The Hudson Valley renaissance is underway, with towns like Cold Spring, Garrison, Beacon, and Peekskill attracting a lot of attention from the well-heeled looking to scoop up property, chefs opening up restaurants serving locally sourced ingredients and distillers and brewers looking for suitable spots to concoct their creations. Some liken the New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley to Germany’s Rhine River valley, with its riverside villages and towns, steep hillsides, and vineyards.
Newburgh, the second largest in New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley, still has its problems, but the city of 29,000 has also gotten in on the action. On an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, I drove up from northern NJ to spend an afternoon there.
Though Newburgh is only a 20 minute drive from West Point, where I went to college, we cadets didn’t consider the city a place to visit. Come to think of it, I didn’t do too much touring around the area because we were basically under lock down half the time.
The second half of the 20th century saw Newburgh fall victim to economic forces that set the city on course for a long decline. Deindustrialization, the rise of the federal highway system, and the decline in river traffic all did their part in hampering the city’s progress. Crime and poverty rates rose. Many of the city’s beautiful Victorian homes were left abandoned.
If you’re interested in checking out Newburgh, follow this short itinerary to experience a little bit of history of the city, take in some gorgeous views of the Hudson, and fuel up at a hip brewery and a cafe.
Note: In writing this blog I’ve come to realize that one of the ways I structure my day trips is to leave home in the mid-morning, do some sightseeing before lunch, find a good locally owned lunch spot, see some more sights, and then finish up with a coffee and dessert at a cafe–with something to read of course. I’m set in my ways.
Before lunch: Visit Washington’s Headquarters
Newburgh’s East End Historic District, bordering the river, is worth exploring. It offers wonderful views of the river and its street grid is lined with Victorian-era homes recalling more prosperous times.
The district’s main tourist draw is the headquarters of George Washington, who commanded the Revolutionary Army from Newburgh during the last year of the war. The HQ site and grounds were acquired by the state of New York in 1850, making it one of the country’s first locations marked for preservation. I started out by visiting the museum and viewing the Revolutionary War artifacts on display. The $4 admission fee includes a 30 minute guided tour of the Hasbrouck House, where Washington lived and from where he commanded. Our knowledgeable tour guide was in period dress, literally–she was dressed like Martha Washington.
After the tour I walked down the hill to Newburgh Brewing Company which occupies a former factory overlooking the Hudson river. The two-story brewery has selection of 15 craft beers and a menu with locally-sourced food such as house-made bratwurst, mac and cheese, fish tacos, and a pulled pork burrito.
The food and beer were great, but the highlight of the brewery is the beautiful interior design. The second floor bar looks like a fancy barn, with high ceilings and wood rafters. There are long, communal, biergarten-like tables and even enough space for foosball and cornhole.
After Lunch: Walk along the riverfront
Newburgh owes its existence to Hudson Rver, so no visit to the city should go without a walk along the riverfront. Walk along Front Street, which runs parallel to the river, and take in the views of the rolling hills of the Hudson Highlands, the Newburgh Beacon Bridge to the north and the city of Beacon across the river.
The main downtown center of the city sits at the top of a long sloping hill leading down to the river’s edge. If there were no streets and no wharf along the water, you could hop in a sleigh at the top of Broadway and sled all the way down with a splash into the river. Talk about an awesome sleigh ride.
Coffee and Dessert: 2 Alice’s
By now maybe you’ll have worked up an appetite for a mid-afternoon snack. Walk up the hill or drive to Newburgh’s main drag, Broadway Avenue. This avenue is actually really broad and is lined with a lot of shops, corner stores, and take-out places. Some of the blocks are a little run down and have some vacant properties, but overall this is a neighborhood on the upswing.
I chose 2 Alices Coffee Lounge on Broadway for my mid-afternoon coffee fix. There are two 2 Alice’s in New York state, the other being in Cornwall. I would guess that the owner of this place is an urban pioneer who sees great potential in the city. The drip coffee was excellent as was the “Paris apple” pastry I had. According to the artfully drawn chalkboard writing–a must for a bohemian coffee shop–2 Alice’s also serves bagels, soup, and mac & cheese.
Newburgh has a lot of potential and I hope the renaissance continues. I don’t know what the city and the state are doing to attract more businesses but they apparently did something right by attracting two viable businesses in 2 Alices and Newburgh Brewing Company.
Even so, during my short four hours there, I did see a few pockets of blight around the city. It is my hope that as Americans continue their migration back to walkable downtowns, cities like Newburgh, long left to decay, will continue to benefit.
If you’re coming from the New York City area, be sure to take 9W, one of the most scenic stretches of road on the East Coast. Because you can’t access the scenic vista turnoffs going southbound though, I suggest taking 9W on the way up to Newburgh and taking the NY Thruway (87) back.