. Frank sold radios and later, TV sets for Schoonmaker’s department store.), and the Schwarz family, whose son Vic was an aspiring artist and a member of the NFA class of 1950.
On the west side of Bush between Norton and Fullerton lived the Bill Elder family, whose daughter, Carolyn, was one of the teen-age belles of the neighborhood. I don’t remember too many of the other families, but believe there was one named Shuck, three doors down from the Elders. Past the driveway entrance in the lower part of the block lived Mrs. Benedict, a kindly, elderly widow, and the other three units in the building housed the Gee family and the DeKay family on the south end of this building. The DeKays had three sons, Ken, Don, who worked in the Color Room of the Fabrikoid Plant before he went into the service during W.W.II, and Dick, just a year or two older than I.
The last building on the northwest side of Bush, as it bent toward its end on Fullerton Avenue, housed apartments over four commercial stores. I don’t recall who lived there, but one of the stores was a small grocery, and the other a beauty salon. Wattie Gee’s store was right on the corner.
We now go back up the Third Street hill to Prospect Street; we travel down the north side to Fullerton. The first house predated the Colonial Terraces, and I believe was used as sales or rental office when it first opened just after W.W.I. On the northeast corner of Third and Prospect lived the Dugans, with children Lorraine and Johnny.
I don’t remember who lived in the two-unit clapboard structure on the northwest corner of Third and Farrell, but I do remember that a stout stone retaining wall framed the front yard of these two units. It was fun to walk along the top of this wall, just as we used to do on the masonry wall of the Broadway School at Broadway and Robinson.
Next were the O’Donovans, Al and “Lou,” who had many children including Bobby, Judy, and Patty, who were near my age. Al worked for the Quaker Oats Company and played poker with my dad. “Lou” was a homemaker who occasionally played bridge with my mom.
Now I lose track of who lived in which unit as the hill descends toward Bush Avenue. Among the folks there was the Bellinger family. “Hickey” Bellinger was an old high school pal of my dad’s, and was said to have deliberately stayed back at NFA to continue play football. That’s what my dad always told me, anyway.
The Sullivans, who had a son, Brian, and a daughter, Barbara, lived on the right side of the last frame dwelling on Third. Next to them lived the Fred “Fritz” Pelin family. “Fritz” was a manual arts teacher at NFA and had a son named Jacky. The Pelins moved away, and by the early 1970’s, their dwelling had a new tenant: my cousin Jack Wiley, his two sons, Mike and Jack, daughter Joan, and his second wife, the former Nancy Covert.
On the east side of Fullerton, from Bush all the way up to South Street, I didn’t know too many of the families. Near Wattie’s store lived the Habers, whose daughter Thelma was my classmate at West Street School and NJHS. Also in this block was a family named Welch, who had a son named Bobby.
Above Norton, I remember a family named Zimmerman, and the Dr. Ed Fitzgerald (the eye doctor) family. The Fitzgeralds, friends of my parents, were Ed and Fran, and their children, Ann and David. Ann was another Colonial Terraces teen-age belle. Fran Fitzgerald died suddenly of a heart attack when she was in her early 40s, a real neighborhood tragedy. The last two freestanding houses before South Street were not part of the Colonial Terraces dwellings, but I do remember that a Mrs. Stubley, who was related by marriage to the Kennedys of Bush Avenue, lived in the corner house.
On the west side of Fullerton between Third and Norton, I remember only the Hermans and the Heroys. Ray, or “Ray-Ray,” was a couple of years older than my gang, but he occasionally played in our street football or baseball games. I believe he was the youngest son, and had at least one older brother and sister. The Hermans I knew only slightly. All that I know about people who lived between Norton and South I described earlier.
Wilson Street: on the corner of McKinstry lived the White family. They had two attractive teen-aged brunette daughters. We used to drive Mrs. White crazy playing baseball in the little park at the northeast end of Bush Avenue. The problem was that we used a real baseball, not a tennis ball, and she feared for her windows. I did once break a window of an apartment building on Farrell Street- that happened in 1949 on the very last day our family lived in Newburgh. The custodian, Oscar Carangi, was not too happy about that either.
I believe that there were three or four dwellings on the west side of Prospect Street, just south of South Street that were technically part of the Housing Tract, but I never knew who lived in any of these.
That completes the tour of the people and their homes in the Colonial Terraces, between 1935 and 1949, at least as the writer remembers. I haven’t mentioned our playgrounds or gathering places other than the street corner at Farrell and Norton, but I do recall having fun in the back lots of the three garage parking areas that are still there, behind the homes on Bush Avenue and Norton Street. We also liked to roam through the jungle of “The Steamers,” which is what we called the wetland low grounds that rimmed the creek that ran behind Fullerton Avenue between South and Third Streets. Anywhere else that we spent any time was a bit further removed from the neighborhood, such as the NFA grounds, the Recreation Park, Snake Hill and Crystal Lake…and of course, that great downtown of Newburgh, the late and lamented Water Street.
May the memory live on through these pages!

Robert J. Wilson’s “Life on Gedney Way” 1941-1943

written by Robert J. Wilson, Jr. 

