The Upper Landing in War, Revolution, and the Republic
Martin Hoffman made a number of improvements and additions to his new property. The first of these was building a mill, reportedly raised on July 9, 1755, a mere six months after acquiring the property. Upon the completion of this useful new building, Hoffman and the men who had come from as far away as Rhinebeck and Fishkill to help build it held a “sham battle” in canoes to celebrate their hard work. As the men of Dutchess County played at war, a very real battle raged 400 miles to the southwest. In the first major battle of the French and Indian War, the British suffered a massive and embarrassing defeat on the banks of the Monongahela River in what is now Western Pennsylvania. Participants in the battle included a number of people who later served in the American Revolution, chief among them George Washington. The Revolution that Washington came to lead eventually made Poughkeepsie the capital of New York (for a time) and the mouth of the Fall Kill a bustling hub of activity.
Perhaps Hoffman’s most important contribution to his property was his construction of a dock in the small cove at the mouth of the Fall Kill, which was built sometime before 1757. It was this dock, built to service the mill on the property, which gave the Upper Landing its name sometime before the end of the century. He also built several other buildings on the plot. A 1764 sale of the property lists “houses, Mills, Mill houses, Store Houses, buildings…” on the land, giving the whole property a sizable value of £1,900. Despite putting so much money and effort into the property, Hoffman sold his plot to Dutchess County Sherriff Clear Everitt in 1760. From there, the land passed through a series of owners before being purchased by John Schenck, Jr. in 1772.
By the time the Schenck family came to own the property, a low boil of discontent with British control already existed in the colonies. The years before the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 passed fairly quietly in Poughkeepsie, but the coming of war broke what calm remained. The Schencks sided with the Revolution, and John Schenck became one of the leading Patriots in the county, serving as an officer in the county militia. His most important job was serving as a commissary officer for both the State of New York and the Continental Army. In this vital role, John Schenck helped feed and clothe the thousands of soldiers from across the country who were stationed in the Hudson Valley during the war. As commissary, one of Schenck’s responsibilities was the creation of depots and storage facilities for the supplies under his charge. To that end, Schenck’s Landing – as the dock at the mouth of the Fall Kill was then called – became the main supply depot in Poughkeepsie.
During the busy, often chaotic years of 1776 and 1777, Schenck’s businesses on the Fall Kill and the supply depot he established were involved in constructing defenses meant to keep the British out of the Hudson Valley. In one notable case, Schenck was ordered to procure “one hundred hogsheads of Lime, as many hard and soft Bricks as he can procure, (not exceeding four hundred thousand,) any number of Shingles not exceeding one hundred thousand, and ten thousand Shingle Lath”2 for defenses to be built around the Spuyten Duyvil Creek in what is now the Bronx. Considering that this shopping list coincided nicely with the businesses at Schenk’s Landing, it seems very likely that Schenck’s own mills fulfilled this request – earning Schenck a tidy profit as a result.3 While not made at Shenck’s Landing, cordage for ship rigging was stored in the supply depot there. This rope was transported to Lake Champlain, where it was used in the hasty construction of a fleet out of green wood by Benedict Arnold. Arnold’s unlikely fleet turned back a British assault down Lake Champlain at the Battle of Valcour Bay, and in so doing saved the Hudson Valley from invasion until 1777.4
The docks on the northern and southern sides of Poughkeepsie were not the only parts of the town to see increased activity during the war. After the British captured New York City in 1776 and burned Kingston in 1777, Poughkeepsie became New York’s capital in 1778. This honor brought an increase in traffic into the city. While the Middle Landing (what is now Waryas Park at the end of Main Street) was the busiest of Poughkeepsie’s three docks, the northernmost landing may have been the preferred place for the city’s more notable visitors to disembark. In 1778, the Schencks sold their property on the Fall Kill to Robert Livingston “of the Manor,” a scion of New York’s wealthiest Patriot family. Robert, in turn, gave the land to his brother, Walter, who was at the time Speaker of the State Assembly. Livington’s new property, with its convenient dock, was likely an attractive and accessible stop for the many visitors and favor-seekers attendant to his new position in the state government. From 1778 until 1783, Poughkeepsie was one of several cities that played host to New York’s government throughout the rest of the Revolution, kept safe from British attacks by the new fortresses at West Point and protected from the Loyalist and Indian raids that plagued the rest of New York by both distance and the Hudson itself.
In 1788, Poughkeepsie once again hosted a gathering of the state’s notables in the form of New York’s convention to ratify the newly-drafted federal Constitution. The New York debates were critical to the success of the document. During these debates, Federalists Alexander Hamilton and John Jay argued over the merits of the proposed Constitution with leading Antifederalists Melancton Smith and George Clinton. Eventually, the New York delegates agreed that the Constitution would be ratified, so long as a Bill of Rights was immediately submitted to the states to be tacked on to the document once it was established. During these debates, which included several members of the Livingston family, Walter Livingston’s house and dock were likely used again by Livingston’s many friends and attendants. Thus, the Upper Landing may be linked in some small way to the creation of the US Constitution.
During this time a fine residence was built at the Upper Landing. This building survives today as the Hoffman House. Preservation architects have dated the main floors of this building as likely having been constructed in 1789. This building acted as both the home and office of the owners of Upper Landing from the late 1700s until the site’s virtual abandonment over a century later.
2“Boards, Brick, Lime, etc., also Grain and Cord-Wood, ordered to be procured, at the request of Quartermaster-General Mifflin, September 30, 1776,” in American Archives, ed. Peter Force. Retrieved from http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.25810
4“Report from Committee on the Letters of General Schuyler, September 28, 1776,” in American Archives, ed. Peter Force. Retrieved from http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/cgi-bin/amarch/getdoc.pl?/var/lib/philologic/databases/amarch/.25805