by Shannon Butler

This week we continue our look at buildings that are no longer standing with a focus on the Poughkeepsie Collegiate School. As mentioned in previous blog entries, Poughkeepsie had become famous for its educational institutions by the turn of the 20th century.  With schools like Eastman, Vassar, and several excellent parochial schools, it was a popular place to come for a great education. But even before that time, a scenic hillside right here in Poughkeepsie was seen as the perfect place to inspire young minds.

In 1835 a group of men strolled up the hillside that overlooked the city of Poughkeepsie. During their walk it was recommended by Mr. Charles Bartlett, a teacher who had once operated a school in Fishkill that this location would be the perfect spot for a school. The group of men which included N.P. Tallmadge, John Delafield, and Jacob Van Benthuysen, decided that they would purchase the spot as long as Bartlett would agree to serve as the Principle. Not long after, the grounds were purchased for $12,000 and the construction of the school began in 1835. It was modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, only 35 feet by 115 ft. The colonnade around it was 77 ft. by 137 ft. and it cost over $40,000 to construct.

The interior of the school had a full lower level with two large halls for recreation surrounded by smaller rooms containing spaces for bathrooms and wardrobes. There was also a dining area and kitchen. The main floor contained the large classroom plus a library and an apartment for a live-in family to oversee the site. On the second floor was a dormitory for the students, there was a private space with a cot for each student and rooms at the end of the hall for teachers to supervise students. The attic had a few more living quarters for extra students and caretakers.

The school was overseen by Mr. Bartlett when it was first opened in 1836 and up until his death in 1857. During those years, each term would see somewhere in the number of 80 students in attendance which was close to the max amount it could handle. Some of the big local names of students who attended include Adriance, Platt, Bartlett, and Van Kleeck. In a little handwritten book from 1850 intended to be a form of a newsletter called “Mercury” students wrote that their school, “has obtained a wide spread and well-deserved reputation not only for the superior advantage which it affords but also for the high degree of attainment to which its pupils are brought.” Famous writers and political figures of the day made visits to the school to lecture to students and there are several fine reviews made by visitors to the school in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

After Bartlett died, two other teachers took over the care of the school, Otis Bisbee and Charles B. Warring. After the Civil War, the two ended their partnership and Charles B. Warring opened up a school on Smith Street geared more towards military practices, it became known as the Poughkeepsie Military Institute. By 1867, Otis Bisbee ended up leaving as well since the Poughkeepsie Collegiate School had to be sold in order to settle the estate of Charles Bartlett. While he did try to win the building at auction, he was outbid by George Morgan. Bisbee moved his efforts to educate to the southwest part of town and formed the Riverview Academy (we’ll take a look at that building next time!). George Morgan tried to turn the site into a hotel but was unsuccessful. Though there were plans for the building over time, nothing succeeded, and the grounds around it became a park in 1892 thanks to one of the directors of the Smith Brother’s cough drop factory, William Smith, who purchased the land for $11,600.

A building that once housed over 80 young minds and teachers was now home to a few city employees who took care of the grounds and flowers gardens at the park. The flowers and grounds were postcard worthy and the park was the perfect place to take a picnic. Sadly on February 11th 1917, the building itself caught fire, and was completely destroyed while hundreds of city residences, some of whom had attended the school, stood by and watched. It wasn’t until the 1930’s during the years of the Works Progress Administration, that the Parthenon colonnade was recreated with funds left by Guilford Dudley, a wealthy banker and native of Poughkeepsie.

For more photographs of the Poughkeepsie Collegiate School, make sure to check out our Main and Market page!