The history of St. George’s Episcopal Church began in 1728 when the Rev. Richard Charlton was sent from England to be a missionary to the “Congregations of people in the Plantations" -–particularly from the inhabitants of New Windsor in Ulster County (later Newburgh in Orange County). During the twenty-year tenure of the Rev. Hezekiah Watkins, in 1753, the British Crown granted 500 acres of land to be used for the benefit of the resident clergyman and schoolmaster. The boundaries of this land were the Hudson River, South Street, North Street, and West Street. The congregation of St. George's Church was a break-off of St. Thomas' Church in New Windsor. In 1770, during the tenure of the Rev. John Sayre, St. George’s Church was granted a royal charter by King George III. This charter is preserved, and a replica hangs on the north wall of the church. The Rev. Mr. Sayres left for Canada at the time of the Revolution. St. George's Church did not function until 1805 when it was re-established and incorporated into the State of New York.
The Reverend Dr. John Brown was called as Rector in 1815 at the age of 24, and he went on to serve for 64 years.
He was a vital force in the church and in the greater Newburgh community, serving as the first president of the
Horticultural Society and designer of the St. George's Cemetery. As a missionary priest, The Rev. Dr. Brown rode
horseback throughout the Hudson River Valley, establishing numerous churches: St. John’s Church, Monticello;
Grace Church, Middletown; Christ Church, Marlboro; and St. John’s, Cornwall. During his long tenure he also
revived the Episcopal Churches in Goshen, Walden, Peekskill, Garrison and Milton. In 1891, he helped establish
the Church of the Good Shepherd in Newburgh.
Among his many accomplishments is the building of the beautiful stone building, St. George's Church, on the corner of Grand and Second Streets. It is the oldest church building in the city. Consecrated in 1819, it was constructed under the direction of the Reverend Dr. Brown who notes in his diary that, starting in 1817, he and members of this small parish laid out the ground and then hauled over 200 loads of stone on structures he called “stone bees.” The church was consecrated on 10 November, 1819, and he and Miss Frances Ludlow were married there five days later.
In the twentieth century the succession of priests is as follows: Applegate, Huske, Heartfield, Kroll (later Bishop of Liberia), Dickins, Styles, Caruthers, Ridgeway, Schmidt, Dresser, and Trowbridge. While the ministry of the Episcopal Church is ordered by bishops, (the present Bishop is The Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche), priests and deacons, the Anglican baptismal theology claims that all baptized men and women are ministers of the church. The congregation of St. George's is active with ministers in social outreach, worship, and pastoral care.
The original building was a square stone design with clear glass windows. The four nearest Grand
Street are original. The gallery was added in 1827 when the first organ was also installed. Two lots
at the south side were purchased in 1830 and 1832 the iron fence was obtained from Trinity Church,
New York City. In gradual stages additions for parish activities and offices were built in the 20th
Century. In 1835 the sanctuary was enlarged toward the west end and a bell tower was constructed.
At that same time the Reverend Dr. Brown began plans for his house to built on First Street on the
grounds of his garden In 1836 the bell was installed (subsequently a new one was installed in 1849),
as was the Baptismal Font, which was presented to the church by Trinity Church, New York City.
The earliest record of a stained glass window is noted by a parishioner in 1860. In the chancel was a large
window of red, green, blue and white colored glass. It was irreverently called "The Holy Patchwork." The
window was broken in 1857 and although it was repaired, it was replaced in 1880 with the present triptych
window depicting the Ascension of Jesus. This was purchased in England, as were the two angels that
flank this majestic window.
The American stained glass windows are amongst St. George’s treasurers. Installed in the first decade of
the twentieth century, the five windows in the nave are made of a distinctly American invention - opalescent
glass. Two were made in the Tiffany Studio. In 1998 three of the windows were removed to repair the
damage that had been done by excessive mold and heat. Today the interior of the church, which is a
distinctive federal style, glows as the brilliant light from the colored glass windows plays on the white walls
and pews. In the chapel that adjoins the sanctuary, the walls are adorned by English stained glass windows
depicting the life of Christ and a number of saints. These windows were brought to St. George's when St.
Paul’s Church, which was two blocks north on Grand Street, was closed.
Throughout the past century, St. George's has enjoyed a reputation for fine music both instrumental and
vocal. Today the choir and organ are situated in the east gallery. The organ was built by the Gress-Miles
Organ Company. It is baroque in style and contains 19 voices, 27 ranks and 1552 pipes. Today, a Baldwin
piano in the sanctuary complements worship and musical performances.
When the Old Town Cemetery became overly crowded, the Reverend Dr. Brown secured seven acres for
St. George’s Cemetery located on the southeastern end of Newburgh. Working with his friend Andrew
Jackson Downing, Brown helped design the space using the then-popular concept of the rural cemetery
that included winding roads, hills and interesting trees.
It was also Brown's intention that this cemetery be available to everyone regardless of class,
race, or religious affiliation. It remains an active cemetery, with members of the congregation
providing care and upkeep. For more on the cemetery, go to SACRED SITES/Cemetery.
In 1874, the parish organized a home for the aged and a hospital known as St. Luke’s, and until 1906 the women’s auxiliary took a major role in the support and operation of the hospital. St. Luke’s first opened on the corner of Dubois and Third Streets with a three-bed capacity. The hospital later moved to Liberty Street, on the location of the present day Elk’s Club; then in 1909 it was moved to the present location. The administration of the hospital was turned over to the wider community in 1906.
St. George's continues to be active in the community. The Food Pantry has been operating for over a decade, feeding nearly 300 families a month. Girl Power is a youth empowerment program for adolescent girls, while Voices of Hope is a community children's choir. The parish is active in Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and Seaman's Church Institute.
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