by Shannon Butler

If you wanted to be a part of a social gathering (something outside of your immediate family), there were plenty of clubs to join in the City of Poughkeepsie during the 19th century. There were clubs with religious backgrounds like the Knights of Columbus or the Christian Temperance Union. There were clubs for the various sports, as we have mentioned before, like yacht clubs, golf, or tennis. How about the Rotary Club or the Oddfellows? Or if you really wanted to be all mysterious, you could be a Mason. All of these organizations had by-laws and constitutions, and of course you had to match the requirements to join each particular club. If you wanted to be a member of the Amrita club, you had to have some money.

Now first of all, you are probably wondering, what exactly is Amrita? And why is it in Poughkeepsie? Interestingly enough, the Amrita club, which was formed in 1873, was a club created specifically by and for Poughkeepsians. The origin of the word appears to come from the Hindu tradition and means immortality, but why did a bunch of old white guys from Poughkeepsie decide to create a club with this name? Sadly, that knowledge died with the club’s founders, and the idea that the club would be immortal also died as membership had fallen off by the 1980s. Founding members included many of the big ‘movers and shakers’ of the city such as well-known attorney Frank Hasbrouck and Theordore Miller of the DeLaval Separator Company. The club’s roster consisted mostly of respected businessmen in the Poughkeepsie area. Though it was a wonder to some that the club had any members at all, as the Poughkeepsie Eagle News proclaimed in 1912, as the club would not allow liquor or gambling.

In the beginning of the club’s existence, they rented various rooms for their meetings and dined at places like the Nelson House. By the early 1900s, they had garnered enough respectability and significance as an organization that they decided to construct their own clubhouse, one so elegant and refined that it would surpass all other clubhouses. The club raised its membership fees and subscriptions to allow for enough funds for the construction, and when you have big-name members such as Adriance, Bartlett, Reynolds, Spratt, and Vail, you can afford to create a lavish space. The club hired an architect named Alfred E. Barlow, whose other creations include the S.R. Smith Infirmary in Staten Island and the Union Reformed Church of Highbridge. Barlow created a colonial revival building that would compliment its neighbors which include the Frank Hasbrouck house just next door and the State Armory building across Church Street. Construction began in 1912 and was completed in March of 1913 when Barlow handed the keys of the newly completed building to the club’s president. The work cost the club just over $100,000!

The interior designs of the building were the work of Thomas H. Ransom, who helped pick everything from furnishings to wallpaper. The house had a large library and an even larger billiards room (they had 8 large tables!). Mr. Henry Booth loaned a 17th century tapestry that once hung in the grand staircase, while a beautiful old grandfather clock stood in the hall. Other members of the club donated paintings to display so that the building almost felt like home. And it would remain that way until the 1980s, as businesses changed from being owned by local individuals to being owned by national companies who felt no desire to be a part of the club. The Amrita club disbanded and the building is now in the hands of Decision Technologies International, a software consulting firm. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Poughkeepsie Eagle News, Jan 12 1912, Jan 24 1912, Mar 29 1913,
Amrita Club by-laws – LH 367.974 A
Amrita Club records – LH 367.974 A

01 – Photo of a group of Amrita club members in costume – LH Collections
02 – Photo of the Amrita Clubhouse on the corner of Church and Market Streets – LH Collections
03 – Photo of an Amrita club dinner – Amrita Club records