Dutch Reformed Church
Built between 1835 and 1837, the Dutch Reformed Church in Newburgh, New York, sits on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River and is a reminder of the wealth that came early to settlements in New York. The town served as George Washington’s headquarters during a pivotal point in the Revolutionary War and the area’s prosperity allowed the congregation to hire a well-known architect, Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892), to create an early example of Greek Revival architecture. He told a local newspaper that the church’s portico, seen from the Hudson River, “will henceforth serve as a conspicuous and characteristic landmark indicative of the taste, discrimination, and sense of classical beauty of the inhabitants of Newburgh.”
The mid-twentieth century brought a period of socioeconomic decline to Newburgh, leading the congregation to vacate the church in 1967. Since then the vacant structure has faced inadequate maintenance, vandalism, and threats of demolition. In 1998, former First Lady Hillary Clinton announced the award of a Save America’s Treasures grant for the church and in 2001 the building was named a National Historic Landmark.
A compelling example of the significant part preservation can play in community life
Following inclusion on the World Monuments Watch in 2006, we supported the design for the roof restoration, and in 2009, launched a field school program at the church in partnership with the City of Newburgh, the National Park Service, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, and the Newburgh Preservation Association. Twelve high school students participated in the six-week, hands-on program, learning preservation techniques while making repairs to fire-damaged parts of the church and repairing and restoring windows and exterior architectural details. In 2010, in a second field school, students continued the work and also built a staircase to provide better access to the cellar, where restoration work was being done.
The Dutch Reformed Church is an important symbol of the role Newburgh played in the cultural, social, and economic development of the emerging United States. Our project is a compelling example of the significant part preservation can play in the life of a community through teaching history, student and vocational training, and the connections that can be formed between civic and private organizations to preserve historic structures for continuing use. Sadly, in December 2012, a major portion of the plaster ceiling collapsed and fell to the floor, causing damage to the pews and setting back restoration prospects considerably.