April 19, 1783, marked America's true independence day: the moment when an official cessation of hostilities with the British Army came into effect. This event began the process that would end with official international recognition of the United States of America by the Treaty of Paris, signed later that year. The epicenter of this monumental event was the simple stone house on the banks of the Hudson at the village of Newburgh, occupied by General George Washington and his staff. If any place in America represents the final victory of the eight-year armed struggle for independence, it is Jonathan Hasbrouck's House, now known as Washington's Headquarters.
By the middle of the following century, the memory of this pivotal event in this unusual place was under threat. The generation of Americans who had fought for independence was passing, to be replaced by a new generation that remembered the conflict only through the tales of their elders. For these latter people, place became an issue irrevocably interwoven with history, since the locations where these heroic events took place increasingly represented the sole physical connection with the past. It was in this broader context of loss that a new era in the memory of the nation was born with a re-investment in the events of 1783, on the original ground.
|The Tower of Victory with it's original terracotta roof.
In the 1840s, a group of concerned citizens banded together to save the Hasbrouck House, then under threat from the family's bankruptcy. The formation of the Newburgh Historical Society, with its mission to preserve the great sites and artifacts of America's formative struggle, marked a shift from an older philosophy of preservation, which emphasized evoking memories through paintings of old location
s or saving pieces of key structures. In advocating for New York state's purchase of the Hasbrouck House, the Newburgh Historical Society made the first move in the nation's history to preserve historic landscapes for the education and enjoyment of future generations. The results of this campaign produced the first publicly-owned historic site in the United States of America and established our tradition of house museums.
In October 1883, Newburgh once again took center stage with a week-long gala celebration of the Revolution's conclusion. Over a hundred thousand people descended on the city from around the world to take part in festivities that included parades, military demonstrations, and patriotic speeches. Out of these events came a new initiative that would mark a re-confirmation of the events of 1783 and would broadcast them to the world. Months earlier, in April, Abraham Lincoln's son, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, announced plans to erect a monument at Newburgh to commemorate "the events which took place there a century ago." Four years later, this monument would be unveiled as the Tower of Victory.
|The Tower of Victory as it looks today.
The autumn of 1883 marked the incorporation of the Newburgh Historical Society, which held its first meeting on Washington's Birthday in 1884. The members re-affirmed their commitment to the "discovery, collection and preservation" of the area's revolutionary history and took on a greater title as the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Hudson Highlands. One of the first items of business was to begin planning the centennial monument, originally envisioned as a statue of Washington that would "awaken increased interest and regard for the picturesque stone house now consecrated by so many memories of the past." By 1886, plans had expanded to enclose the statue in a stone tower that would "typify the rugged simplicity of the times and personages." Historical society members commissioned architects Maurice J. Power and John Hemmenway Duncan, who would later become known for their work on the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Grant's Tomb in Manhattan, and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, to design the tower. By the end of 1887, the monument was complete, broadcasting the site's significance to a new world-wide audience of visitors.
In 1950 a severe storm damaged the roof of the Tower of Victory and it was removed to prevent further damage to the base. For more than 65 years it has been closed to the public.
For the past five years, a volunteer committee through the Palisades Park Conservancy chaired by Barney McHenry with help from Sue Smith and Matthew Shook have become the latest to honor the site by advocating for the monument. The group has been raising awareness and funding for the restoration of the Tower of Victory through mailings, events and via social media. In 2014, local philanthropist Bill Kaplan pledged $100,000 and inspired many others to contribute. Donna Cornell and Jeffrey Werner helped connect the committee donors including discounted services to complete the landscaping. Wint Aldrich and Kevin Burke lent their preservation expertise to the project by shaping the mission of the fundraising campaign and Denise Van Buren kept everyone on task. By the end of 2015, the committee was successful in raising 1. 6 million dollars -
almost enough to complete the restoration!
As a member of the committee, I attended an update meeting at Washington's HQ on January 14th. We were informed that bids for a contractor went out in December and returned with a 1.9 million dollar pricetag. With a 50% matching grant from NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the committee is now tasked with raising the remaining $150,000. If we can't source the funds by the end of January, it'll mean that the project bids expire and the project will be set back a few months. Feel free to contact Matthew Shook email@example.com if you have any ideas to help the project meet it's goals.
I hope that I'll be able to update you all soon with a more specific timeline.