by Shannon Butler

Today as we continue our look at buildings of Poughkeepsie that are now gone, we will take a look at one of the schools that was established as a result of the demise of the school at college hill. As you may recall, last week we mentioned the Riverview Military Academy briefly, as it was one of two schools that popped up after the closure of Charles Bartlett’s Poughkeepsie Collegiate School. Otis Bisbee, once a teacher at the Collegiate decided in 1867 to begin a school that would give an excellent education, grounded in military tradition.

A Riverview Academy booklet from 1888 suggests that this institution was always a part of the Poughkeepsie Collegiate School and that Charles Bartlett was in charge from 1836 until 1857. It makes no mention of the split between Otis Bisbee and Charles B. Warring (who went off to establish his own military school on Smith Street). Since Bisbee could not manage to win the property at College Hill at auction in the 1860s, he purchased and began constructing a new school just west of Eastman Park. On a spring day in 1867, the entire school marched from the College Hill campus to Riverview to begin classes in their new location. This included about 5 acres of sporting fields, a gymnasium, school building and living quarters. A grand total of $70,000 was spent to improve the campus which was no doubt risky but paid off within a year as they were overflowing with students from all over the nation.

The main school building had classrooms on the first floor and on the next two floors were apartments for the students who were actually referred to as ‘cadets.’ The building was designed by J. A. Wood who was famous for his hotels, armories, and alms houses. A few of his other buildings in Poughkeepsie still stand including the Vassar Brothers Institute and the Vassar Home for the Aged Men. In a school catalog from 1888 it proclaims that the building has “hot and cold water on every floor, is heated with steam, and lighted with gas. It is believed that the building is equaled by few in the State for elegance, spacious accommodation, and conveniences of school-boy life.”

The school officials declared that their chief aim for all of their cadets was “development of manly character and improvement in academic study.” There was no special exam needed for admission and a new cadet was expected to bring with him sheets, nightshirts (aka pajamas), their own spoons and forks, ties, gloves, umbrellas, a bible, and a book of common prayer (for those who attended the Episcopal service). They offered courses in writing, commercial arithmetic, book-keeping, history, chemistry, Latin, Music, Drawing, and of course, Military tactics and discipline. Former pupils of the school included the Episcopal Bishop of New York, Right Rev. Henry C. Potter, Judge Henry Gildersleeve, and Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard.

The School seemed to do well up until about 1910 when some financial issues became apparent and in 1913 it was stated in the Poughkeepsie Journal that $10,000 in salaries was owed to the teaching staff alone. By 1921, the school closed down for good. After that, the building was used by the Vassar Christian Association as a community center which they named the Lincoln Center. Improvements were made to the site by the WPA during the 1930s. However, during the course of the Urban-renewal years, the building was declared unsafe and condemned by 1965. Today, if you find yourself kicking a ball around in the soccer fields at the Lincoln Park soccer club, you will be walking the grounds where these young cadets once studied.