Hudson Valley Park Highlighted in Report for “Threatened and At Risk Landscapes”
A local Orange County park was recently listed in a report from a National Organization that raises concern about the current state of the park. In addition, particular social factors may also be playing a role in the future plans for the park.
History of the Park
In the town of Newburgh lies Andrew Jackson Downing Park. The park has been active since its opening day back on July 4, 1897. The construction of the park was originally ordered during the late 1890s by then-Newburgh Mayor Benjamin B. Odell.
Odell had secured 25 acres of land for the park and later acquired an additional 10 acres. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who among their list of accomplishments, were the same individuals who designed Central Park in New York City. They completed the designs for the park and named it after Andrew Jackson Downing or A.J Downing, who was their mentor.
Problems at the Park
The park itself sits on 35 acres of land and offers scenic views of the Hudson Valley. As a kid, I can also remember having a handful of little league practices at the very same park. It is also located practically in the middle of my hometown and the general area I have lived in my entire life.
While the park has been a staple location for over 100 years, in recent times it has fallen under great financial hardships. The underfunding of the park over the years has made it very difficult to continue the park maintenance. These struggles have reached the point where the park was just listed by the Cultural Landscape Foundation's report on “threatened and at-risk landscapes”.
While the park has many amenities that many parks contain, one aspect of the park is much less common. According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation,
In the early 21st century, the remains of more than 100 African American individuals were uncovered at the site of a public building project less than a mile from the park. The remains were excavated and transferred to a facility at SUNY New Paltz, where they have been stored ever since.
In addition, the site was the former Broadway School that was being converted into a courthouse. During construction, remains interred in what was a cemetery for African Americans were uncovered.
Downing Park is likely eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and perhaps a candidate to be a National Historic Landmark. The park's pergola, constructed after the elder Olmsted and Vaux’s involvement and built on the foundation of a former farmhouse, could be rehabilitated and adapted as a focal point for commemoration and healing
Current Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey added his own thoughts to the reasoning behind why the park was placed on this list in the first place.
Mayor Harvey told sources...
It sounds like somebody reached out to this organization from within our community because they don’t want the remains of African former slaves to be reinterred in that park....
In response, the Cultural Landscape Foundation committee would say that their decision was based on the "accrued neglect" the park has taken on over the years. This neglect has led to the deterioration of structures within the park.
Examples of neglect could be seen in the crumbling and graffiti-ridden pavilion and cracked and broken pathways due to the roots of surrounding trees.
I don't think that I've ever spent one second thinking about something like "how is a park maintained", however, it's clear that at least in this case, there are a lot of elements at work. Hopefully, some type of resolution or plan can be put into place to get the park back together, regardless of my own connection to the park itself.