My Heart Lives In Wilbur. Where Does Yours?

Let me tell you what, I’ve got some mad crazy love for Wilbur.

(What follows is an essay in which a totally selfish and self-serving way,  I attempt to explain and quantify my love affair with the hamlet of Wilbur.)

Wilbur is not just a street, it’s the name given to one of Kingston’s older industrial neighborhoods in the southwest corner of Kingston.  Historically speaking, it’s one third of the reason we have city hall.  Local history attributes the 1875 completion of city hall as a symbol of the joining together and incorporation of the villages of Wilbur, Rondout and Kingston into the City of Kingston.

Unofficially, I consider the boundaries of Wilbur to encompass the area along Abeel St., starting at the base of Hudson St. and traveling south along the Rondout Creek to Hamilton St.  The “Heart of Wilbur” lies in the triangle bound by Davis & Dunn.  It then extends from Wilbur Ave, which runs up the middle of the “heart,” to its imaginary end at the corner of South Wall and Brook St.  It includes a handful of other streets along the way; Dewitt, Purvis, Rodney, Chapel, Burnett, Fitch and DuFlon.

To be sure Wilbur is in my heart, my soul, the very core of who I am.  I can’t think of another place on this earth that I feel so deeply connected to.  And I never saw it coming.  It’s easy to assume that the love affair begins and ends with my family.  But that’s not entirely true.  I think that’s because living in Wilbur changes the way you consider things.

My grandmother lived her entire life in Wilbur.  Her brother Charley did as well, living less than a mile down the road in the home they grew up in.  I think that’s because when you live in Wilbur, you tend to grow deep roots.

I never met my grandfather, but have heard he was one hell of a guy.  One of the family jokes often told is that he married a younger woman because he needed someone to keep up with him.  And Gram sure knew how to do just that.  I think that’s because if you live in Wilbur, you know the value of a hard day’s work and the reward that comes from it.

Having love for Wilbur is a tricky thing – the result of an imprint perhaps.  Some have it, others only witness it.  While my aunts and uncles have an appreciation for where they came from, only my Uncle Bruce shares my affinity for Wilbur.  The yarns he spins on any topic related to it are not for the easily distracted – unless you appreciate his glorified but still understated retellings of his Wilbur history.

Despite my familiarity and early bond with it, it was tough living in Wilbur at first.  There was much to come to grips with.  Perhaps even more difficult to bear was the environment of Wilbur itself.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  To live in Wilbur is to understand the duality of its nature.

During the day, it is a noisy, gritty industrial hotbed – really.  Alarm clocks are optional here.  The shipyard starts up at 7 A.M. sharp Monday-Friday.  They’ve been known to start early on the weekends too.  Sunday is the best chance for sleeping in.  We have other industry concentrated along this stretch of the creek as well as the train trestle.  Although there are few blaring train crossing whistles to endure, the sound of a lumbering train over the water is certainly a unique sound.

Wilbur is also home to the only remaining junk yard on the Rondout today.

At night Wilbur becomes something entirely different.  It’s sleek and quiet, even a little thick and inky at times.  Although I’ve lived in the city my whole life, I didn’t recognize its sounds at first.  More often than not, you don’t even realize that you are living in the city.

Every season brings something new to love and marvel at.  From the peepers of late March, operatic frogs of summer that inhabit my yard, turkeys that roost up in trees on the ridge of Fly Mountain, deliciously sweet wild berries, an enveloping fog that rises from the creek, a blaze of fall color along the hillsides, the last ray of sunlight awash on the old brick chimney across the creek, to a full moon low on the horizon just beyond the trestle, or the hushed silence of a snow fall, Wilbur is truly a humbling place to be.

My entire life Wilbur has been defined by family, shipyard, train trestle, brook, water spigot, creek, fishing, caves and church bizarres.  They resonate deeply in my memory.  The rest eludes me in distant whispers and curiosities as I travel past historic stone foundations and remnants of a bluestone empire not quite fathomed.

