By Alberto Gilman
After decades of disrepair and idleness, Weigand’s Tavern at 326 Liberty Street, has been completed and breathes a new, reconstructed life into the City of Newburgh with the hopes of becoming a future youth and community space for the greater Newburgh community.
The historical building and adjacent lots on Liberty Street were purchased by city resident Thomas Dodd and his wife on July 1, 2016 and over the course of the past six years, Dodd has been working with his team to repair and restore the building, adhering to historical construction guidelines. According to Dodd, the restrictive covenants for the property were released by the Newburgh City Council and the tavern recently participated in the city’s annual Candle Light Tour that was hosted in early December 2022. Dodd, who divides his time between Newburgh and Brooklyn, maintains other businesses such as RipRap LLC, Square and Spruce and Brooklyn Fire Proof [BFP] that service the creative community.
According to records provided by Dodd, the tavern was named for Martin Weigand or Wegant, as he was also known. Weigand was reported to have been born in the year 1726 in Newburgh and was married to Susan Weigand, previously Albertson, and had one son, Martin Wegant Jr. Weigand died in 1792 and is buried in the Old Town Cemetery, adjacent to the tavern. Orange County Historian Johanna Porr Yaun said the tavern was originally located at the corner of Broad Street and had been opened by the couple in 1753. The tavern became a community gathering place and even courtroom for the local residents and additional travelers of the area and it is also believed that General George Washington spent time there as well.
As the years progressed, tensions between settlers in the area grew and the tavern even served as a central point where settlers either supported or opposed the British monarchy. The time that followed eventually led into the Revolutionary War period. Porr Yaun’s notes continued to share that the tavern was then moved to its current location on Liberty Street during the war where it remains to the current day. Attempts to restore the tavern were unsuccessful in the 1970s, and the building remained vacant for six decades.
Dodd provided a brief tour of the newly renovated building where upon entry, newly painted walls and staircases with new trim greet guests as they enter, along with a former band uniform from the Liberty Street School on display. An open room with stills captured by Dodd of the tavern in its previous condition with pieces of pottery, newspaper clippings from the 1940s and other relics were available on display on an old tavern door that now serves as a display table.
Pieces of pottery, bar tokens and other small historical materials were unearthed in an archeological dig conducted by Dodd with the help of Porr Yaun and volunteers in July of 2021. These materials were discovered in soil deposits that had been found in the basement and rear extension of the tavern that may have once served as latrines for the establishment. “I have just a tiny amount of the archeological finds that we found in some of the dirt that caved into the basement and so we found a lot of basically bar activity,” said Dodd. “We have tons more soil to sift through.”
The basement today is now emptied of dirt and is walkable but Dodd said hardest part of the overall project and restoration was the foundation of the tavern.
“The hardest part of our project was the fact that the foundation had pretty much failed,” said Dodd. “The building was in danger of collapsing completely, so we had to build a very extensive system that was supporting the entire building.”
The building itself was very heavy according to Dodd, as the building was insulated with brick, which was a practice called nogging. Following historical guidelines, Dodd and his team used lime mortar for the foundation to help secure it. A massive cornerstone that unfortunately is undateable remains as part of the foundation. Another challenge that Dodd faced during construction was that behind one of the walls of the building basement was the Old Town Cemetery. Dodd did not want to risk unearthing remains from the cemetery. “We couldn’t work from the other side, we had to only do our restoration from this side. And that made it very, very difficult, very slow and a little dangerous,” said Dodd.
In certain parts of the new tavern are new and original floorboards that have been added to the two floors of the building along with a sprinkler system, modern lights, modern bathrooms and modern windows that allow more natural light. Upstairs in the tavern would have been where people would have slept according to Dodd. Despite the costs, various setbacks and even with the on-going COVID pandemic, Dodd remained committed to the project, to see the tavern restored.
“This represents working America, which is really important to me. You know, that’s what this country was founded on and hopefully, we will continue to focus on that.”