Po-town past: from the Eveready Diner to the trees of Vassar

Po-town Eveready Diner

The Po-town Eveready Diner was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. (photo: Emily Bogle/Poughkeepsie Journal)

DealChicken likes to spend time in Poughkeepsie—sometimes known by the locals as Po-town—enjoying the lovely outdoors. Mostly, he is pecking about for great deals. Such an astute avian can’t help but pick up a few bits of local trivia in his travels. See what fun facts he has recently hunted down:

In 1888 the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, which connects the banks of the Hudson, was considered a colossal feat of engineering. It was the longest bridge in the world. After it was damaged in a 1974 fire, this once critical connection was deemed not important and was left in ill repair. However, since being restored as the Walkway Over the Hudson, engineers discovered that the four support legs of the bridge that was designed to “last forever” had not moved even an inch in over 120 years. 

Poughkeepsie’s Locust Grove Mansion was the home of inventor Samuel Morse. Inventor of…you guessed it…Morse Code. Morse was a talented artist, but was best known for his communication system of dots and dashes. His amazement at such technology was evident in his first message sent via his electronic alphabet in 1844, “What hath God wrought!'” Imagine what Sam would say if he saw an iPad!

The Eveready Diner is a Hyde Park institution of tastiness. The 300 seat palatial looking place seats over 300 people and has a full bakery in the basement where Uncle Teddy whips up homemade pies, breads and even hand-made breadcrumbs.  When the diner opened in 1972 it sat only 30 and had a staff of three! Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, Po-town locals may have to soon make a reservation to fill up on this gourmet diner grub.

The trees lining Vassar campus are not only beautiful, they are also the markers of some long-ago class treasures. Ever since the class of 1868 put down their proverbial roots by planting a swamp white oak along Main Drive, planting a class tree has been a Vassar tradition. Although today members of the senior class plant a tree or choose an existing tree to symbolize their class, in the early days these tree planting ceremonies were performed in utmost secrecy and class mementos were buried at the base of the tree.

The 3,000 foot Mid-Hudson Bridge, connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland, was the sixth longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its opening in 1930. It has since lost that record, but has earned another to take its place: the first bridge to double as a musical instrument. Composer Joseph Bertolozzi created the Bridge Music Project in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up his namesake river. He composed music for the bridge by using the bridge itself as an instrument. You can hear these lofty melodies at the Bridge Music Listening Stations at each of the bridge's towers. Now, if someone could just need to teach the Hudson how to Riverdance.

On a walk through Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park, visitors are surprised to encounter the large sperm whale. The sculpture is a tribute to the area’s past as a prominent whale rendering facility and home port to two whaling companies. Whale oil was used to make candles and cosmetics, while other parts and household tools could be made from whalebone. Whale oil was critical to the industrial revolution, as the oil was used to lubricate machines. The whaling industry went bankrupt, not from pressure from environmentalists, but as a result of the invention of the oil well.

Poughkeepsie is home of the CIA. No, not the secret services, the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Known as a top culinary center of the nation, this institution was specifically created to train soldiers returning from World War II in the culinary arts. Originally based in New Haven, Connecticut, they moved to a riverside campus in Hyde Park in 1972. 

The Hudson River was once a major source of ice harvesting. The main areas of harvest were between Poughkeepsie and Troy. The icehouses in the Hudson River Valley stored as much as three million tons of ice at the end of the Civil War. Ice was then shipped to New York City and delivered to other states and countries. Some of the crystal blocks harvested from the Poughkeepsie riverside have been transported by boat as far away as India, a four-month voyage! Brrr!

Aside from king crab fishing, most boats try and avoid the icy water. However, ice is what makes the difference in Ice Yachting. Started in America in the late 1700s by Dutch immigrants, this mode of transportation across winter ice looked like so much fun it became a sport! The country’s first Ice Yacht Club was started along the Hudson by FDR's uncle, John A. Roosevelt.

The long, burly beards worn by two men, known as Trade and Mark, on the package of Smith Brothers Cough Drops are instantly recognizable. These faces belong to Poughkeepsie brothers, William and Andrew Smith, sons of the cough drops creator. The beards made for great marketing, not so much for first impressions. On a business trip to New York City in 1947 William was refused a room until he paid in advance. Why? One look at that scraggly beard and the innkeeper deemed him a vagrant.

Bardavon Opera House has been around since 1869. Saved in the nick of time in 1976 from being demolished, some say this theater has someone watching over it. If you ask some staff from over the years, they’ll tell you it’s Roger. “Roger” refers to the ghostly presence in the Bardavon. Whether it’s missing keys, shuffling feet or just a feeling that you are not alone, you’ve been “Rogered”. Although he’s been known to act out, this unearthly spirit is mostly a helpful haunt. Boo!

Already a Po-town pro? Check out DealChicken’s round-up of Buffalo NY history.