10/11/17 7:30am

Article written by Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun

Almost 70 years later, a few still stand in Orange County

Many people have heard of the pre-fab homes that Sears, Roebuck and Company produced between 1908-1940. Sears offered 370 models and over 70,000 were built across the nation. Many of these homes are still standing around Orange County but they are difficult to spot because they used conventional balloon-framing techniques and materials in their kits. But, our local architectural variety includes another story of a pre-fab housing solution from the 20th century that is less familiar.

For a short two years, from 1948 to 1950, the Lustron Corporation created pre-fabricated enameled steel homes that were advertised as low maintenance and affordable.

The idea began with a Chicago inventor named Carl Strandlund who, in response to the post-World War II housing storage, created a division of the Chicago Vitreous Enamel Corporation to construct homes in a Columbus, Ohio factory. They planned to construct over 45,000 homes but only 2,498 homes were completed. Although they had orders for over 8,000 more units, after only 20 months of operation, the company closed its doors and 800 employees were laid off. The closure was due to failing to repay a 12.5 million Federal agency Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) loan that was borrowed to begin production. The Lustron Corp. was selling the homes at a low cost between $6,000-$10,000 per unit and the company was losing money on each order. Although the cost seems inexpensive, the Lustron homes were sold through a dealership system similar to automobiles distribution which meant the dealers had to cover the initial costs of purchasing lots, pouring concrete slabs and running utility lines. The final home purchaser would be paying around $11,000 to acquire the completed property which was considerably more than buying a typical wood frame house at the time.

The architectural prototype was created in collaboration with architects Roy Burton Blass and Morris H. Beckman as a 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom home made of steel framing. The exposed steel on the interior walls and roof had a porcelain-enamel finish. The manufacture of each home required 12 tons of steel and 1 ton of enamel. The customer could choose the colors from a number of options including pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green and gray on the exterior and beige or gray for the interior. The 3,000 pre-made parts would be carried on a truck and assembled on a concrete slab.

The homes were designed to use space effectively. Every room had built-ins which accounted for over 20% of the home’s square footage. The bedroom had a vanity, the dining room had a buffet and pocket doors throughout the home eliminated the need to allocate space for a swinging door. One futuristic luxury that was included in every home was a built-in washing machine that with the addition of a rack could do double-duty as a dishwasher.

A few months ago I was alerted to the existence of some of these gems, two in Middletown and one in Highland Falls. After a bit of commentary from the Facebook community on the Orange County History and Heritage page, a follower pointed out a street in Newburgh that featured a cul-de-sac with four Lustron homes. Please let us know if you know of any more in the area because the Preservation League of New York is compiling an inventory for their records.

10/03/17 7:30am

Decades after urban renewal destroyed the Newburgh waterfront, people still mourn the buildings that were lost, particularly the Palatine Hotel. Items that once belonged to the hotel are quite special to Newburghers. The following piece written by Robert Blake discusses his love for a chair once used in the model hotel of the Hudson Valley.

The Return of the Chair

The Palatine Hotel once stood just three blocks from my house.  When I was a child, we had a neighbor at our summer home up in the Shawangunk mountains.  He was an avid auction goer.  One of his biggest coups was buying many things at the auction of the contents of the Palatine Hotel.  He gave us some cutlery marked “Palatine”, which I can no longer find, and a mirror and a chair.  He had bought rolls of carpeting, and beds and dressers, truckloads of things.  I still have the mirror and the chair.  I reupholstered the chair when I was a teenager, my first attempt at any such work.  Now, after 40+ years, it needed renewal and I had it redone professionally.  The original upholstery was a dark brown with small floral motifs.  It had a lumpy seat and was soiled.  This is why I redid it.  When I go to Brick Street Deli for my Saturday breakfast most weekends, I look down Third Street to where it now ends at Grand Street.  I wonder how many know that this was once a street that ran down to the waterfront.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect back then it was a two-way street as well.  The Palatine stood on the southeast corner of Third and Grand.  My upper windows would have afforded a fine view of the upper stories of the Palatine, whereas now the low-slung library on the site is not visible.  I can see the roof of the Dutch Reformed Church, which was directly to the north of the lost hotel.  The return of this chair to Newburgh after an absence of almost 50 years, to just three blocks away from where it had lived for a long time, is a good thing.  

