Broadway and Mill Street in the 1920’s
Photo: Collection of Newburgh Historical Society, Newburgh, NY
I often romanticize what Newburgh was like in her grand years. Looking at the current situations of blocks like William Street or Lander make it difficult to imagine such a time even existed. After publishing a recent post about the potential of William Street, a reader submitted a wonderful letter depicting what that block was like as a child during the latter part of the Great Depression and just prior to World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you do too. If you ever have personal photos or stories you would like to share, please email me.
Your photo of the garage for sale on William Street evoked memories of my childhood as I grew up a block from William Street on Renwick Street. Hence, I thought you might be interested in what I recall of the one block section of William Street that intersected with Renwick Street.
On the corner of Renwick and William Street was a grocery store that had changed ownership over the years. I recall at Christmas time each year the grocery store would sell Christmas trees which the owner lined up on the brick wall of the store on Renwick Street. As children, I recall playing by crawling under the Christmas trees and where a young male friend found a one dollar bill (a large sum of money in those days) while we were crawling under the trees and went running jubilantly home grasping his new found wealth.
Next to the grocery store was a drug store and soda bar owned by the Levine family for many years where many of the families would visit for an ice cream treat served to them over their granite counter with stools. Next to the drug store was the local shoemaker who also served as the “neighborhood bookie” as that is where everyone in the neighborhood went to bet on the numbers. I recall my mother having me take shoes to him for repair and also giving me a penny to play a special number which the shoemaker wrote down on paper for me as a “receipt” which I returned to my mother. I don’t ever recall my mother ever winning!
Further up William Street in the middle of the block was a Jewish bakery shop which sold a variety of fresh baked breads and pastries that was quite a popular bakery at that time. I can also recall as children, we jumped from rooftop to rooftop until we came to the bakery rooftop on William Street and with long sticks which were used to “steal” hot loaves of bread cooling on the outside racks outside the bakery in the back of the store. We then as children ate the bread with fresh picked tomatoes which came from my father’s tomato garden on Renwick Street.
Across the street form the bakery on William Street was the local barber shop owned by “Danny the barber” yet another front for a bookie who took all types of betting including horse racing. Needless to say, gambling was common among the local residents of that neighborhood and I can recall many interruptions when Danny was cutting my hair as well as answering the phone to receive bets. Further down the street from the barber was yet another gambling establishment where Ralph’s Poolroom existed and where some of the local male residents played cards in Ralph’s back room where Ralph also sat and collected his “commissions” from the card players. Ralph also supplemented his income by making lemon ice in the summertime which was very popular with the local children in the neighborhood.
William Street and Renwick Street consisted of many homes where children grew up during the depression years of parents, many of whom had emigrated from countries such as Italy, who took pride in their neighborhood as it was quite common to observe how the mothers could be seen sweeping the front walks in front of their homes each morning. It was a close knit neighborhood in which families supported one another and the children played harmoniously. It is sad to see how this once proud neighborhood has fallen upon difficult times and how many homes have now been abandoned.
Joseph A. Ricciotti
(Former Resident of Renwick Street)