The Downing Park Planning Committee officially dedicated the finial from an Andrew Jackson Downing house at the Shelter House Café on April 7. The finial was donated by local preservationist Mildred DeVito Starin.
The copper hand-crafted finial was one of four on the roof of William L. Findlay’s house in Newburgh, now the current location of the Chadwick Gardens Apartments. Built in the 1860’s, the house was designed by Downing and his protege Calvert Vaux. Vaux, together with Frederick Olmstead, later designed Newburgh’s Downing Park in honor of his late mentor, who died in 1852. The Findlay house, also known as the Chadwick mansion, was demolished in 1967. No remnants of the house would have survived if it wasn’t for Starin.
Starin is well-known for her extensive research of the 1714 Gomez Mill house, the oldest surviving American Jewish homestead located in the town of Newburgh. She was recently awarded the 2019 Martha Washington Woman of History Award at Washington Headquarters for her preservation work.
When the Findlay house was being demolished, Starin went into the construction dumpster and saved a copper finial from the landfill. Starin was offered $10,000 from Vassar College for the architectural find, but she refused. She felt that the finial should stay in Newburgh, close to its original location.
She has kept the artifact in her home all these years, until she agreed to donate it to the Downing Park Planning Committee.
“Mildred Starin has always been a determined person to save the history of this area,” said Karen McCarthy, secretary treasurer of the Downing Park Planning Committee. “We can’t thank Millie enough for this donation,”
The committee decided to put the finial on display in the park’s visitor center and café, the Shelter House. The finial sits in a custom wooden base made of old repurposed filing cabinets. According to Starin’s wishes the finial will remain in Newburgh, currently just a few blocks away from the former Downing-designed house.
“The city of Newburgh owns Downing park and this building…If anything should happen in the future to dissolve this non-profit committee, that is Downing Park Planning Committee, rest assured that this beautiful finial will not go on sale. It will be going to the Historical Society of the Hudson Highlands,” said McCarthy.
The committee thanked Mildred with cut flowers from Downing park, a cookie and gift certificate to the Shelter House Café, and framed wildlife photos of bald eagles by local photographer Dan Tooker.
“We are so lucky that Millie made her incursion into the property,” said Mary McTamaney, city of Newburgh historian. “Because our children need to know the stories of where we’ve been. I think that Newburgh spends an awful lot of time counting what we’ve lost and we don’t count what we have, and what we can have again.”