Historic Dutchess Infirmary Faces Demolition

Dutchess Infirmary, Town of Washington, NY Photo by Liz Cooke
Dutchess County Infirmary, Town of Washington, NY
Photo by Liz Cooke

The Millbrook Independent (Vol. 6, Issue 8) has reported that legislators are moving to approve almost $800,000 needed to demolish the nine buildings comprising the Dutchess County Infirmary, despite the protests of concerned citizens, including local historian Virginia Buechele and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett. Buechele has been active in the movement to preserve and restore the structures, citing their important social history as a local “almshouse” and the importance of the related Brier Hill Cemetery, a potter’s field located behind the Infirmary and extensively documented by students at Vassar College (read their report here). Buechele wrote an op-ed published in today’s Poughkeepsie Journal (April 23, 2014), reprinted here in its entirety:

The future is uncertain for the Dutchess County Infirmary  Photo by Liz Cooke
The future is uncertain for the Dutchess County Infirmary
Photo by Liz Cooke

Historical Structures, Cemetery need to be Preserved
by Virginia Buechele
 6:26 p.m. EDT April 23, 2014

The remaining historical structures at the Eastern Dutchess County Services Center in the Town of Washington shouldn’t be demolished.

Although only in the discussion stages at this point, it appears Dutchess County government and its public works department now seek to demolish the remaining historical structures at the Eastern Dutchess County Services Center in the Town of Washington. These county-owned historical structures will now sustained the same fate as the county-owned Nelson House.

This site was formerly known as the Dutchess County Almshouse (some structures dating to the mid-1860s), poorhouse, county home and lastly the county infirmary, which the county closed in the late 1990s. Due to lack of maintenance and any efforts to preserve these structures or seek adaptive reuse of them, the now-remaining historical structures have sustained the ravages of time and will most likely face the wrecking ball to the estimated tune of at least $808,000. I see waste and neglect when, in 2004, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation encouraged the county to find new uses for the historical structures at the site, the same waste and neglect that brought down the county-owned Nelson House.

With that said, we all must remember the least fortunate among us, past, present and future. As another poorhouse lady, Linda M. Crannell, stated, “When we look at these trends … and the dismantling or crippling of our ‘social safety net’… it no longer seems impossible that sufficient people may fall through these gaps that we may eventually see our leaders looking again at some sort of poorhouse system as a ‘solution’ : http://www.poorhousestory.com/Social_Safety_Net.htm

Over more than a decade, I have researched this county-owned site, its historical structures, the lives of those who called these structures home and the cemetery where they found their final rest, which lies abandoned and forgotten in a rear quadrant of the site. They deserve to be remembered and memorialized appropriately as part of our Dutchess County history. After all, “If we only know the history of the rich and famous then we really don’t know our history at all” : http://ginnyflies.com/saveacemetery.htm

I beg Dutchess County and its Department of Public Works to ensure the Brier Hill Cemetery, containing 800 graves per a Vassar College 2003 report, is carefully cleaned up, maintained and fenced now. Former distinguished Commissioner of Public Works Michael Murphy, a Millbrook citizen, referenced this in a Poughkeepsie Journal Article in 2003  : h̶̶̶t̶̶̶t̶̶̶p̶̶̶:̶̶̶/̶̶̶/̶̶̶w̶̶̶w̶̶̶w̶̶̶.̶̶̶p̶̶̶o̶̶̶o̶̶̶r̶̶̶h̶̶̶o̶̶̶u̶̶̶s̶̶̶e̶̶̶s̶̶̶t̶̶̶o̶̶̶r̶̶̶y̶̶̶.̶̶̶c̶̶̶o̶̶̶m̶̶̶/̶̶̶N̶̶̶Y̶̶̶_̶̶̶D̶̶̶U̶̶̶T̶̶̶C̶̶̶H̶̶̶E̶̶̶S̶̶̶S̶̶̶_̶̶̶N̶̶̶e̶̶̶w̶̶̶s̶̶̶A̶̶̶r̶̶̶t̶̶̶i̶̶̶c̶̶̶l̶̶̶e̶̶̶_̶̶̶J̶̶̶u̶̶̶l̶̶̶y̶̶̶3̶̶̶1̶̶̶_̶̶̶2̶̶̶0̶̶̶0̶̶̶3̶̶̶.̶̶̶h̶̶̶t̶̶̶m̶̶̶

To the best of my knowledge, this final resting place for those who were a part of our history is still not maintained, set off or fenced. Possibly the county could also memorialize Brier Hill with a significant monument, recognizing its part in Dutchess history so it will not be forgotten in the future.

It amazes me that Dutchess County has not sought to preserve even one single building of the early historical structures at this county-owned site. I pray the county will do its best and take immediate action to allow those interred in the Brier Hill Cemetery to rest peacefully in perpetuity and provide a place where their descendants can exercise their mourning rites. It would be the right thing to do.

Be assured those interred at Brier Hill may be gone, but they are not, should not and must not ever be, forgotten or wiped off the historical memory of Dutchess County.

Wood-cut from General History of Dutchess County by Philip H. Smith (1877).
Wood-cut from General History of Dutchess County by Philip H. Smith (1877).
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The 19th c. Lyon Farmhouse is slated for demolition. Photo by John B. Madden Jr.