One of the saddest stories I have ever tracked in the newspapers is the Martin Weigand Tavern in the City of Newburgh. It is the story of a property allowed to deteriorate to a point where today it is almost beyond repair.
Located on Liberty Street, it is a relic of the American Revolution where many Revolutionary notables spent time. The tavern was also the center of political life in early Newburgh. It stands today at the Northwest corner of the Old Town Cemetery as it has for over two centuries.
According to E.M. Ruttenber’s History of Newburgh, the structure we view today was the second tavern owned by Martin Weigand a direct descendant of the original Palatines. The Palatines settled what is known today as Newburgh. His first tavern was located on “Liberty Street at Broad Street.” However, about “1780,” he moved his tavern up Liberty Street to its present location 326.
This second tavern was larger and could house more patrons. It continued to be the place where court was held for Newburgh. We know that Cornelius Hasbrouck the son of Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck spent time in the tavern. He was a witness in the Elnathan Foster case cited in the Clinton Papers. It was in the upstairs portion of the tavern that justices would have heard the case. In addition, the tavern was a place of rendezvous for the local militia.
James Donnelly, in his recollections as a child during the American Revolution, and printed in Ruttenber’s book, remembered Continental soldiers as well as local militiamen spending time at the tavern. This is especially true when the Continental Army was a short distance away in New Windsor as well as at General Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh in 1782-1783. Ruttenber wrote in his History of Newburgh that Donnelly believed General Anthony Wayne made his headquarters in the upstairs of the tavern. This has been disputed over the years. Some years later, Donnelly’s daughter, who was eighty years old in 1909, swore that her father was correct. It was a source of much consternation during her time because it could not be substantiated. A well-known individual who did frequent the tavern was Wolfert Acker. He was chairman of the Newburgh Committee of Safety during the American Revolution.
When Weigand died in 1792, he was buried in the Old Town Cemetery near his tavern. The Wool family took over the tavern. Ruttenber continues that General John E. Wool, a four star general in the U.S. Army who served in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War, was born in the tavern. After the Wool family it was taken over writes, Al Rhoades in his column in the Newburgh Evening News, in 1812 by a “man named Farnum.” It also became the “headquarters for the Federalist Party.”
Eventually the old tavern became just another home with an interesting history. In 1909 The Newburgh Telegram reported that the Small Family lived there and before the Small’s it was the Coss’s home for a time. A. Elwood Corning, late City of Newburgh Historian, wrote that the home seemed to have continued its connection to war from the Revolution, through the Civil War with General Wool right to World War I when the home belonged to the Finnegan family. Their son was sent off to World War I and had the distinction of being the last Orange County, New York soldier to die in that war.
The tavern continued to be a home through 1959 and by the mid-1960s fell on hard times. It did not fare well into the 1970s as it had stood abandoned for more than a few years as Newburgh, like many inner cities in America during the 1960s and early 1970s, started to decline. A developer emerged in 1971 with the desire to purchase the old tavern, but by 1972 hope turned to despair, as the developer withdrew his request to the bewilderment of the city. As the nation’s bicentennial loomed citizen groups rallied to save the historic tavern before it was too late.
Instead of saving the tavern it was announced that the tavern would be sold at the city tax auction. However, at the last moment it was taken off the list. The Chairman of The Bicentennial Commission, in 1976, believed that the sum to restore the home would be between 50,000 to 75,000 dollars. He told a Newburgh paper that he did not have those kinds of funds. He believed the house was in a near “state of collapse.” It seemed it was doomed.
The following year, 1977, a British developer and home restorer offered to buy the property. He too wanted to move the old tavern but this time to Newburgh Landing to set up a restaurant and shop. He envisioned a little historic type village that would attract tourists. This plan too fell through, yet another entrepreneur raised hopes wishing to move the home from Liberty Street to his own property a short distance away. It seemed too late as a wall collapsed from neglect as well as a leaking water pipe. This appears to have been the closest that the over two hundred year old structure came to being saved.
Today the tavern stands vacant and boarded up as ideas have been floated including making it a visitor center for the Old Town Cemetery, which in recent years, has enjoyed a resurgence of interest by both the community and those outside the community. However, with each passing year the structure continues to fall closer towards the wrecking ball. Its interior is almost completely gutted with some believing that a complete historical restoration is no longer possible.
The old Weigand Tavern is in private hands, and remains on the market as of 2013. Perhaps the story of one of the most storied as well as one of the oldest structures in the City of Newburgh is not written yet, and there is time yet to save this treasure of Newburgh’s past.
Photo: Weigand’s Tavern as it appears today (courtesy A.J. Schenkman).