Poughkeepsie Architecture: Academy and Old Ladies’ Home

One of Poughkeepsie’s most distinguished buildings with an equally interesting history is the Vassar-Warner Home, once known as The Old Ladies’ Home. If we go back even further in time, the building also served as one of the first schools in Poughkeepsie, known as the Dutchess Academy. The space seemingly went from teaching the young to comforting the old in the course of almost two centuries. The unmistakable columns and Greek Revival architecture help it to stand out on beautiful South Hamilton Street and it has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. 

In 1835, this space on the corner of South Hamilton Street and Hooker Avenue was occupied by the Dutchess Academy, which had previously stood at the corner of Academy and Cannon Streets. That school began back in 1792 and was the first private boys’ school in Poughkeepsie for many years. Boys from some of Poughkeepsie’s most prominent families were educated there including the Cannons, Van Kleecks, Stockholms, and Barnes, to name a few. The three-story brick building that served as the last location for the school was built in 1835 and would continue to serve until the school closed down in 1869. Within a year, a group of church women made their way to see the old building at the behest of Mr. Jonathon Rowland Warner, who had a new purpose in mind. 

Warner, who was born in Poughkeepsie but spent most of his life fur trading in Utica, had been a successful businessman and never forgot where he came from. His obituary in the Poughkeepsie Journal showed that he cared for the poor, friendless, and the elderly in his hometown and decided to help with the wealth that he had earned. He joined up with leading women in several of the local Protestant churches with the intention of finding a suitable place to establish a home for elderly women who could not afford to live on their own. Together they agreed on a price and purchased the old Dutchess Academy for $14,300. Warner also donated an additional $10,000 as an endowment. 

The home opened in 1871 with 20 applicants in the first year of business. That number quickly grew and soon there was a long waiting list of over 1,000 old ladies who wanted a room in the lovely home. William W. Smith of the Smith Brothers Cough Drop Company decided to contribute money and the construction of a new wing, which allowed for 27 additional rooms. It was this construction at the end of the 19th century that gave the building its current ‘T’ shape. The managers of the home also managed to purchase a plot in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery for those who passed away in the home and hadn’t made plans for burial. Smith would continue to contribute to the home up until his death in 1913. It is believed that he gave over $140,000 and nicknamed the home the “vestibule of heaven.” 

The Vassar Home for Old Aged Men, which had opened in 1881, merged with The Old Ladies’ Home in 1974 to become the Vassar-Warner Home. Men officially moved into the home on South Hamilton Street with the ladies in 1986. The house still serves the same purpose of caring for the elderly over 150 years later, and there is still a waiting list to get in.      

Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 5 Aug 1870, 7 Aug 1871, 18 Jun 1897, 3 Sep 1990
Old Ladies’ Home Annual Reports – 362.61 O – LH Collections 

01 – Old Ladies’ Home group portrait – LH Collections
02 – Postcard of the Old Ladies’ Home – LH Collections
03 – Postcard of the Old Ladies’ Home – LH Collections
04 – Article from the Poughkeepsie Journal in 1870 which shows the beginnings of the formation of the Old Ladies’ Home.