“Poughkeepsie,” wrote James H. Smith in his History of Dutchess County, NY (1882), “is one of the most beautiful and attractive cities in the State, and one of the most delightful of the many charming localities in the valley of the Hudson with its varied associations, its mountains of wonderous [sic] grandeur, its fruitful plains, and vales of rare scenic beauty. In varied natural scenery it is scarcely surpassed by any; while for wealth, culture, refinement—all those qualities which adorn a noble life—it is the peer of all.”
The railroad bridge that has been revamped into a park was a marvel in its own right when it opened in the 1880s, the longest bridge in the world and a true masterpiece of contemporary engineering. It lay dark and unused for a quarter century, closed by a fire. But the ambitious dreams of a few visionaries turned out to match the will of the wider community after all, and the Walkway Over the Hudson opened in 2009 and promptly filled up with fundraisers, charity walks, musical events, weddings, art shows, and just plain folks of every description out to get a breath of air. A 2007 impact study projected 267,700 visits a year, leading to $14.6 million in direct spending and $1.3 million in overall tax revenues The Walkway folks have reported happily that the projections were a bit off: 450,000 visitors showed up within the first few months.
Meet the Breathless Mayor
That would seem to be the way things are going in the big little city on the Hudson. With a population of just about 30,000, Poughkeepsie (aka Po-town, PK, and a host of other monikers) is not immune to the issues facing small cities everywhere; in the ‘70s and ‘80s, things were looking a bit bleak. The explosion of retail along Route 9 and an ill-considered plan to remake Main Street as a pedestrian mall spelled, some said, the end of the urban center.
Anyone who thought Poughkeepsie was down for the count certainly had another think coming. In the past decade, it’s been one thing after another; under the leadership of Tkazyik and his predecessor and mentor Colette La Fuente, so much is popping that the mayor gets breathless trying to list it all. “We’re putting in steps from the Walkway to Washington Street right now, and next year there will be an elevator installed from Waryas Park. Waryas Park, our waterfront, that’s our jewel in the crown. Other cities may have redeveloped their waterfronts faster but ours is going to be bigger and better. Waryas Park has the boat docks—the Clearwater has been here half a dozen times this year, along with a bunch of cruise lines. The park is being used to capacity—the egg hunt, the parades, the Kids Expo, the big Fourth of July bash, weddings, community events. A lot of major walks start and end there. And we just signed a licensing agreement to restore the icehouse—it will be a place to get refreshments and food."
The mayor is quick to point out that his city has 19 parks in all, in which his administration is busily replacing picnic tables and resurfacing ball courts. “A lot of people can’t get away on vacation right now; it’s important that they have places to play and feel welcome.”
The city’s west end is richly blessed: Along with the Walkway’s opening, its historic train depot—designed by the same folks who brought us Grand Central Station—has experienced major restorations over the past several years. These helped spark revisionings like that of the Victorian Dooley Square warehouse, which has been converted to retail, offices, and restaurants, and the success of neighboring spots like Mahoney’s Irish Pub, occupying the former Vassar Brothers Brewery.