A Brief History of our Grounds
In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a revolution took place in the manner in which Americans viewed death and burial. “Rural Cemeteries” replaced church yards and family plots as the burial place of choice, and the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery was part of this revolution. Even though they were nearly always located near growing urban areas, these cemeteries were called “rural” because their carefully landscaped grounds embodied a respect for nature, and provided a respite from the chaotic bustle of the city.
In December 1852, a committee was formed to seek land for a new cemetery for the residents of the Poughkeepsie area, as it was evident that the local church yard burial grounds would soon be filled. Among the members of the committee was local brewer Matthew Vassar, who later founded Vassar College. The committee first considered a parcel of fifty acres of land on the east side of Academy street which Vassar purchased for $8000, with the intent of then selling it to the subscribers of the cemetery. Not enough subscribers could be found for this land and the committee decided to look for another location. Vassar then built his summer home, named Springside and designed by landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, on this site. The cemetery committee finally decided on a fifty-four acre parcel of land located on the west side of Academy street and South avenue and belonging to the estate of Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. This land forms the nucleus of the present cemetery.
The purchase of the land was made possible by sixty citizens of Poughkeepsie who invested $300 each and were given the option of either being paid back once the cemetery began to sell plots, or using the investment to pay for a family plot. The grounds were laid out by landscape architect Howard Daniels, and the opening ceremony took place on November 2, 1853. The Poughkeepsie Eagle newspaper described the opening ceremony in the following manner: “The day was uncommonly fine, the air salubrious, the ground dry, and all nature seemed to smile on the praiseworthy undertaking of our citizens in planning, laying out and decorating such a beautiful spot for a burial place.”
The cemetery was enlarged in 1883, with the purchase of an additional 106 acres located at the south end of the grounds and belonging to Samuel G. Wheeler.
During the year 1935 several 8mm film shorts were taken of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery and later William W. Howell assembled them into one video. This video shows the grounds as they were at the time, as well as the employees as they worked.
We have now made this video available for you to watch here on our Website. Please be patient, it may take a few moments before it begins.