Downing Park is located in the heart of the City of Newburgh. Filled with hills and valleys, streams, a pond, and a rich variety of vegetation, the park has serpentine paths and picturesque vista — features very similar, though on a different scale, to those of New York City's Central Park, created by the same designers.
The park was named after Newburgh's native son Andrew Jackson Downing, eminent horticulturist and pioneer of the public park movement. Downing had advocated for the creation of Central Park, and he was designing the Mall in Washington, D.C., at the time of his accidental death at 38 in 1852. A decade earlier, Downing had recruited Calvert Vaux in London and brought him to Newburgh, where the two ran an architectural practice until Downing's death.
Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted had worked together for many years on Central Park and other projects when the City approached them about the park in Newburgh. In 1889 they agreed to the commission, offering to give the park design to the City if the park would be named after their late mentor.
As it happened, Downing Park was the last collaborative effort by Olmsted and Vaux — as well as the only project that included both their sons, John Olmsted and Downing Vaux.
Downing Park was designed to be a passive, contemplative environment, a place of refuge in the center of bustling city.
Opened in 1897, the park became a place where people could stroll along the paths, admire the many gardens and scenic vistas created to experience an "unbending of one's faculties" (Commissioner's Report 1897). Concerts were held here, and the park was a favorite meeting place for sweethearts. Families picnicked on the rolling hillsides and watched the children play in the grassy meadows.
During the winter months, ice skating and sledding were popular pastimes. Many local artists have memorialized skating parties on the Polly Pond in paintings and prints.