On the Fourth of July of 1850, America's first publicly owned historic site was dedicated by a crowd of 10,000 people on the banks of the Hudson River in Newburgh, N.Y.
The quaint fieldstone farmhouse that sits on the hill was the headquarters of George Washington during the final stage of the Revolutionary War. It was from this place that he toiled over many problems such as how to fairly compensate troops who were threatening mutiny, negotiating a peaceful end to the Joshua Huddy Affair, and navigating a path to a republic form of government as the British retreated. After the General issued the cease-fire and then departed in 1783, the house was returned to t
he widow Trintje Hasbrouck who quietly revived her grist mill and farm. She lived there until her death on the cusp of the 19th century.
Her grandson, Jonathan Hasbrouck, inherited the home. He was proud of the role that his family's house played in the war effort and he made every attempt to maintain the
condition of the building. It is said that he would give spontaneous tours if someone in the neighborhood showed interest. Hasbrouck even invited General Lafayette to visit when he was in Newburgh during his grand tour of 1825. But by the 1830s, Hasbrouck was bankrupt and not residing in the now outdated house. Thus, he was forc
ed to take a mortgage from the US Deposit Fund. In 1848 he defaulted on the loan and the property Washington once called headqua
rters was expected to go to auction. Buyers would surely tear it down to make wa
y for new homes like the ones going up at that time along Grand Street.
Due to the
e actions of the loan officers, Andrew Caldwell and Alexander Campbell, the Hasbrouck House was saved from this fate. They wrote to the New York State Governor, Hamilton Fish, wh
o contacted the New York State Legislators. They voted in 1849 to purchase the property on behalf of the people of New York.
Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site is America's first publicly owned historic site and the world's first historic house museum. It is open for tours April through October and hosts special program
ming year-round. In the 167 years since it's opening, nearly 15,000 historic houses have been preserved as museums or public spaces.
More than a century later, individuals from this same region of the Hudson Valley pioneered another for
m of preservation when they saved St
orm King Mountain from development.
In 1962 Con Ed announced that they would be building a hydro power energy plant on the banks of the Hudson River. This plant would operate by pumping 8 billion gallons of water up through two miles of piping into a dam on top of the mountain in the middle of the night and then releasing it through turbines in the daytime. Even though it took much energy to pump the water up, they would make more money sending it down when demand was at its highest. With electric appliances and electric heat being added to so many modern homes, demand for energy was a serious infrastru
ctural concern in the areas surrounding New
The plan would have been met with enthusiasm were it not for something that Con Ed didn't plan on: They chose the wrong mountai
n. When the illustration of the new hydro power plant was published, people were outraged. The image showed Storm King Mountain, a landscape famously cherished by the Hudson River School Painters and a site with historical relevance to
the heroes of the Revolutionary War who traversed back and forth between Newburgh and West Point regularly.
Against all odds, a group of citizens joined together and created an adv
ocacy group called Scenic Hudson. They petitioned to the Federal Power Commission to revoke the permit that would allow this development, but they were told that with no property or business ownership associated with the project, they lacked what was known in legal terms as "standing." Internal experts claimed that th
e power plant would not disrupt wildlife populations nor harm the beauty of the river. They also claimed
that this project was necessary to provide for the growing energy demands of the region. In November 1965 there was a widespread power outage in New York City, demonstrating that these energy needs were legitimate. But when the court convened in December 1965, they set a precedent by determining that Scenic Hudson did have "standing" due to a public desire to protect environmental landmarks based on natural, aesthetic, and historical importance.
The Federal Power Com
mission revoked the permit for the Storm King hydro power plant and forced Con Ed to redesig
n the project until it satisfied the energy needs of the community without causing harm to wild
life populations or defacing the historical landscape. It was the first time in the agency's hi
story that they revoked a permit for development. A compromise was never made and in 1980 Con Ed donated the land. It became public parkland.
The landmark decision that occurred in 1965 marked the birth Environmental Law. For 52 years, it has been the basis for citizen groups throughout the nation to stop harmful development projects in their communities.
Johanna Yaun, Orange County Historian