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History of Dutchess County

SoldiersWhen Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in 1609, laying claim to the valley for the Dutch Crown, the east bank of the river had been home for centuries to the Wappinger Indians and other members of the Algonquin Federation. They called one of their encampments Poughkeepsie, the reed-covered lodge by the little water place." Dutchess was named after England's future Queen Mary, not after the Dutch, who relinquished their claims to the area in 1683.

Dense forests and rolling hills were hospitable to trappers and farmers who immigrated to the valley, many of whom were European political and religious refugees. Trading posts became settlements; inns sprang up along the King's Highway (now Route 9) from Manhattan to Albany and the Mohawk Valley.

During the Revolutionary War, the Village of Fishkill served as an encampment for General George Washington's troops and, briefly, as the capitol of New York State. Poughkeepsie was the state capitol in 1788 when the United States Constitution was ratified with the provision that certain amendments later incorporated into the Bill of Rights were needed to insure personal liberty.

Throughout the 19th century, industry boomed in Dutchess with labor provided by continued immigration from Europe. Brick yards and textile mills thrived in Beacon and Poughkeepsie, while the Livingstons and Roosevelts conducted lucrative shipping trades and farmed their huge estates along the Hudson River waterfront.

Late in the century, the railroads brought Dutchess County within easy reach of wealthy New Yorkers who built their weekend and seasonal retreats here. The Astors, Rogers, and Vanderbilts were among the families whose vast and beautiful estates dotted the landscape along the river and in the eastern highlands.

As this leisure class with money and time to pursue learning and culture emerged, literary and historical societies, schools and institutions of higher learning were established. Libraries were presented to even the smallest communities by local benefactors. Landscape painters Frederick Church and Thomas Cole gained fame and patronage as the Hudson River School flourished, while landscape architecture was advanced by the work of Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux.

During Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, the trauma of the Great Depression gave way to hope as Franklin and Eleanor made Dutchess an experimental laboratory for New Deal ideas. FDR was the only President to win a fourth term in the White House: when Thomas E. Dewey from Pawling ran against him in 1944, it was the only time in American history when two men from the same county vied for the Presidency.

The dramatic proliferation of highways and suburbs after World War II alerted residents to the need for stewardship of the County's extraordinary historic legacy. In recent years, many buildings and landscapes have been preserved through adaptive re-use, nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, and the development of entire historic districts. In consideration of the County's predominantly rural character, more than 200,000 acres of farmland have been dedicated to agricultural districts.

Dutchess County's history is visible at every turn. Colonial homesteads, gothic cottages, clapboard farmhouses, Victorian villas, Beaux Arts mansions, stone churches, country inns--all stand in silent witness to past lives and events that have shaped the distinctive character of Dutchess County. High-tech industries and modern shopping malls have replaced brickyards and trading posts, but historic resources remain an integral part of the Dutchess County landscape.

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    Last Updated: 7/29/2013