The Port of Newburgh lies on the west bank of the Hudson River in Orange County, New York. The Port of Newburgh is about 62 nautical miles upriver (93 kilometers or 58 miles north-northeast) from the Port of New York. The Port of Newburgh is also about 45 nautical miles downriver (81 kilometers or 50 miles south-southwest) of the Port of Catskill. It is part of the New York Harbor River System. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 28.8 thousand people living in the Port of Newburgh and a population of 670.3 thousand in the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown metropolitan area.
The Port of Newburgh was General George Washington's last headquarters during the American Revolution. It was here that Washington disbanded the Continental Army and refused the title of king. Early Newburgh grew as a river port. Port of Newburgh was part of the whaling boom of the 1800s, and it was a ferry landing for coal brought from Pennsylvania. Today, the Port of Newburgh is still a busy trade and distribution hub for fruit and dairy products from the region.
When Europeans came to the future Port of Newburgh area, they found the Waoranek people living there. Part of the larger Lenape (Delaware) tribe, they were a peaceful people who lived in domed huts, fished and hunted along the Hudson, and grew a few crops like beans, squash, and corn.
When colonists arrived from the Netherlands and Sweden, the Waoranek trade some of their harvest for iron tools. The Lenape people were decimated by the diseases Europeans brought to the New World. By the time of the American Revolution, they were moving to the west to escape white settlement. Those who did not leave were finally forced to go to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 1860s.
The first European to arrive in the Port of Newburgh was Henry Hudson who sailed up the river and entered Newburgh Bay in 1609. The German-born settlers that followed on English ships were helped greatly by the Waoranek people who shared their food and their land. After the British took over the lands from the Dutch West Indies Company, the colonial governor bought the Port of Newburgh for $200 and some metal tools.
The first permanent residents for the Port of Newburgh came in 1709. King George granted 50 acres to every person living there in 1714 and made another 50 acres communal land. There were nine streets in the Port of Newburgh by 1750, and the area supported productive farms and a small port. By that time, the Port of Newburgh had two docks, and a ferry carried people across the river. Local lumber mills nurtured a building industry that produced homes, commercial buildings, and ships.
During the 18th Century, settlers arrived from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, and Africa (as indentured servants and slaves). When a new map was created for England, the town was named the Parish of Newburgh. The American Revolution brought many troops to the Port of Newburgh where they were encamped. The Port of Newburgh also grew from the many settlers who were escaping New York City while it was occupied by the British. The Port of Newburgh was important to the new United States. The peace and underlying terms were settled there.
The Port of Newburgh was incorporated as a village in 1800. Its population boomed in the early 1800s to almost six thousand people in 1840. With growth came business, and the Port of Newburgh was an important hub for commerce in the mid-Hudson region. The harbor was visited by steamboats moving between Manhattan and Albany, and sailing vessels carried international trade out of the Port of Newburgh. Many new businesses appeared to take advantage of the roads and canals that further increased trade activities.
The American Civil War brought industrial expansion to the Port of Newburgh where essential supplies were made. Frederick Douglass made an important speech in the Port of Newburgh in 1870, and it hosted the New York State Women's Suffrage Convention on Susan B. Anthony's 80th birthday. The Port of Newburgh was incorporated as a city in 1865, and the city charter created two wards. Victorian buildings arose, testifying to the Port of Newburgh's prosperity in the late 19th Century.
In the early 20th Century, the Port of Newburgh was still booming. It was home to more than 100 factories. The Port of Newburgh supported ship-building yards and shipping-related companies, machine shops, brickyards, cloth manufacturers, plaster works, and clothing design enterprises. World War I brought growth to the shipyards and manufacturers.
Through World War II, the Port of Newburgh was an important retail shopping center for all of the Hudson River Valley. The Port of Newburgh was also a popular recreation center where skating, ice boating, yachting, rowing, dance ballrooms, casinos, baseball, and amusement parks thrived. Excursion steamers offered adventure to visitors.
The end of World War II brought yet another building boom to the Port of Newburgh. By 1950, the city reached its peak population of 32 thousand people. The local airfield was used to train West Point graduates, and it became an important Air Force base. Soon, suburbs surrounded the city, and suburban shopping centers drew customers from the Water Street business district.
Within a decade or two, interstate trucking took cargo-handling away from the port, and lower costs led Port of Newburgh manufacturers to go to the South. Chain stores drove family businesses out of business. By the early 1970s, the Air Force base closed, and many apartments and local businesses stood vacant. Ferry traffic was replaced by modern highways.
Despite the economic decline, residents began to work to preserve the Port of Newburgh's historic places. In 1973, the East End was recognized as a National Historic District. In 1998, the Port of Newburgh received a "Save America's Treasures" grant for the Dutch Reformed Church which became a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
By the end of the 20th Century, the Port of Newburgh waterfront was largely abandoned. Community efforts brought the area back from oblivion. Today, the Port of Newburgh is a busy destination with restaurants and shops that bring thousands of visitors each weekend. The Port of Newburgh is recovering. Neighborhood associations thrive, and the hospital and college are planning growth. New businesses are returning, and locals are confident that the Port of Newburgh is entering a new era.