Downing Park, Newburgh – Overview

I’ve often passed Downing Park in Newburgh, but this was the first time I’d visited it (while taking the dog for a walk).

It has an interesting history. According to the City of Newburgh website:

Most of Downing Park was a farm owned by the Smith family, whose 1750s farmhouse stood at the present location of the pergola.

The idea to build a park was conceived by Mayor O’Dell in the late 1880s. Citing the population growth and increases in property values, he acquired the 25-acre Smith estate, later adding ten more acres.

The City offered the commission to design the park to Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the designers of New York City’s Central Park. The landscape designers agreed in 1889, stipulating that it be named after their mentor (and Vaux’s former partner) Alexander Jackson Downing.

Actual construction began in 1894, and the park was opened to the public in 1897.

In addition to the farmhouse, the park originally featured an observatory and a bandshell. The observatory, designed by Calvert’s son Downing Vaux, rested on the highest point in the park, commanding spectacular Hudson River views. The structure was torn down in 1961 as part of an “urban renewal” project.

Little is known about the original bandshell, and no clear pictures exist. Described as being built in Downing’s ‘rustic style,’ it was removed in the late 1920s.

At the turn of century, the farmhouse was turned into a smallpox sanatorium. In 1908 the flu epidemic ended; the city condemned the house, and it was burned to the ground. Later that year, architect Frank Estabrook designed the pergola to be built on the farmhouse foundations.

The Shelter House, designed in 1934 by Gordon Marvel, provided shelter in the winter for those ice skating on the Polly Pond.

The outdoor amphitheatre was built in 1946. Used for weekly band concerts for many years, the amphitheatre originally had a moat filled with goldfish at the front of the stage

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According to Heritage Newburgh:

Though many who pass by the beautiful park do not realize its illustrious history, in fact it was designed by two of America’s foremost 19th-century landscape architects, themselves superseded in prominence only by the park’s namesake, Andrew Jackson Downing.

Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux were commissioned by the City of Newburgh in 1889 to design the park in honor of their late mentor Andrew Jackson Downing.

Downing born and raised in Newburgh had achieved great fame as one of the most distinctive style-makers of America’s 19th century influencing both landscape design and residential architecture, some of which can still be seen in Newburgh’s East End Historic District.

However, Downing and 79 others perished horribly in 1852 in a fire on the ill-fated steamboat, the Henry Clay, which was racing from Kingston to New York. Boats in those days eclipsed by railroad travel, frequently raced for bragging rights, despite the danger it posed to the steam engine boiler rooms aboard the wooden ships.

Downing was not quite 37, but had left an incredible mark and a huge void.

Downing revolutionized designs for urban green spaces, advocating for large and beautifully conceptualized public spaces, aristocratic in scope but intended also for the masses. He was the genius behind the idea for New York City’s Central Park.

In his absence, Downing’s protégés Olmstead and Vaux were commissioned to actually create Central Park, and they did, engineering a public masterpiece.

It’s not a stretch to consider Downing Park and see similarities to Central Park. And why not? The landscape architects employed the design vernacular that had made Downing famous:

design serpentine walkways
unexpected vistas
peaceful rolling hills
a central water feature
native specimen trees.

These are all the hallmarks of Downing’s inspired approach to landscape architecture which his two students executed effortlessly.

An article in the New York History Blog is also worth reading: “Newburgh’s Downing Park, A Short History

Taken with a Sony RX-100 M3.

A short visit to New Hartford, Connecticut – River in the frame

What a clever idea! Apparently it’s a memorial to the late Pat Keener who passed away July 8, 2010.

According to her obituary:

“When time comes for us to again rejoin the infinite stream of water flowing to and from the great timeless ocean, our little droplet of soulful water will once again flow with the endless stream.”-William E. Marks In the early morning hours of July 8, 2010 surrounded by her children, Terrah, Jeff, and Shelia, Pat peacefully passed on. Pat was a “big” and vibrant presence and she will be lovingly missed by her family, friends and community. Additionally the UCONN women’s basketball team has lost their most devoted fan; the family is even thinking of inviting Christie’s Auction House to appraise her Women’s Husky memorabilia. Pat believed in experiencing life to its fullest, taking an active role in her community, enjoying the company of family and friends, seeing the world but ever vigilant to leave the smallest ecological footprint possible. She has left this a better world for us and generations to come as a result of her passionate commitment to protecting our rivers, wetlands, forests and our natural and native plant life. She will also be remembered by many for her strong beliefs and commitment to education. Pat was a veracious reader and she was instrumental in the vision and the creation of The Licia & Mason Beekley Community Library in New Hartford. Her love of books is something she has passed on to her grandchildren and she could often be seen sitting and reading with them. A testament to a life well lived is often what is left behind when a person passes. We celebrate Pat’s BIG life and the world she has left for us. In her professional life Pat will be most remembered for her work as a special education teacher and administrator with Shared Services and Northwest Regional 7 High School. She was also very proud of her work as an instructor with the department of Psychology at Northwest Connecticut Community College. As a community activist Pat will be remembered for her passion and tireless work with the Farmington River Coordinating Committee (FRCC), the Farmington River Watershed Association (FRWA), the Inland Wetlands Commission, the New Hartford Conservation Commission, Open Space Planning, the River Network, The Licia & Mason Beekley Community Library, CPTV, and the many other social and political initiatives and projects that she attached her star to. Pat is survived by her three children and four grandchildren. Terrah Keener and her spouse Pattie LaCroix and their two sons, Ellis and Damen of Halifax, Nova Scotia; her son Jeffrey Keener and his wife Janet and their daughter Erin of Granby, CT; and her daughter Shelia McManus and her husband Steve and their son Iain of Marion, MA. Pat leaves many, many dear friends to mourn her loss. She will be greatly missed by the community and the friends and family she loved. A memorial to celebrate her life and work will be held on Saturday (July 17, 2010) at Squires Tavern, 100 East River Road Pleasant Valley, CT 2-4 p.m. To honor Pat’s legacy donations made be made to the Pat Keener Scholarship fund awarded to a high school or college student from one of the five riverfront towns (Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Hartland and New Hartford) going on to college to study environmental science. Contact www.farmingtonriver.org. As well an outdoor sculpture, framing the Farmington River has been conceived to honor and recognize the committed efforts of Pat and her work on the behalf of the Farmington River and its surrounding habitat.

Unfortunately I have no idea who the artist is.

Taken with a Sony RX-100 M3.