by Shannon Butler

Imagine it is 1873 and you are sailing up the Hudson on the steamship the Mary Powell on your way to Kingston. You find yourself making a stop in Poughkeepsie with money to spend, and you’re in need of a place to rest. You might think that the best option is the closest option, but that may not always be the case. Right there at the docks you find a large old wooden building known as the Exchange Hotel which had always been known as a grand place to stay. However, this particular year, it is in a rough (or shall we say, stinky) spot, and it’s beginning a gradual decline towards demolition.

The Exchange hotel was built in 1834 at the base of Main Street on the river’s edge. It was the grand idea of three old riverboat Captains, Johnston, Rosencrans, and Vincent. In those early days, it was considered a resort and a great place to grab a meal, a room, and a game of checkers. After being built by old Captains, it was also almost always operated by Captains including Capt. Warren Skinner, who was said to have made a large fortune from running the hotel. Capt. Isaac Wood had served on steamboats with the Hudson River Day Line for 56 years, and then ran the hotel for another 25 years. He was famous for saving at least 50 people from drowning in the Hudson (right place, right time). Based on the photo seen on the right, the building had a balcony that wrapped around all sides and a cupola at the top in the center.

The hotel was not without its problems, although it can be argued that the entire city had been having troubles with its water and sewer systems for some time by the 1870’s. In fact the city’s water systems had been in such poor condition that Poughkeepsie was known as “the sickly city.” In 1873, William H. St. John, who had been operating the Exchange Hotel, decided to sue the city for damages suffered from the smell of the sewers which drained into the river at the base of Main Street. This, of course, was right in front of his hotel, and the stinky air annoyed many customers who were hoping for a nice river breeze. By 1879, with the creation of the Water Act, most of these problems had been cleared up.

The Central Hudson steamboat company purchased the hotel in the late 1890s and it continued to operate briefly, but most people felt that the old building was beyond its prime. James Walsh bought the hotel at auction for $10 in July of 1899 and it was quickly torn down about a week later; its building materials were sold for use as barn siding or firewood. The papers lamented the fact that the place had been torn down so quickly that no one had the chance to collect souvenirs from the site. The steamboat company quickly turned the area into a passenger waiting room. All of this is now just a memory of the old waterfront days, and all that we have are the images of what once was.

Check out (and zoom in on) this mural study based on a view of Poughkeepsie in 1840, the Exchange Hotel is the white building to the right.


Poughkeepsie Eagle News:  18 Jul 1899, 3 Jul 1899, 14 Sep 1931, 23 Jun 1934
Poughkeepsie Journal: 22 Jul 1951
Sunday Courier: 5 Oct 1873


2H2LD24 – Photo taken from the river showing the Exchange Hotel, 1898 – LH Collections

R24LD20 – The Steamboat Mary Powell also known as “The Queen of the Hudson” steaming under the Railroad bridge – LH Collections

1899Exchangehotel – Article from 18 Jul 1899 about the demolition of the Exchange Hotel.