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.