Providing a spiritual home for residents of Poughkeepsie
Founded in 1835, St. Paul’s began at a time of renewed growth and vitality in the Poughkeepsie area, when several businesspeople sought to create a spiritual home for residents in Poughkeepsie’s burgeoning northside.
They started simply, reading Morning Prayer on two Sundays in September 1835, in a house not far from our present location. Soon afterwards, a group of Vestry members from nearby Christ Church travelled to Mansion Square Park and held the first public meeting to organize what was to become St. Paul’s Church.
The original St. Paul’s was consecrated by The Rt. Rev. Onderdonk on July 28, 1837. The congregation grew through the following decades, and in 1870, the Vestry decided that a larger church building was needed. The new and present church was built on what is now North Hamilton and Mansion Streets in the City of Poughkeepsie. Built with native stone in the Norman-Gothic style, the church can seat over 350 people. The South Transept, the bell tower, and the Narthex were added later, and on September 11, 1873, Bishop Horatio Potter consecrated the new structure. Later, the property for the Parish House that includes the Rector’s Study and Parlor was purchased and added in 1882.
St. Paul’s is blessed with beautiful stained-glass windows in memory of past parishioners. The Church also houses five memorial tablets; one of which celebrates James Emmott, first mayor of the City of Poughkeepsie and an 18-year Vestry member.
The parish continued to grow through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in 1956, saw the need to add more space to accommodate its rapidly growing Church School. A new education building was subsequently completed in 1957 and dedicated to the memory of The Rev. Francis S. Smithers, Jr., Rector 1918-1925, and The Rev. Roland J. Bunten, Rector 1925-1950. The Bishop of New York consecrated the building on October 25, 1958. Many programs and organizations have used this education building including The Living Room, a program for those in need, sponsored by the Mental Health Association; the Well-Baby Clinic; Krissler Business School; numerous AA and NA groups; Girl Scouts; and other religious denominations. Today, the Community Transition Center operates an alternative to incarceration program in the space, funded by the Dutchess County Probation Department. And for 16 years, the Lunch Box, a food kitchen sponsored by Dutchess Outreach, was also housed in the undercroft of the church building.
In 1979, we purchased vacant land next to the church to add parking for parishioners. A project supported in part by proceeds from the then named Buy Rite Thrift Shop, which continues today as our Small Blessings Shop. Typical of many churches in the area, St. Paul’s has faced challenges over the years. The parish grew and attendance soared through the post war years, remaining high in the 1960’s and even 1970’s, and then falling off in later decades. Regardless, we have continued to minister faithfully to the needs of the congregation and surrounding community, and we continue to spread joy and fellowship through our many ministries.
St. Paul’s has had 15 Rectors and three Priests-In-Charge. All our priests have left their ‘mark’ on St. Paul’s in one way or another. The nation faced another Depression in 1837 with Poughkeepsie being seriously affected. In 1842, a question arose about the advisability of closing the Church doors. The Church’s early history recounts continuous struggle and sacrifices to keep its doors open.
A turning point occurred with the arrival of The Rev. Dr. Albert D. Traver, who became our rector in 1846, and was a pioneer in mulitcultural diversity. He accepted the rectorship of our church on condition that he be allowed to continue his ministry to German immigrants one Sunday a month in the Town of Clinton. The Church grew beyond its boundaries and gained some financial security. Dr. Traver’s death was deeply felt, not only by his parish, but also by the entire community.
The Rev. William T. Gray, our 12th rector, was instrumental in the Education Building becoming a reality to over 400 Sunday School children.
The Rev. Robert L. Leather, our 14th rector, was called to St. Paul’s Church in 1977 during a time of change in the neighborhood. He helped establish programs to reach out to the poor on the Northside of Poughkeepsie. His willingness to say yes to housing the Lunch Box program, allowing space for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Living Room, and the establishment of Hudson River Housing gives us another reason to be proud of the history and space that St. Paul’s hold in the City of Poughkeepsie.
The Rev. James B de Fontaine-Stratton served at St. Paul’s from 1999 to 2004. He helped foster improved relations with the Diocese of New York and pastored to the church as it recovered from a fire in 2003.
The Rev. Tyler Jones came to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church from Germany in 2006, having served for two years in Munich as Curate at the Church of the Ascension, an Episcopal Church in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. During his time at St. Paul’s, Rev. Tyler served as the President of the Dutchess County Interfaith Council, a 40-year local organization that brings together congregations from a wide variety of the faith traditions found in our county. Active in diocesan affairs in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, Rev. Tyler also served on the Diocesan Council, Mid-Hudson Board of Managers, Commission on Ministry, and the Congregational Development Commission. Retiring in 2020, Rev. Tyler made an indelible mark on St. Paul’s that will endure for countless years.