Looking up Bush Avenue from what is now called Clinton Square
OK…the year is 1941, and my family had moved into 2 Gedney Way from 29 Bush Avenue. Don Romano had lived in this very same house a few years before we arrived, and remembers it most because as a young lad, he was attacked by a mad dog while living there. The house was owned by Stanley Johnson, the Orange County District Attorney, when we arrived there. For many years after we left, Sam Dabrusin and his family lived there.
At number 4, next door to us, lived the Dr. S. H. Baum, Optometrist, family. Henry B. introduced me to Captain Marvel comics, and the family had a movie projector and a library of early Mickey Mouse films, including “Steamboat Willie”, the first sound Mickey cartoon.
At number 6 lived the Matt Devitt, Attorney, family. More than 60 years later, daughter Susan still lives there. Her husband was Terry Kennedy, who passed away in November 2005. And at last report, a mulberry tree still grows there in the middle of the back yard. Susan’s late brother Bob, also an attorney, was one of my sister Bunny’s crowd (NFA Class of 1944), and used to hang around our house after school. (So many of that gang have gone, now, including my sister, Danny Ahearn, Bob Hess, Norm Greene, Linc June, Carol Baxter, Connie Cavanaugh; but some are still around somewhere: Shirley Harrison, Joan Reed, Don Bott, and Bucky Lewis…)
Kemper Mazz remembers the family of Cole Wilkinson (from up around Rochester way) who lived at number 8, next to the Devitt’s, back then. In later years, Dr. Cassidy, the local dentist, and his family lived in that house. Recently, his daughter Tammi has been involved with the Internet, posting short fiction on a site called YesterdayLand, that no longer exists.
In the next house lived the family of Betty Ann Knorr, who I think thought I was the smartest kid on the block because I knew even then that USA stood for the Union of South Africa as well as for America. There may be another house to the east of the Knorr’s, I but can’t remember who lived there, if it actually exists.
The Fred Froemmel family lived at the northeast corner of Gedney, at Gidney. Fred was an outstanding amateur athlete in Newburgh back then, and was associated with a local beer distributorship. He had his basement fitted out as a mini-rathskeller, with tables covered with red checkerboard tablecloths. Occasionally, he would let some of the neighborhood kids go down there and play like we were grown-ups, sipping Coke as though it were beer.
Across from the Froemmel’s, on the southeast corner of Gedney and Gidney, lived Ed Dillon, of Schoonmaker’s, his wife Ann, and their family of Ed, Jr., Mary, twins Johnny and Bill (both of whom were star athletes at NFA in the early 1940’s), Jeanne, and Father Dick, who is now Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Fordham and lives in New York. The Dillons were sort-of-relatives of mine. My mother’s brother Joe was married to Ann Dillon’s (nee Murphy) sister Katherine.
Next to the Dillon’s, heading west, lived at that time, a young First Lieutenant from Stewart Field, who owned a motor scooter. When snow covered the street, he would hitch our sleds to the back of the scooter and cautiously give us a tow up and down the block.
I cannot remember who lived in the next house to the west, but in the 1960’s when Matt and Mary Devitt were still living, Susan and Terry Kennedy lived there. Either just before or after that, I learned recently that Carole Snider McDermott and husband Dave lived next door to the east, in the 1960’s.
Next came the Goewey household. Head of household Irv was a high-level administrator in the Newburgh school system, son Bill was a star track athlete at NFA, and daughter Marilyn was the prettiest girl on the block. We all (all of the boys, anyway) loved Marilyn.
The big, main house on Gedney on the south side, and next to the Goewey’s, was the Jack Powell (of Burger’s Furniture) household of Jack, his wife Mary, and their late son David. This elegant home must have been built by a family named Gedney, because Gedney Way was configured as a driveway serving that home from either Fullerton or Gidney Avenues. In fact, brick pillars on either end of the street mark the driveway, still. Jack was a bon vivant, and once treated the neighborhood kids to an evening at the Carnival on the lot down next to the New Armory near the Recreation Park.
The Bob Barr (he was a local banker) family were in the next house west, and their household included sons Bob and the late Bryce, and a pair of English Bulldogs named Daisy and Pansy. Bryce once accidentally shaved off a good portion of the nail on my right index finger with a wood plane, which wouldn’t have happened, had I not been so anxious to point my finger at something he was doing as he worked on smoothing the surface of a piece of 2×4 in a small woodshop my dad had set up in our garage.
Next to the Barr’s, at number 3, lived the Paris (and Mildred) Poindexter family, with H. (for Haig) Roger and Sally. Paris was a chemist at the Fabby, and a close friend of my Dad’s. In later years, both Paris and my Dad were transferred by DuPont down to the Philadelphia/Wilmington area, and just before my Dad retired, Paris and Mildred lived two blocks away from us in Wilmington, DE. At last report, Paris was still living, in retirement, in North Carolina. Haig is also now retired, and lives in Southern California. Paris’s nephew was the Admiral Poindexter who was prominent during the days of the Iran/Contra affair, and bore an amazing resemblance to Paris when they were both the same age.
At number 1 Gedney Way back then, lived a childless couple, Oscar Johnson, his wife and his father, Oscar, Sr. The younger, very affable Oscar ran the Muskegon Machine Shop down on South Robinson Avenue (the structure still stands, in total disrepair), and the Johnsons were actually originally from Muskegon, MI. Mrs. Johnson gained some notoriety in the neighborhood, probably in 1941, when she hung out a quilt to air on the clothesline in her side yard. Neighbors were quick to notice that the quilt incorporated a prominent Swastika pattern in it, and a somewhat embarrassed Mrs. Johnson took it down, and we never saw that quilt airing out again…or at least for “the duration.”