Helen Wilkinson Reynolds: Our Patron Saint of Local History

Helen Wilkinson Reynolds: Our Patron Saint of Local History It has occurred to our personnel here in the Local History Room that not everyone knows who Helen Wilkinson Reynolds is. We feel like we need to change that, so we’ll start with a little blog post. For anyone who delves into local history, whether it's searching for information on your Dutchess County ancestors, or admiring an old Dutch house here in the area, Helen Wilkinson Reynolds probably had something to do with whatever information is available to you. She was well known in the area for her passion for researching, writing, and sharing whatever history she could find. Afterall, acquiring knowledge is useless unless you are willing to share it with the community, and Helen did that for over 30 years.   Helen was born at 341 Mill Street on December 9th, 1875, the daughter of John Richardson Reynolds and Jane Hewitt Wilkinson Reynolds. The home where she was born has since been demolished, but it had served as the home of her grandfather, George Wilkinson, the second mayor of Poughkeepsie. Today her obituary seems more like a nod to all of the history that she uncovered rather than a history of

Helen Wilkinson Reynolds: Our Patron Saint of Local History2022-05-13T14:18:44-04:00

Doctor Sara Josephine Baker: Fighting for Life

Doctor Sara Josephine Baker: Fighting for Life In 1890, two men from the same household died from typhoid fever, only a few months apart. Sadly, this was not uncommon. What makes their deaths so special is that their loss of life inspired a young girl to change her goal of studying liberal arts at Vassar College, to going to medical school and becoming a doctor. In her mind she needed to do this as quickly as possible in order to financially take care of her remaining family, and to find a way to stop people from dying from useless diseases like the one that killed her father and brother. She was only 16 when she made this decision.  Orlando Baker was one of Poughkeepsie’s most prominent and respected lawyers. He had married Jenny Brown, one of the first students to enter Vassar College, and they lived at 31 South Clinton Street. Together they had three children, Mary, Sara Josephine (who everyone called Joe), and Robert. As Orlando’s practice was successful, life seemed to be going well for the family. The family was wealthy enough to have servants, and the children were all going to school. However, in March of 1890 the

Doctor Sara Josephine Baker: Fighting for Life2022-05-06T11:26:33-04:00

Murder on Main Street – Part Two

Murder on Main Street - Part Two Last week we covered the abrupt shooting of a rigger named Henry Gagnon. He was shot to death in broad daylight on Main Street, right here in Poughkeepsie. His killer just happened to be his married lover, Fela Palick, local proprietor of the Red Rose Lunch Room, which she operated alongside her husband. We left off with Fela sitting in jail awaiting trial, accompanied by the infant she had named for the man she was accused of murdering. In February of 1929, a cell in the Dutchess County Jail was converted into a temporary nursery for the newborn baby, so that Fela could nurse him. Photos of Fela and the child with cell bars in the background could be seen in newspapers across the country, as people wondered how someone so lovely could commit such a brutal crime.  In March, Fela’s attorney, William Mulvey, brought in Dr. Clarence O. Cheney from the Hudson River State Hospital, to examine the mind of his client. The goal was to determine if she had suffered from a fit of “emotional insanity,” causing her to kill her lover when he refused to acknowledge that he was the father

Murder on Main Street – Part Two2022-04-29T11:22:24-04:00

Murder on Main Street – Part One

Murder on Main Street - Part One If you watch the nightly news you are probably aware that there is a lot of gun violence out there. It seems like a regular occurrence in major urban areas like New York City. However, violence can happen anywhere and at any time. If we look back in history there have been plenty of vicious crimes that have taken place even in our neck of the woods. One need only scan through the rolls of microfilm within our collections to find mentions of shootings, stabbings, and unsolved ax murders that go all the way back to the 18th century!  Fela Palick was a woman who couldn’t seem to get what she wanted in life. Historical records indicate that she appears to have been married-off around the age of 10 when she moved from Lithuania to Russia in 1911. In that marriage she had two children, though one died in infancy. When her family came to America they moved to Chicago, and it wasn’t long before she divorced her first husband and moved to the East Coast. She moved around in the years surrounding World War I with a series of jobs and partners. She

