This week in our Local History Blog we are beginning a series of articles that will look at buildings that once stood in Poughkeepsie. Some of them you may remember visiting once upon a time, others you may have only heard about. First up, we will take a look at the Nelson House that once stood on Market Street. If you happen to be walking up Market Street between the Dutchess County Probation Office and the County Offices, you will find a big parking lot and a little park with benches and interpretive signs. Here once stood the majestic Nelson House Hotel which saw much history during its nearly 200 years of service. Although, that number may be stretching the age of the hotel a bit.
There was certainly a hotel at this location going back to the American Revolution. Stephen Hendrickson had an inn here during that time which saw some of our country’s early founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Mrs. Catherine Taylor purchased the site from her brother Homer Nelson in 1861 and later built a brand new hotel on the site which she named for her distinguished brother in 1875. The hotel was designed by Charles Nichols and John Halcott of Albany and officially opened in May of 1876. There was a fine restaurant inside, as well as a barber shop, and a reading room. Up until its closure in 1969, it would see countless visitors. It served as a quick hide-away for a famous gangster. It even became a “temporary White House” during the Roosevelt administration.
The hotel expanded during the 1920s to include an extra wing and parking garage. It was during this time that Jack “Legs” Diamond managed to stay in the hotel. Reportedly he needed a place to avoid some rival gangsters. No one was allowed near the rooms that he and his associates occupied, and later, it was rumored that during his weekend stay, “Legs had machine guns trained out the windows.” It was also reported in the Poughkeepsie Journal that the famous innovative threesome of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone stopped in to have dinner. But what the hotel is probably most famous for was that it served as temporary White House offices whenever President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to visit Hyde Park, which was quite frequent. Members of the President’s staff and the press took over the second floor of the hotel, and a permanent switchboard was installed. The balcony that once stood above the marquee was where FDR gave two campaign speeches.
On June 27th 1948, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and IBM founder Thomas J. Watson attended a luncheon that was held by the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce. Watson had invited Eisenhower to Dutchess County for the grand opening of his new business here in Poughkeepsie. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about how lovely the Nelson House was in her column My Day, “there were more speeches and such a pleasant, friendly feeling that one began to think there were no such things as divisions in politics or divergences over international or domestic thinking.”
By the mid-20th century the older portion of the building was cut in half in order to make way for newer buildings for the county. In 1969, the county purchased the remainder of the hotel for $539,000. The exterior remained the same while the interior served as office space for the county up until 1996. After that time, the building was abandoned and sat empty until December of 2012 when what was left was finally demolished at a cost of about 1.7 million dollars. The building is gone but a park now serves to remind us of the history that once took place here. Make sure to head over to our photo collection at http://mainandmarket.poklib.org/ to see more images of the Nelson House.