The word “cornice” is derived from the Italian word meaning “ledge,” and the Greek word for a carved object (“koronis,” which also happens to be their word for “crown”). In many cases, the cornice is also joined by a decorative frieze (defined as “a richly sculpted ornamental band”), and together they create a fabulous partnership of elegance and function.
The cornice was originally created out of the need to keep rainwater away from exterior walls, but along its journey in time, the molding became a way to add decorative style and visual impact to many modest, historic row houses. Though each cornice is beautiful in and of itself, they can range in complexity from scrolls or basic dentil moldings to extravagantly carved masterpieces. The city of Newburgh seems to have been graced with an abundance of this wonderful embellishment, to the point where the cornice is practically an art form and extension of the creative energy of “The Burgh” itself. It has become a canvas in many respects – loving preservationists, dedicated restorers, and diligent homeowners have feverishly “shopped, compared and sampled” in order to ultimately choose the perfect combination of “Historic Preservation Colors” to create an identity for their home, investment, or commercial building.
I must admit, while I do have a love affair with my own detailed cornice, I have not given it the historic makeover it deserves just yet. Until I have some more experience as a row house owner, I live vicariously through the efforts of others. I find myself looking perpetually upwards – oblivious to trip hazards (ouch), and craning my neck (ouch again) to get just one more glimpse of those dazzling architectural treasures as I stroll or drive around the city. For future pioneers and passionate preservationists who take the time to discover “The Newburgh Cornice Phenomena,” don’t worry – there will probably be a 12-step program in place for us one day. And I bet by the time we reach that 12th step, we’ll be standing right in front of yet another beautiful Newburgh cornice!