As an industrial complex for the manufacture of black powder throughout most of the nineteenth century, Orange Mills in Newburgh was designed to withstand destruction by accidental explosion. Workers in the wooded acres along Powder Mill Road carefully combined volatile ingredients that were refined into gunpowder which they packed and shipped around the country. Machinery, powered by the Quassaick Creek that winds through the property, was carefully operated from a slight distance. Wood and copper tools were used to avoid unwanted sparks, and stone structures were built with thick walls intended to redirect explosive forces. Accidents were unavoidable and the mill survived twenty explosions over the course of its operation. Many of those explosions were heard and felt miles away. Now, over a century since it closed, Orange Mills is being reclaimed by nature.
A coalition, Preserve Algonquin Park, has formed to halt the forces of nature and reclaim parts of the old mill for posterity. That group is teaming up with Town of Newburgh Historian Joe Santacroce and the Newburgh Historical Society to share the history of Orange Mills and the development of Algonquin Park that surrounds it during a walking tour through the scattered gunpowder ruins on June 16th.
“It was fascinating for my first public project to both learn why the history is valuable to the community and to be able to share something about a park I grew up in,” commented Santacroce.
Many people visit Algonquin Park for its natural beauty as a picnic spot, a quiet walking trail or a place for sport. Few know its history. Philanthropist, Frederick Delano, gifted the land in 1934 for a public park. A lone NY State marker off Powder Mill Road indicates that this is a notable place but without sharing much detail about the 40-acre park.
The new coalition intends to change that. In 2017, they met with Orange County officials who appropriated money for a study taking place this year to assess the conditions of the masonry ruins located in the woodlands and the ecology of the marshes and creek. With the information learned during this year’s study, Algonquin Park will be positioned to return to a more beautiful place where visitors can experience some fascinating history.
Algonquin Park’s first coordinated interpretation for the public happens Saturday afternoon, June 16th in the form of a guided tour beginning at 2 p.m. Reservations can be made and directions found online at newburghhistoricalsociety.com or by calling (845) 561-2585. Space is limited. Admission is a suggested donation. Refreshments will be served.
The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands was launched unofficially when the Hasbrouck House (Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh) was in danger of demolition after the Revolutionary War. The current Society, incorporated in 1884, has always been an advocate for Newburgh’s history. The Society’s headquarters, 1830 Captain David Crawford House, was purchased in 1954 to save it from demolition and symbolizes their dedication to preserving and protecting Newburgh’s assets.
The Crawford House, an historic house museum and Society’s headquarters, located at 189 Montgomery Street within the City of Newburgh’s Historic District is open for tours by appointment. For more information about admission, tours, or programming please call (845) 561-2585.