On January 2nd a ceremony was held for the inauguration of Newburgh's new representative to the Orange County Legislature. The event took place at the old 1841 Courthouse on Grand Street, twin of the Goshen courthouse, which is now utilized as the office of the City Historian, Mary McTamaney, and serves as a "heritage center" for public programming. The following remarks were prepared for the occasion.
In 1969 and 1970 there was an argument between city leaders in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh and they insulted each other publicly in the local newspapers. This was sparked when the Dutchess County government was contemplating moving the County Seat out of downtown Poughkeepsie. Local residents and elected officials reacted vocally stating, "we don't want to be another Newburgh."
Today the meaning behind this reaction is lost on many of us in Orange County. But this dispute makes more sense when you understand the context of Newburgh's relationship with the County Seat.
The boundaries of Orange County were created by British Colonial powers in 1664 as one of the original counties of the Provence of New York. At that time the boundaries included all of what is Rockland County and extended up the Hudson and Delaware Rivers to the Moodna Creek. Newburgh was not part of the original towns of Orange County instead, it was in Ulster County.
If you picture the original boundaries of Orange County going all the way to the New Jersey border (although that border was in dispute for quite some time too), the landscape is defined by the series of ridges that are now included in Harriman State Park land. Therefore if you needed to vote or appear in court in the 17th and 18th centuries, and you lived south of the mountains, it was quite an arduous journey to travel to Goshen for the occasion. Many residents complained about the challenge so in 1748, while still under Colonial rule, this topographical difficulty was addresses in the passing of a colonial law. A second County Seat for Orange County residents was designated at Orangetown.
A few decades ago, a former County Historian named Donald Clark conducted research to examine census records from the mid-18th century to understand more about why this second County Seat was necessary. He found lots of evidence in marriage records that these two regions indeed operated very separately. He found that it was more common for a Goshen resident to marry someone recently arrived from Barbados then from what is now Rockland County.
When the boundaries were redrawn in 1798, the southern towns became Rockland County and Newburgh was carved from Ulster County and added to Orange County to even out the territories. As part of this bargain, Newburgh was granted the other "half" of the half-shire status. So for 172 years from 1798 to the new Orange County charter of 1970, Newburgh and Goshen shared this designation. The twin courthouses structures built in the classical style by Thornton Niven in 1841are relics of this past.
In 1970, when Poughkeepsie and Newburgh officials were carrying on in the newspapers, the two cities had a lot in common. They were both deep in economic struggle and trying to steer their Urban Renewal programs into recovering blighted downtowns. Retail was moving to the malls in the towns, industry was moving to the southern States.
Orange County centralized its offices at the newly constructed Paul Rudolph-designed Government Center in Goshen and passed the new charter creating the County Legislature and County Executive positions. The loss of County presence took an additional toll on the City of Newburgh, without Courts for instance, the lawyers' offices moved off of Liberty Street, taking away the street traffic necessary to maintain the small businesses that street.
When Poughkeepsie officials invoked this struggle in the local papers saying they didn't "want to be another Newburgh," a Newburgh Councilman was quick to hurl insults back across the river pointing out that Poughkeepsie had doomed its downtown by constructing the Route 9 beltway. But ultimately, the Poughkeepsie city officials were right: possessing the County Seat is an asset to a downtown. But even if a community doesn't have the County offices on their streets, they do have an advocate in the County through their Legislator.
As an Orange County official and Newburgh resident, I thank you all for inviting me to welcome Kevindaryan Lujan to the role of County Legislator.