But living here I found something else, something deeper than romanticized childhood memories.  I found my community spirit.  And I blame Wilbur for it.  The first year and a half I was overwhelmed by everything, all my senses affronted a daily basis, my spirit tested often as I allowed the grittiness to seep into how I saw Wilbur.  And then a small series of unconnected events put the pieces together.  I woke up from the chronic complainer I was becoming.  I realized that I could love Wilbur fully, as long I was contributing to making it a better place to be, rather than just accepting it as it was. 

It’s nothing more than a small step, but I helped to organize a small community garden on a sweet little corner at the apex of the Wilbur Triangle – at it’s heart.  It’s the first step towards demonstrating our spirit and pride for our little hamlet.  I can’t wait to start phase 2 in the coming spring.

Perhaps my finest moment – and most selfish – in my short time in Wilbur is happening right now.  The hill I live on overlooks the creek and the shipyard.  It’s a loop comprised of 3 streets, 7 houses and the old church.  To say that traveling these streets compares to driving on an off-road trail wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  Early on I started writing letters about the conditions with the sole intent of getting something done about it.  Thirty nine months later, the hill is getting the makeover of a lifetime thanks to a Community Block Development Grant.  It turns out that patience is a virtue after all.  It gives me tremendous hope for Wilbur’s future.

All of this but really, I’m just an old and loyal soul who’s here to hash out a living in a life that is often uncertain in its path and direction.  After all, I’m just a girl from Wilbur.

Where this ridiculously wordy pontification of my ultimate crush ends, yours begins.  Come on people!  We know you’re out there waiting for a topic you would love to write about, maybe this is it.  Write us and tell us how you’re inspired by your community or neighborhood.  Captivate us with your own love story so that others can share your enthusiasm.  Perhaps your ultimate gift will be to inspire others to do the same.  Send me an email submission   wilburgirl@hvc.rr.com

–    Wilbur Girl

(Also Known As ~ Kate Lawson)

7 thoughts on “My Heart Lives In Wilbur. Where Does Yours?

  1. Hey Wilbur Girl I am continually impressed with your writing and your perpetual enthusiasm for your community and your desire to make it a better place for all. Keep up the good work.

  2. As a transplant to Kingston, I found your essay very fascinating. Never really knew that much about Wilbur but you have made it more interesting. As I was campaigning in your neck of the woods I was amazed of places I found that existed. It was like living in the country smack dab in the middle of the city. definitely a hilly and rocky terrain in some places.

  3. Wonderful… and I got some history in there.
    What’s in a name? Well, it becomes a place to go to and come back from and tell stories about the adventure and the people.
    And here for all these years I thought Wilbur was just a street from Greenkill to 213 along the Rondout… but now I see… time to travel to the space and land called Wilbur.
    Thanks!

  4. Dear Cousin, what a wonderful story! I never knew that Kingston was comprised of three villages; namely, Wilbur, Rondout and Kingston. My father probably did; he was very interested in local history. Reading of your love for the area and what you’ve accomplished, I know your grandmother would be very proud of you and pleased that you are such a good steward of your home and neighborhood. Yes, you do have deep roots and they serve you well. PS: I have some old maps (not ancient, a few decades old). Would you like them?

    • Hey Cousin Liz! Being that you’re a former “Wilbur Girl” yourself, I knew you would understand the love. I think of Uncle Charley & Gram often & have no doubt they would be tickled pink by the positive changes happening here. And yes please! Send those maps my way – you know the address! Love Cousin Kate.

  5. I grew up in Kingston in the 70’s and have always marveled at the magnificence of the Wilbur Trestle. I didn’t know too much about the area but I surmised it must be as magnificent as the Trestle. I have pictures, paintings and video of the Trestle that I share on a regular basis. I had the opportunity to walk across it once and it was quite the experience. 40 years later my mom still lives in Port Ewen. Every time I call her I can hear the trains in the background. I just got back from seeing my mother and I always marvel on how beautiful the area is. My roots also run deep and the Hudson Valley will always hold dear memories for me.

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