We are back with another before and after courtesy of Tom Porfidio, one of Newburgh’s first urban pioneers. Born in South Brooklyn, Tom was a retired school teacher when he came upon 162 Montgomery. He was on the verge of moving to an ultra modern condo when he learned that this house was for sale. Tom’s friends and family thought that he was “nuts”and “crazy” to move into rubble that 162 was.
The house was constructed for Charles E. Williams who was president of the Beveridge Brewing Company that used to be located on the corner of Front and Fifth Streets. As mentioned previously, Elizabeth (Libby) Lyon saved this home and many others from being destroyed by urban renewal. The first owners bought the home from Libby for $1,000.00. They made a few upgrades to the roof, window panes, and electrical, but it still had a “bombed-out appearance” when Tom came along. He bought it for $33,900 and moved right in.
As a teacher, Tom had a background in industrial arts and was able to prepare the plans for the restoration work. He was able to do some of the work himself like sanding the floors, making bookshelves and even crafting 22 stair spindles out of pine. For the rest of the work, he supervised contractors for the plumbing, electrical, and carpentry. Being a teacher Tom was able to do a lot of work during his free time in the summer. He also used resources from the Newburgh Free Library when he needed historic references.
Although the house was badly damaged and neglected, the high level of craftsmanship that went into the home helped make it last over time. Original oak and plaster walls made with horse hair were still holding up. The house even had a treasures inside, 3 vaults in the basement that were used as storage for coal and oak acorns that belonged to features on the fireplace and stairway.
The home as it looks today. Saving these homes are essential to maintaining the integrity of Newburgh’s history. Once these homes are gone, the buildings and the history can never be replaced. Although it feels these homes have always been in their current condition, it has been over 30 years since Tom saved 162 and 158 Montgomery. It’s hard to imagine Montgomery Street without these grand old homes. Perhaps you have some urban pioneer spirit in you as well? If so, take note of the wonderful examples of Tom, Libby and many others who were Newburgh’s first urban pioneers! There’s still so much to be done!
Giordano, Rita. “The transformation of a ‘pile of stone’. The Times Herald Record [Newburgh] 12 April 1983.