As “Queen City of the Hudson River Valley,” Poughkeepsie has been a beehive of activity since settlers first established riverfront industries here in the early 1700s. Geography helped fuel the transformation from town to city. The Fall Kill (Dutch for Creek) provided power for early grain, wool, lumber, and plaster mills. By the mid 19th century, Poughkeepsie had become an industrial powerhouse. A shoe factory, iron foundry, and glass works, among others, not only supplied the growing residents, but an expanding country. Matthew Vassar’s brewery became the first to achieve nationwide beer distribution. Economic prosperity was coupled with important civic structures and institutions. Poughkeepsie became New York’s second state capital after the British set Kingston on fire during the Revolutionary War.
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay came here to debate anti-federalists on the ratification of the US Constitution, ultimately leading to the creation of the Bill of Rights. The landmarked Post Office, with its elegant design in local stone, served as a model for New Deal construction. Franklin Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone in 1937. Not far from FDR’s home in Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie was considered the region’s downtown. In 1940, he made his Presidential acceptance speech at the (now demolished) Nelson House, across from the Bardavon Opera House -- itself New York’s oldest continuously operating entertainment venue. Eleanor, much beloved by the locals, was often spotted shopping in town. In the 1960s and 70s, Poughkeepsie underwent the greatest onslaught of urban renewal per capita of any American city. While this swept away much of the original structure and character, a new age of enlightened civic leaders, philanthropists, artists, and residents have combined forces to reinvigorate this regal Hudson River city.