The Long Decline
While the arrival of the railroad to Poughkeepsie was originally a boon for the Upper Landing, the ever-growing dominance of freight trains eventually crippled shipping businesses and their dependents at the site. The economic death of the Upper Landing took decades, but progressed in a steady downward slide from the 1870s.
The five years after the end of the Civil War brought rapid change to Poughkeepsie. As immigrants rushed into the city between 1865 and 1870 to work at new businesses like Adriance & Platt Reaper Mower, the city’s population increased from 16,073 to 20,080. Increasingly, these business were positioned not at the traditional industrial hub of the Upper Landing, but closer to the rail depot at the foot of Main Street. In 1871, William Reynolds closed the old wooden warehouse his family had run since 1849 in an effort to adjust to the changing nature of commerce in the city. By the 1880s, the building was still standing, being used as a knitting factory.21 In 1872, Reynolds & Company constructed a large brick warehouse opposite the train station on Main Street. Part of this structure still survives.
In 1887, the Reynolds family sold a large chunk of their remaining lands at the Upper Landing. The buyer was an ambitious new venture: the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company. This corporation, formed in 1871, planned to build an elevated railroad bridge across the Hudson at the straight, calm stretch in the river in front of the Upper Landing. The site also offered the benefit of the rocky outcropping of Snake Cliff, which made for a natural landing point for the bridge, as it had to be elevated high enough in the air so as not to interfere with river traffic. George Innis, owner of the dyeworks that had long stood on the Fall Kill and the building formerly known as the Hoffman House, served as one of the founding board members for the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company. Over the next two decades, Innis and the other board members succeeded in attracting a number of engineers and investors to the ambitious project, planned to be the longest bridge in the world when completed.22 However, the project was beset by a number of financial and technical problems. The Panic of 1873, an economic downturn that struck two years after planning began on the bridge, bankrupted one of the companies that had invested in the venture. Efforts to fund and finish the project occurred throughout the 1870s and ’80s, with the project lying completely dormant for eight years. However, the late 1880s saw a renewed effort to finish the bridge. The final design of the project called for several footings in the river and on the shore, including one on property the Reynolds family sold in 1887.23
While the Reynolds’ switched their interests elsewhere, the shipping business limped on at the Upper Landing. Following the departure of Reynolds & Co., the firm of Doughty, Cornell & Co. took over the ferry and freight line, sailing the steamer L. Hasbrouck out of the Upper Landing. However, advertisements from 1875 onward show the L. Hasbrouck and another ship, the Miller, running from the Main Street Dock rather than the Upper Landing. This indicates that, by the mid-1870s, the Upper Landing’s time as a bustling commercial dock had passed. Following the departure of shipping from the mouth of the Fall Kill, the old dock and warehouse there “slowly rotted away.” The last ferries left the Upper Landing in 1879, when the Transportation Company, responsible for running the ferries out of their own small dock, transferred its operations to Main Street.24
While shipping ceased at the Upper Landing, there were still a number of businesses on the banks of the Fall Kill. These, too, faced problems in the turbulent 1870s and ’80s. In 1879, the Arnold Chair Company, a long-standing presence at the Upper Landing, was rocked by a labor dispute. On August 22nd of that year, the 300 to 400 women workers at the Arnold factory were told that their wages for making cane-bottomed chairs were being cut from 4 cents per complete chair to 3.5. The women of the factory were outraged and nearly unanimous in their refusal to work at the reduced rate. When a young girl at the factory accepted work at the lower rate, she was attacked by her coworkers. The next day, another worker, this one a middle-aged woman, came to the now-deserted factory and tried to take some work home with her. On her walk home, she was attacked by a mob of or nearly 100 women, who seized the uncompleted chair frames from her. Concerned about the safety of any workers trying to break the strike, Arnold and Company then tried sending a wagon laden with parts to the homes of women willing to accept the reduced rate. This, too, was attacked by the mob of strikers now besieging the factory, and the wagon’s driver “was the object of much hooting and yelling, and one or two stones were thrown at him without effect.” The strike ended only when management, blaming the need for reduced wages on reduced prices by their competitors, threatened to cease making the cane chairs altogether if they could not produce them at the lower price. Knowing that the closure of the line would put nearly 200 women out of work, the strike ended, and the workers returned to their jobs, “sullen, and [making] sharp remarks about meanness and stinginess as they took the work.” The fact that chairs from the Arnold factory were competing with cheaper products made as far away as Phoenicia, New York and Vermont shows both the complexity and difficulty of running a business during this time.25
Despite these troubles, the Arnold Chair Company remained at the Upper Landing until 1935, when it was “the only establishment in the city still using water power from the Fall Kill.”26 It was one of the last institutions remaining at the mouth of the creek. In 1891, the old Fallkill Store, then used as a warehouse by the Poughkeepsie Transportation Company, burned down, taking with it thousands of dollars’ worth of tools and construction materials and, most painfully, “[a] considerable quantity of dye wood piled close to the building… the loss to the Messrs. Innis about $2,000, on which there was no insurance.”27 The same year also saw the demise of the Republic, the old barge that had burned once before during the Civil War. On August 14th, only a few weeks after the Fallkill Store had burned, the deck of the Republic collapsed while it was sailing the Hudson, killing several people aboard. The old barge was the last to call the Upper Landing its home.28
Besides the Arnold Chair Company, the only other remaining major business at the Upper Landing by the early 20th century was the Gifford, Sherman, & Innis Dyewoods Company. This business “kept the upper neighborhood busy with frequent shiploads of log wood arriving from the West Indies for some time after the removal of the freight boats and the ferry.” However, this firm, too, fell victim to changing economic times as chemical dyes replaced wood dyes, and fell into bankruptcy in 1884. Business at the dyeworks fitfully stumbled on until 1902, when the New York Railroad Company purchased the remaining structures at the Upper Landing. The factory was torn down in 1905.29
As the last few businesses struggled on at the Upper Landing, the families long-associated with the site began to sell more and more of the land there. In 1894, the Reynolds family sold a piece of property riverward of the Reynolds House to the Poughkeepsie Electric Light & Power Company, which planned to build a power station there. Various construction efforts continued at this site into the early 1900s, a period which saw the Poughkeepsie Electric Light & Power Company consolidated into a larger concern named the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company. Central Hudson’s expansion at the Upper Landing continued until 1911, when it purchased the remaining property, including the Hoffman and Reynolds houses. These historic structures were used as offices, equipment garages, and storage, and even tenement housing by Central Hudson.
23The definitive history of the efforts to construct the Poughkeepsie Rail Bridge is Carleton Mabee, Bridging the Hudson: The Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge and Its Connect Rail Lines – A Many-Faceted History (Flieschmanns, New York: Purple Mountain Press 2001)
26Eagle History of Poughkeepsie; Arnold Lumber Company accounts, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Retrieved from http://iarchives.nysed.gov/xtf/view?docId=1724.xml;query=;brand=default