A chance discovery of a road sign while on vacation in England led Anne Rust Aurand and her husband, Bernard Gene Aurand, of Newburgh to help establish a “twinning” relationship between communities 4,200 miles apart.
“Gene and I were in the Carnaby Street area of London and found a street called Newburgh Road,” Anne said. “We laughed at the idea of finding Newburgh Road in London and then wondered out loud if there was a Newburgh Road, was there also a Newburgh?”
The two looked at maps and found more than one Newburgh in the United Kingdom.
“We actually found several on the road map we had with us, one in Scotland and several others, but the Newburgh in Lancashire seemed to be the most like us,” Anne said.
The two small towns have a lot in common. Those similarities are what led the Aurands to reach out to Newburgh, Lancashire, with the prospect of becoming sister cities, or “twinned.”
The couple sent a letter to Newburgh and hoped it would fall into the right hands.
“It had been a blind send, just addressed to the town manager of Newburgh hoping someone at the post office would take pity and pass it on to the proper person,” Anne said.
That’s just what happened.
About a year after the letter was sent, Brian Howard, then the town clerk of Newburgh, Lancashire, found the letter in a box and brought it to the attention of the Newburgh Parish Council. They agreed he should respond.
Nearly two years after the couple’s trip, an official resolution was signed in Newburgh, Ind., on Jan. 26, 1994, declaring Newburgh, Lancashire, a sister community and naming all residents there honorary residents of Newburgh, Ind.
Across the pond, a similar signing took place, but with much more pomp and circumstance. The Aurands were the guests of honor.
“The evening of the actual signing was amazing,” Anne said. “We were announced ‘Counselor Bernard Aurand and His Lady, Anne, from Newbrauh … Burgh, Indiana, United States of America,’” Anne recalled, noting the pronunciation differences between the names of the two towns. While in the American Newburgh, the “g” is heard, in the U.K., it’s silent and pronounced “Newbra.”
While the two Newburghs have much in common, those differences such as the pronunciation are what make the exchange fun.
“One visitor, when touring Ireland on his way to Newburgh, U.K., could not find any of his ‘relatives,’ because no one spelled their name the same way as he did,” said Reginald Porter, Newburgh Parish Council chairman.
The trip also gives visitors a chance to see much deeper into history than America can offer. While Newburgh, Ind., is only just over 200 years old, Newburgh, Lancashire, is more than 700 years old.
“When the visitors came for our 700th anniversary, there was a marquee dinner and dance in medieval costume,” Porter said. “All the Newburgh USA visitors were in costume.” Porter and his wife, Shirley, visited Newburgh, Ind., one summer for July Fourth, surprising their hosts.
“They were all full of giggles and whispers before we dressed to go to the fireworks and town festivities,” Anne said. “When they came out they were wearing Union Jack T-shirts and Union Jack wigs, those big-hair, fuzzy kind!”
The relationship between the two towns has gone strong for nearly 20 years, even as those who forged it passed on.
“Many of our original friends have passed and on my last visit in 2009, I walked though the cemetery of the Parish Church and saw familiar names mingled with stones that are hundreds of years old,” Anne said.
Gene, too, passed away in 2001, and in 2006, Anne bought an old red English phone booth and donated it to the town with the provision a plaque be placed with it to pay tribute to Gene for his role in securing and nurturing the twinning.
“I have always said that if I could drive to London, I’d be there every weekend,” Anne said. “That goes double for Newburgh.”