by Shannon Butler

In 1882, a fraternal order known as The Knights of Columbus was founded on the idea of being a mutual benefit organization for working-class and immigrant Catholics. The order’s membership grew rapidly in the late 19th century, especially here in Poughkeepsie. The local council, known as the Florentine Council, decided that it had more than enough membership to warrant its own clubhouse. The building that would come to be known as the Columbus Institute was actually the first clubhouse in the entire country to be built by a local council for the Knights. In its somewhat brief existence, it was considered one of the towering beauties of the Queen City.

Local architect William J. Beardsley had his plate full in the years between 1903 and 1905, both here in Poughkeepsie and in Hyde Park. He was designing firehouses, the new Dutchess County Courthouse, and the Knights of Columbus had hired him to build an elaborate hall that would serve as their club (but also house various other clubs and businesses). What Beardsley ended up creating was a multipurpose hall with just about everything one could want. The cornerstone was laid in October of 1904, and it took just under 8 months to complete. It ended up being four stories tall, complete with a full basement that held a bowling alley, lockers, and showers. The facade was a mixture of brick and marble trimmings, with four store fronts and a grand entryway on the first level.

At the rear of the building was the large auditorium — which stood at about 60’ x 105’– with 25’ ceilings, a stage, and gallery. The grand opening of the building took place in May of 1905 and Mayor Hine gave a speech, in which he proclaimed that this building was one of the grandest that the Queen City had to offer. The Knights had their own library and reading room, along with their council chamber, located on the top floor (images can be seen on the right). The Columbus Institute would be the site of countless galas, fairs, and basketball games. A boxing ring was even built for prizefighters to compete. Speeches from well known political figures were heard, including William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (son of the President) and Governor Alfred Smith.

By 1935, the building was no longer the home of the Knights of Columbus. They had moved into a smaller location, the former home of their architect William J. Beardsley, on Mill Street. The old institute became more of a catch-all for various events and shops. At one point, the building was the home for several businesses including a tailor, a dentist, the Lass Furniture Company. By 1970, when the building was only in its 66th year, it was torn down to make way for urban renewal. For a few years, the lot where the building once stood was a parking lot, until the modern Civil Center was built. Now all that remains are postcards and newspaper articles.

Poughkeepsie Eagle News – May 22 1905
Poughkeepsie New Yorker – July 22 1945
Poughkeepsie Journal – Oct 29 1951, Sept 20 1970

01 – Columbus Institute from the Library of Congress digital collection –
02 – Postcard of the Columbus Institute, Poughkeepsie. LH Collections
03 – “Hull” Reading Room, Columbus Institute, Poughkeepsie. LH Collections
04 – Black & white photograph of the Columbus Institute council chamber in Poughkeepsie. LH Collections
05 – Aerial view of the Columbus Institute on Washington Street – 1970
06 – Poughkeepsie Journal Photo showing the breaking of the cornerstone of the Columbus Institute – 1970