Murder on Main Street – Part One2022-04-22T10:21:30-04:00

More Long Lost Buildings of Poughkeepsie: The Reynolds Houses on Mill Street

More Long Lost Buildings of Poughkeepsie: The Reynolds Houses on Mill Street Thank you to all of the Local History Nerds who attended our program on the Long Lost Buildings of the City of Poughkeepsie, you were a lovely audience! In the presentation we discussed how much the city has changed over the years, and how many lovely buildings we have lost. Today, we are going to look at a couple of the ones we missed! You can find all sorts of great old photographs of Poughkeepsie’s buildings on our Main and Market Page, which is where we have two photos of the Reynolds family homes that once stood on Mill Street. Present day Columbus and Mill Streets would not be recognizable to the Reynolds family or anybody else who happened to be living in that neck of the woods over a century ago.  You may remember reading a little bit about the Reynolds family in a previous blog post, where we talked about the William T. Reynolds company. Well, it just so happens that we have a couple of photos of the homes where William and his family lived, which are now gone. Photo-01 shows two houses side by side.

More Long Lost Buildings of Poughkeepsie: The Reynolds Houses on Mill Street2022-04-15T10:50:52-04:00

The Poet with the Annoying Husband

The Poet with the Annoying Husband Did you know that April is National Poetry month? It's a time to celebrate the great poets and poems that have left an impression on our minds. Did you also know that the woman who was once known as the “Poet Laureate” of Dutchess County, tried to have her husband removed from her farm for being an annoying squatter? (Seriously, we can’t make this stuff up) She wrote poems about America’s victory in World War I and about her very famous neighbors, the Roosevelt family, particularly President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Emma Victoria Pitkin Marshall was certainly a poet and a character worth remembering.  She was born Emma Victoria Pitkin in Brooklyn in 1866. She moved to Dutchess County in 1896 and purchased a farm in East Park with her uncle, Mr. Albert Simpson. They called their new homestead ‘Pinehenge’ and together they worked from the ground up on harvesting fresh vegetables and producing homemade cheese which was sold at the markets in Poughkeepsie. When she wasn’t working hard in the fields or milking cows, she somehow found time to write poetry. She produced her first pamphlet of poems in 1912 and was inspired to write

The Poet with the Annoying Husband2022-04-08T11:26:09-04:00

April Fool’s Day in Poughkeepsie

April Fool's Day in Poughkeepsie We can probably all agree that today is one of the most annoying days on the calendar. April Fool’s Day is actually older than you’d think. There are references to April 1st being a day of fools that go back to the 12th century. The main goal of the day has always been playing tricks on people and otherwise making them look like fools. Searching through the newspapers, one can easily find tales of interesting pranks over the years, though not all of them worked out quite as planned. On April Fool’s Day in 1894, someone had spread a rumor in the Little Italy district near Dutchess Avenue that workers were needed at the bridge, and within “less than half an hour there were sixty Italians up at the bridge depot looking for work.” That same day, a helpless man who had been walking down Main Street with a large package under his arm did not realize that someone had placed a note on the back of his coat which read, “This man is going on a fool’s errand; that box is empty.” In 1900, someone decided to prank the local fire departments (which is not

April Fool’s Day in Poughkeepsie2022-03-31T14:08:56-04:00

Sadie Peterson Delaney and the Work of Bibliotherapy

Sadie Peterson Delaney and the Work of Bibliotherapy As many of you have heard by now, we are opening a brand new branch on North Hamilton Street right here in Poughkeepsie. The Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library will be located in the former Poughkeepsie High School/Our Lady of Lourdes building, now known as the Family Partnership Center. You might be asking, who exactly is this Sadie? And what in the world is bibliotherapy? Well, have you ever been under a lot of stress, or perhaps you felt depressed, but then you picked up a good book to read and suddenly things just felt better? Well then, you’ve been healed by bibliotherapy, and Sadie Peterson Delaney used that to help our nation’s veterans feel better again.  Sadie Johnson was born in Rochester on February 26th, 1889. She and her family moved to Poughkeepsie, where she studied at Poughkeepsie High School and attended church at Smith AME Zion Church. She wrote poetry and became active in the local women’s suffrage movement in her early 20s. Based on marriage records and newspaper reports, Sadie’s first marriage took place in Poughkeepsie when she was only 16. Unfortunately, this marriage was troubled from the start.