Photo via The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands

01/25/17 7:30am

Weigant's Tavern Newburgh NY

Weigant’s Tavern is one of those special buildings in Newburgh surrounded by history, mystery, and neglect. It might look like scrap wood to you, but this building is special with Weigant Family connections to the Revolutionary War. According to local historian Mary McTamaney, the original tavern was located at the north side of Broad Street just east of Liberty. The building was most likely moved during the 1930’s, and it is unlikely any of the original 18th-century building parts remain.

However, as Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun stated,”The structure was moved and repaired so we’ll never know how much of the configuration is original. But the care given to moving the structure in the 1930’s illustrates a chapter of Colonial Revivalism in the early 20th century. I think this story, especially in a city so rich with Revolutionary War connections, is important to remember. We weren’t only the place where Washington headquartered, we are also the place that pioneered the historic preservation of sites associated with the founding era. The tavern reminds us that if not for the local militias and committees of safety (the men who rose up from the community to take a stand against the monarchy), Washington’s army would not have come into existence. We can’t explain the success of the Army without telling the story of what happened in the colony’s taverns.”

It is exciting to learn that Thomas Burr Dodd of RipRap LLC will oversee the rehabilitation of Weigant’s Tavern (also spelled Weigand and Weygant). The interior condition is much worse than anything that you can imagine just by judging from the outside. There isn’t one right angle in this entire building. The floors are warped, the walls are disintegrating and everything else is collapsing. It is little wonder it hasn’t imploded. Where does one even begin on a project like this? In the first few minutes of talking to Dodd, you realize he has a passion for history and old buildings. He has tentative plans to create an office here, but would also consider other possibilities like renting out to a tenant who wants to restore the original tavern use.

The abandonment that plagued this corner of the Old Town Cemetery made it an incredibly frightful place. Hopefully, the development of Weigant’s Tavern will be one more building block to the revitalization of northern Liberty.

*Please note, there are no tours of the tavern and you should not try to gain entry. For now, enjoy these photos of the current condition.

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12/07/16 7:30am

Newburgh has a deep rich history with many stories to tell. One of those stories is of Newburgh’s most famous landmark, Washington’s Headquarters. Joe Santacroce has brought this landmark to life in his documentary, “The Mansion on the Hill”. Grab some popcorn and take time and learn about local history.

This is a Documentary about Washington’s Headquarters and Newburgh, NY , and how Washington’s Headquarters came to be what it is today. It takes us back to the first settlers of Newburgh and what it was like here, the history of the house, and some of the events that occurred during the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries including George Washington’s time at Headquarters and the events that occurred here.

How the house become the First Publicly Owned National Historic Site and how it was almost lost to history, the visitors and celebrations that occurred here, are all an integral part of the story.
Included are tours of the inside and outside of the house and dramatic Drone Aerial Footage by Scott Snell of XfactorAerial.com. There are many images pulled from various collections and interviews with those close to the site.

We have recreated music from the 18th and 19th Century including music from Composers from Newburgh who lived during that time period. Musicians Albert Garzon, Rick Santacroce, Jr., and Jonathan Dobin created an incredible musical soundtrack of the time period.

Narrated by: John Norman Hall, Jr.
Written, Directed, Produced by: Joe Santacroce
Running Time: 1:18:45

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08/23/16 8:35am

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It’s Last Saturdays in Newburgh, and this month has a special addition of an African American walking tour. This is a great way to not only see the city, but to also learn about local history and the black lives that have shaped the City of Newburgh.

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12/09/15 7:30am

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The Newburgh Historical Society’s annual Candlelight Tour features a dozen decorated homes including a diverse assortment of public and private spaces – mansions, structures in the rehabilitation process, new construction, architectural gems, and some of Newburgh’s most important landmarks. For years, community members within the second largest historic district in New York State have generously decorated and opened their homes to visitors in support of local history. The 1830 Captain David Crawford House, located at 189 Montgomery St., Newburgh is the starting place for the Tour.

December 13, 2015, 12 PM – 5 PM

For tickets and details click here.

-Photo Matthew Colon, Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands