Notable Fires

There is good reason for a city the size and configuration of Newburgh to be mindful about fire protection. Newburgh has suffered some devastating and spectacular fires. In 1864 the McKinstry and Ostrander Tannery in the west end of the village was levelled. The following year, a massive fire engulfed the Washington Iron Works, causing $35,000 damage in 1865 dollars.

The interconnected transportation systems in Newburgh were a source of fire on many occasions. Train and boxcar fires flared up on the many rail sidings and storage yards, one killing firefighter Moses Embler on the West Shore line at the turn of the last century. In 1908, a Day Line steamship, the New York, in drydock at Marvel shipyards, burned with the loss of four crew members. Just one year later, the iron shop buildings of the same Marvel Yards burned down.

Two ferry boats burned in their slips at Newburgh: the Union in 1878 and the Dutchess in 1961. In the Union fire, the men were battling the flames onboard when the smokestack and pilothouses fell, and the boat began to sink. Firemen were quickly dropped into waist-high river water and scrambled to shore with minor injuries.

The first Coldwell Lawn Mower plant on South William Street was gutted by fire in 1910.

An extensive Colden Street fire claimed nine massive brick stores in 1927; firemen fought the flames in below-zero cold and wind for over eight hours. Without enough rubber coats to protect them, firefighters were turned into human icicles - one driver, Reed Haight, was frozen to the wheel of his truck. As the fire was brought under control, it took an additional shift to secure and save the buildings in the square block running down to Water Street.

Just two years later, in the fall of 1929, a huge explosion caused many serious injuries, one death and the outbreak of several fires along Water Street near Third Street, when illuminating gas leaked into the sewer system. Many stores were damaged in this blast.

In 1949, a fire in the Eureka Shipyard caused the death of fireman Armand Santacroce.

In 1954, beside Newburgh Free Academy on Fullerton and South Streets, an oil truck collided with a fire truck and burst into flame. The oil truck driver was killed, and one firemen was critically injured. The other firemen were injured but recovered within the year.

In February 1956, the Academy of Music, Newburgh's landmark performance hall at Broadway and Grand Street, had a severe fire that could be seen across the river in Beacon.

Just up the street, the Broadway Theater had bad fires in 1943 and again in 1965. The Beatles movie "Help!" was playing when the last fire broke out. The image of the burning marquee with that film title appeared in Life magazine. The fire destroyed the theater, leaving only an empty lot.

The Harvey Brothers tire recapping plant on Ann Street caught fire in July 1961, filling the center of the business district with intense heat and dense smoke.

The empty waterfront warehouse once used by Schoonmaker's Department Store burned in 1969, a probable arson fire.

In September 1981, over 200 firefighters from Newburgh and 19 neighboring mutual aid companies fought a massive fire that gutted the Cleveland Whitehill building (erected 1919 to produce work clothes), which filled the block south of Washington's Headquarters.

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