Poughkeepsie Architecture: The Cast Iron Building

On December 26, 1870, a fire broke out in the saloon that had been operated by George W. Cannon at 301 Main Street. Within moments of the fire’s first sparks, an explosion occurred, sending flames, glass, and smoke almost to the other side of Main Street. The alarm was sounded and the firemen were soon on the scene but the fire was spreading quickly into the next place of business, a drug store operated by Morgan Farnum. What seemed like mere minutes later, the fire moved into the bookstore of Archibald Wilson. The flames ripped through the block so quickly that there was nothing the firemen could do except prevent the fire from crossing Main and Garden streets. The next morning, there was nothing left but a hole in the ground.

That block on the corner of Garden and Main Streets, which was made up almost entirely of old wooden buildings, belonged to Mrs. Josephine Pardee (the widow of Enoch Pardee) and she had taken quite a loss. The reports from both the Poughkeepsie Eagle News and the New York Times showed that several of the tenants who owned shops in these buildings had lost a considerable amount of money. Mr. Farnum, who owned the drug store, had a loss of $15,000 and was only insured for $10,000. R. Dunn, who operated a fancy goods store, had a loss of $7,000 and was only insured for $3,500. Interestingly, Mr. Cannon, who owned the saloon where the fire had started, only suffered a loss of $600 but was insured for $1,500! Mrs. Pardee’s father, a photographer named S.L. Walker, had his studio in the building as well. Walker wasn’t insured at all, and suffered a loss of $300 (history suffered a much greater loss with the destruction of countless photographs taken by Walker). However, it was Mrs. Pardee herself who suffered the most, since she had only partially insured her property: she had a loss of over $25,000.

Mrs. Pardee did not waste any time in finding someone to rebuild on her land. Her husband, Enoch, who died in 1867, specifically wrote in his will that should any of his buildings be destroyed “by fire or other calamity” they should be rebuilt. Mrs. Pardee hired a well known local architect and builder named James S. Post to complete the job (he would also rent space for offices on the third floor of this building he created). It took a little over a year–and about $36,000–to complete, but it was ready for tenants in 1872. It stands at 54 feet in height with a decorative facade made of cast iron that was produced by the Ætna Iron Works company of New York City. Alongside all of the windows on the top three floors are beautiful Corinthian pillars and ornaments that really make the building shine. The Poughkeepsie Eagle News (famous for being “Neutral in Nothing”) said of the building, “We hope the day will come speedily when several more of the same kind will be erected on Main Street.”

By the 1890’s, the Cast Iron Building (as it has become known) was a very popular destination for running errands like shopping or visiting the dentist. Peter B. Hayt ran a shop on the main floor at the turn of the century and by 1922, Isaac Eisner had opened a men’s clothing store there, which operated continuously until the 1940’s. In the 1950’s, the famous shoe store chain of Thom McAn moved into the first floor and changed the front window display area from its older style to a more Mid-Century Modern look. The Cast Iron Building stands today, and still manages to shine well over a century later.

Platt, Edmund. “The Eagle’s History of Poughkeepsie” 1905
New York Times – 28 Dec 1870
Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 28 Dec 1870, 11 Apr 1872,
New York, Dutchess County Wills, 1751-1903; Index, 1790-1905; Author: New York. Surrogate’s Court (Dutchess County); Probate Place: Dutchess, New York
Special thanks to Kirk Moldoff who shared his research on photographer S.L. Walker and the Pardee Building. 

01 – Photo showing the aftermath of the fire in 1870 at the corner of Main and Garden. (This photo is from the Dutchess County Historical Society Collection)
02 – Photo of the Cast Iron building in 1895 – LH Collections
03 – Photo of the Cast Iron building in 1922 – LH Collections
04 – Photo of the interior of a shop in the Cast Iron building in 1922 – LH Collections