James Bowne: Mayor of Poughkeepsie

The City of Poughkeepsie has had many different mayors over the years. Each one has left a mark on the landscape in some small way. In the early days of the city, mayors were elected to a one-year term until 1859, when it was changed to two years. That might not be a lot of time to get things done, but you’d be surprised. One of the earliest mayors of Poughkeepsie was James Bowne, who served his term during the early years of the Civil War. He was a man of principle and worked hard most of his life, so much so that his obituary is lengthy and speaks very highly of the man and his accomplishments.

Bowne was born on Christmas Day, 1798, in Fishkill. His father died when he was very young, and he lived with his mother until he got the nerve to head North to Poughkeepsie in search of employment. With very little money, he found work in the hardware business. First with Albert Cox, and then by 1816, he started working with the firm of N. Conklin Jr.. Bowne stayed on for several years and eventually earned a partnership; by 1821, the firm was known as Conklin and Bowne. Bowne later established his own company in the 1850s, but had moved from hardware into the carpet business. His storefront was located at 318 Main Street, where he continued until his retirement in 1878.

In his young years, he became convinced that the consumption of liquors for pleasure was sinful. He quickly became a stone-cold temperance man and helped form the first Temperance Society in Poughkeepsie (which was not nearly as fun as Matthew Vassar’s quest to brew a good beer). One day he decided to head down to the cellar of his store and empty all of the liquor casks, which caused a loss in revenue.

Bowne was also a part of the team that created the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank in 1831. Not one to slow down in his community work, he also took part in the establishment of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1853. He had managed to raise $18,000 towards the purchase of the grounds. A year later, he was the superintendent in charge of the building of the Home for the Friendless. His fellow citizens must’ve had faith in his abilities when they elected him to serve as the mayor of the City of Poughkeepsie in 1861.

While serving as mayor, he encouraged the men of Poughkeepsie to fight for their country in the Civil War. During this time, he put together a fund to support soldier’s families in the city (perhaps he didn’t realize the cost of fighting in a war that went on longer than expected). In 1861 he was working as a superintendent again, only this time, it was for improvements to the courthouse and jail.

He was married twice, outlived his wives, and had five children. He died in his home on the corner of South Hamilton and Cannon Street on July 31st, 1883. When one reads enough into the life of James Bowne, it becomes clear that his wish was to improve the city of Poughkeepsie in any way he could.


Smith, James Hadden. “History of Dutchess County, New York: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers,” 1882.
Poughkeepsie Eagle News, 7 Dec 1861, 1 Aug 1883
Platt, Edmund. “The Eagle’s History of Poughkeepsie,” 1987.

Photo 01 – Advertisement from the Poughkeepsie Eagle News for James Bowne’s store, 1853.
Photo 02 – A photograph of a painting of James Bowne as a young man, from findagrave.com.
Photo 03 – A drawing showing James Bowne as an older man, from “History of Dutchess County, New York: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers,” 1882.