Located halfway between Albany and New York City, Poughkeepsie, dubbed the Queen City of the Hudson, was originally settled by the Dutch in the 17th century. Spared from the brutality of the American Revolution, it became New York’s second capital when Kingston burned down.
Poughkeepsie’s history is a rich one, with an industrial waterfront active in trade and shipping. Whale rendering, brewing, the circa-1869 Bardavon Opera House and manufacturing — Smith Bros. Cough Drops made the city its longtime home in the mid-19th century — also added to Poughkeepsie’s allure.
Po-town points of interest: the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge (left), now Walkway Over the Hudson State Park; at right, the Vassar College library
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But like many Hudson Valley communities, Poughkeepsie floundered in the advent of the mid-century suburb. Chris Jenkins, a carpenter and construction manager who has worked to rebuild many area homes, moved to the Hudson Valley from New Jersey when he was 10, and has been a loyal Poughkeepsie resident since 1981. “Poughkeepsie was the center of everything in Dutchess County. We always had to come here if we needed to go shopping and buy clothes in the department store,” reflects the graduate of local high school, Our Lady of Lourdes. “But the real changes started when the malls appeared on the highways. That’s when everyone began to abandon Main Street and it became desolate.” The Main Mall, an outdoor shopping plaza erected in 1973, was an attempt to rectify Main Street’s deterioration, but Jenkins believes it was a failure. “They decided to pave over Main Street and make it a mall thinking it would draw people in, but that only made it worse,” he says.
As Poughkeepsie’s downtown continues to sputter back to life with the likes of father-son-run small plates restaurant, Queen City Bistro, other aspects of the city have propelled it forward, such as the looming IBM campus and the presence of Marist, Vassar, and Dutchess Community Colleges. At Vassar, a new Integrated Science Center is underway; at Marist a new music building was unveiled as part of a nearly $30 million-renovation.
In 2013, the Mid-Hudson Heritage Center spawned Art Centro, an arts community center offering classes and performances in Poughkeepsie’s budding Middle Main neighborhood. This area is also home to the historic Underwear Factory, a circa-1874 building, which began life as William S. Patten’s Poughkeepsie Live Oak Leather Manufactory. Soon, the three-story brick building will emerge as a mixed-use development, uniting distinctive rentals with retail.
Restaurants also continue to inject Poughkeepsie with vibrancy. Jenkins enjoys meals at Brasserie 292 and the Poughkeepsie Ice House on the Hudson, as well as proximity to the slew of restaurants inside Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America. Midtown, a New York City-inspired restaurant, lounge, and nightclub is new to the Poughkeepsie dining scene, as is Gusto, from the owners of Cucina in Woodstock and Market St. in Rhinebeck. Blue Collar Brewery, set in a 1880s building that was at turns a meatpacking plant and garment factory, is a welcoming spot for rotating drafts and the likes of pretzel nuggets with cream ale cheese sauce.
Walkway Over the Hudson overlooks the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, nestled in Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy district; at right: the garden at the Samuel F.B. Morse estate, Locust Grove
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Walkway/Our Lady of Mount Carmel photograph by Alec Halstead
Poughkeepsie’s growth in large part stems from the creation of the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge linking Poughkeepsie to Highland. Last year, a 21-story glass waterfront elevator made it even easier to lure in tourists hauled in via Poughkeepsie’s Metro-North railroad station.
Jenkins thinks Poughkeepsie’s natural surroundings are one of the many assets to living in the city. “I love the hiking trails and the proximity to everything. Every time my wife and I say, ‘We’re getting older, shouldn’t we be moving to Arizona or Florida?’ we realize that we shouldn’t. This is actually the most beautiful place.”