Chapter 5

The Upper Landing as a Hub of Commerce and Transport

The mid-1820s also saw an expansion of shipping traffic into the Upper Landing. In 1824, the monopoly on steamboat operation granted by the New York State legislature to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston was dissolved. The result was an explosion in steamboat traffic on the Hudson. In 1826, the Upper Landing became home to the steamboat Franklin, which sailed regularly to New York City. Unlike the sloops that sailed from the landing every other week, the Franklin ran to New York three times a week. Steamboats tied Poughkeepsie and other towns of the Hudson Valley even more closely to New York City. Within a decade, the Franklin was joined by the towboat Washington, which the Franklin dragged along behind it on its trips to New York. Towboats such as the Washington offered a cheap way of increasing cargo capacity when speed or fuel economy was not an issue. These vessels were joined in 1835 by the steamship Congress, which pulled the towboat Clinton, both of which made regular sailings north to Albany. As such, the businesses of the Upper Landing and the people of Poughkeepsie were able to fully enjoy their central position on the Hudson River. Reynolds and Innis, along with their partner, James R. Cary, expanded their business by buying out the interests of Jonathan Van Valkenburgh in the various sloops, steamships, and towboats operating at the Upper Landing in 1831.

D&H Canal Map
D&H Canal Map

In 1828, the Upper Landing also benefited from the opening of a new water passage to the west. In that year, the D&H Canal opened between Honesdale, Pennsylvania and Kingston, New York, connecting the coal mines of central Pennsylvania to the Hudson River Valley. Coal had quickly become the fuel of the fast-changing Industrial Age, powering the various mills, factories, and steamships of the Upper Landing. River barges, loaded at Esopus, carried coal down the Hudson to the Upper Landing, where it was used by various businesses and homes in Poughkeepsie for power and heat. This included “80 grist mills, 85 saw mills, 27 fulling mills, 32 carding machines, 8 cotton factories, 15 woolen factories, 6 iron works, 5 trip hammers, 11 distilleries, 1 rope factory, 1 dyeing & printing factory, 2 clover mills, 2 paper mills, 26 tanneries, [and] 1 brewery” operating in Poughkeepsie at the time.11

From 1832 until the mid-1840s, the Upper Landing had a new neighbor to its immediate north: the Whale Dock, owned and operated by the Poughkeepsie and Dutchess Whaling Companies (two separate businesses). The vessels of these companies sailed the North Atlantic, hunting whales for their valuable meat and blubber. After a successful catch, the whales were hauled aboard ship, then transported to the dock at Poughkeepsie. There, they were butchered and processed, making the area around the Upper Landing “a very odoriferous neighborhood.”12

The increase in the size and number of businesses in Poughkeepsie led to a corresponding increase in the likelihood of a major fire breaking out. As such, the residents of Poughkeepsie voted in 1831 to establish a “cistern or fountain sufficient to supply the village with water… for the extinguishment of fires” by diverting the Fall Kill.13 This resolution drew both strong criticism and several lawsuits from Reynolds, Innis, and other businessmen from the Upper Landing, who feared that damming the Fall Kill would weaken the flow of the creek and thus render useless the mills that relied on it for power. The legal wrangling pitted Reynolds and Innis against one-time Upper Landing powerhouse George Oakley, who had recovered from his earlier economic reverses and established himself as a politician in Poughkeepsie. Oakley, as president of the Poughkeepsie Board of Trustees, eventually won out, with all legal challenges to the Fall Kill Reservoir being resolved by May of 1834. The reservoir was completed in November of the following year, but was rendered ineffective by a drought that struck late in 1835. As such, the much-celebrated reservoir was unable to contain a large fire that occurred on May 12, 1836, destroying a number of buildings between Main and Academy Streets.

The late 1830s also saw William Reynolds, son of James Reynolds, became an important figure at the Upper Landing. In 1837, William Reynolds purchased some of the waterfront property along the Fall Kill from his father and Aaron Innis. The following year, Aaron Innis died, depriving the Upper Landing of one of the men who had shaped it into an industrial powerhouse. In 1839, William Reynolds assumed a leading role in his father’s remaining business interests. While James Reynolds still pursued a number of business interests in Poughkeepsie, his son became the new driving force at the Upper Landing.

11Poughkeepsie Telegraph, December 28, 1835 

12Platt, History of Poughkeepsie

13“Meeting of the Trustees together with Freeholders and inhabitants,” March 1, 1831.

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