A Day Trip to Newburgh, NY That Surprised Me

Table and View from Blu Point restaurant in Newburgh, NY. Sarah Hartshorne photos.
Table and View from Blu Point restaurant in Newburgh, NY. Sarah Hartshorne photos.

A famous Chef, a General’s Headquarters and Historic Homes to Explore

By Sarah Hartshorne

When I told my friends I was going to Newburgh most of their eyes glazed over when I added the words “upstate”.  New Yorkers think of anywhere above the city as a mythical place that only people with cars or summer homes go.

A cocktail at Blu Room.
Chef Michael Kelly with customers at Liberty Street Bistro in Newburgh, NY.
Chef Michael Kelly with customers at Liberty Street Bistro in Newburgh, NY.

But my friends who know the area had a rather different reaction. “It’s a little bit…um,” said one, struggling to find the words, “murdery? Is that a word?” It isn’t, but it painted a picture.

Newburgh is an old city, founded in 1709, that has most recently been known for virulent gang violence, drugs, and terrible roads. But recent and dramatic changes to the government, infrastructure, and businesses are doing their best to chip away at that image.

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The question is whether or not they’re addressing the underlying causes and issues, and I honestly don’t have the answer to that, but I did have a wonderful day.

James Beard Chef

The day included historical sightseeing that kept even my short attention span captive, a meal by a James Beard award-winning chef, and a glimpse into Newburgh’s vibrant art scene.

But through it all, everything felt very much in progress. Which, on the one hand, made it feel more special, like an undiscovered gem.

But on the other hand were impassable roads, dilapidated buildings, and lingering questions about the long-term effects of rapid gentrification in a town that shares with its residents a storied and complex history.

Entrance at General Washington Headquarters in Newburgh.
Entrance at General Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh.

The train from NYC is a beautiful jaunt along the Hudson River. Newburgh’s residents bemoan the lack of a MetroNorth station in their town, but I didn’t mind at all.

It’s a quick drive or an even quicker ferry ride across the Hudson that spits you right out onto a whole stretch of riverside dining options that span BBQ, tapas, Italian, seafood, and more. After sampling delicious food and artisanal cocktails at Blu Point, we were all ready for a nap.

But the day was just beginning, soon we trekked to Newburgh’s Historical Society and the Historical District, which is a living testimony to the fact that Newburgh is one of the most architecturally significant cities in America: across from the Crawford House is a house designed and built by Andrew J. Downing, which is apparently a big deal If you know architecture, which I do not.

Tapas at Blu Point in Newburgh, NY
Tapas at Blu Point in Newburgh, NY

But the house is impressive, and a private residence that is meticulously maintained.

The historical society is also beautifully restored and maintained in the David Crawford House. If you’re going to take a tour, I’d wait for their holiday candlelit tours when the house is decorated and illuminated for the holidays, otherwise, it’s a little underwhelming.

But the historic district will be a beautiful place to take a walk or a drive once they fix the roads which are currently pretty impassable due to construction following decades of neglect.

Mr. President

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Old Bicycle at Velocipede, a recently opened bicycle museum in Newburgh, NY.
Old Bicycle at Velocipede, a recently opened bicycle museum in Newburgh, NY.

From there we went to Washington’s Headquarters, which is where the future first President stayed the longest during the Revolutionary War with a battalion of soldiers and his wife. I have to be honest, I thought it would be a bore but it was my favorite stop of the trip.

The tour guide was adorable and so passionate about the material. She really showed us how Washington’s time in that home and the town at that time shaped American history. It’s well worth a tour.

Then, to reward yourself for all that learning, right next door is Newburgh Brewing Company. There are quite a few breweries in town, both cider, and beer, but this is the biggest one, with the oldest building. It’s 160 years old, restored to not only brew the beer that is distributed all over the Northeast, but also to house a restaurant with great food, stunning views of the river and, of course, delicious beers on tap.

It’s set up family-style on purpose, and the whole room feels ready for anything. Accordingly, they have concerts, gallery showings, trivia nights, and tons of different holiday events. This nacho lover left very happy, if stuffed.

Then it was back to history lessons with The Velocipede, a bicycle museum that opened in Newburgh just six months ago.

A ship in the harbor at the Beacon train station.
A ship in the harbor at the Beacon train station.

Keep its newness and also my post-lunch fatigue in mind when I tell you that this museum was…ok.

It’s a room full of old bicycles. Which is fine, but admission is $15 which, to be fair, includes admission to the nearby Motorcycle Museum, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Liberty Street Bistro

We closed the day at Liberty Street Bistro, voted Best New Restaurant by Hudson Valley Magazine, helmed by James Beard award-winning chef, Michael Kelly. The meal was perfect, from top to bottom, and dietary restrictions weren’t just accommodated, they were celebrated.

An avowed carnivore, I have to admit that some of the vegetarian and even vegan options stole the show.

Liberty Street is the main drag in town and the centerpiece in revitalization efforts. There are boutiques, bakeries, and lots of stunning public art, including a piece by street artist Dasic that would thrill any trendy NYC Instagrammer.

There’s also a series of stunning photographs of Newburgh residents by Dmitri Kasterine on the corner of Liberty and Broadway, overlooking a small public park.

These faces are a poignant reminder of who stands to gain or lose the most in the face of the gentrification of Newburgh.  And if Liberty Street is the face of the future that Newburgh wants, Broadway is still struggling with its past.

Derelict buildings surround the Ritz Theater, which once housed some of the greatest acts of the 20th century, and while it is being restored, the facade is very much a halcyon of days gone by. Which is very in keeping with the phrase of the day: in progress.

As I watched a breathtaking sunset over the river from the ferry out of town, Newburgh sprawled before me, its roots dating back to the Revolutionary War, shaping the building nation around it. And thinking of all the growth and change happening in the town now, its potential seems limitless.

What progress, indeed.

Sarah Hartshorne
Sarah Hartshorne

 

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Sarah Hartshorne is a regular contributor to GoNOMAD. She’s an actress and comedian with Lady Parts Justice who lives in New York City.