Sadie Peterson Delaney and the Work of Bibliotherapy2022-03-24T14:17:30-04:00

The Famous Smith Brothers (and their famous beards)

The Famous Smith Brothers (and their famous beards) Imagine for a moment that your face is recognized by millions of people all over the country. These people trust the product that you have been producing for years. However, these same customers have been getting your name wrong for the same amount of time that they’ve been buying your product. ‘Trade’ and ‘Mark’ Smith, as they were wrongfully known, were actually brothers William and Andrew Smith. Their recognizable faces just happened to be sitting in the right (or wrong) spots, above the words ‘Trade’ and ‘Mark’ on their famous boxes of cough drops. A Scottish immigrant by the name of James Smith began a sweet shop here in Poughkeepsie in 1847. His sons, James Jr. and Andrew, joined him in his endeavors and the store became known as James Smith and Sons. The shop was located in a building at # 7 Market Street, with the store being on the first floor and the family living on the second. In the mid 19th century, their business was well-known for their ice cream and confections, but that all changed in 1852. Around that time, it is said that James purchased a recipe from

The Famous Smith Brothers (and their famous beards)2022-09-22T12:56:32-04:00

Poughkeepsie Architecture: Academy and Old Ladies’ Home

Poughkeepsie Architecture: Academy and Old Ladies’ Home One of Poughkeepsie’s most distinguished buildings with an equally interesting history is the Vassar-Warner Home, once known as The Old Ladies’ Home. If we go back even further in time, the building also served as one of the first schools in Poughkeepsie, known as the Dutchess Academy. The space seemingly went from teaching the young to comforting the old in the course of almost two centuries. The unmistakable columns and Greek Revival architecture help it to stand out on beautiful South Hamilton Street and it has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1835, this space on the corner of South Hamilton Street and Hooker Avenue was occupied by the Dutchess Academy, which had previously stood at the corner of Academy and Cannon Streets. That school began back in 1792 and was the first private boys' school in Poughkeepsie for many years. Boys from some of Poughkeepsie’s most prominent families were educated there including the Cannons, Van Kleecks, Stockholms, and Barnes, to name a few. The three-story brick building that served as the last location for the school was built in 1835 and would continue to serve until the school

Poughkeepsie Architecture: Academy and Old Ladies’ Home2022-03-11T08:29:05-05:00

Are You Insane? Common Reasons to Be Admitted to the Hudson River State Hospital

Are You Insane? Common Reasons to Be Admitted to the Hudson River State Hospital We can probably all agree that we live in some pretty chaotic times. The past few years have given us everything from a worldwide health crisis, political and racial tensions, to what appears to be another major war overseas. So, it comes as no surprise that folks are feeling stressed; more people are suffering from depression and therapists are in high demand. Thankfully, with advancements in mental health care and medicine, there are many ways to receive treatment and therapy now. A century ago, that wasn't the case. In fact, conversely, there were more reasons to be institutionalized than there were treatments that would result in patients being released.   Curious people searching for patient records from the Hudson River State Hospital mistakenly call us here in the Local History Room all the time, hoping that we might have some juicy records hidden away. While we do have some Annual Reports of the HRSH, these booklets do not contain any patient names or conditions. Some of these reports give lists of reasons why people were being committed. In the list pictured off to the right, we can see

Are You Insane? Common Reasons to Be Admitted to the Hudson River State Hospital2022-03-03T13:29:14-05:00

John Van Benschoten: A Man on Wheels

John Van Benschoten: A Man on Wheels In the time period between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II (less than 75 years), there were a crazy amount of new and life-changing inventions being made available to the public. From the bicycle, to the automobile, to the airplane, the advancements in technology were hard to keep up with: unless you were a visionary man like John Van Benschoten. In order to supply the demands of the modern world you had to be well read on the advancements that were being made in designs, engines, wheels, tires, tools, you name it! For half a century, Mr. Van Benschoten was the man to see if you needed servicing on any of these new machines.  The year was 1889 and a group of very athletic men charged their way down Albany Post Road from Poughkeepsie to Wappingers Falls. Leading the pack was a young man named John Van Benschoten, riding a 58-inch Expert Columbia high-wheeler bicycle (see image of him as an older man with his bike at right). John won that race and would continue to win many others over the course of the next few years.

John Van Benschoten: A Man on Wheels2022-02-25T10:50:42-05:00
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