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New Park Exhibit Commemorates History of Nelson House in City of Poughkeepsie
Nelson House Park dedicated to former NYS Senator Jay P. Rolison, Jr.

Published: 8/24/2015

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Colleen Pillus

Poughkeepsie, NY…Dutchess County unveiled its latest permanent history panel exhibit during a special ceremony held earlier today at the Nelson House Park. The new exhibit is located at 28 Market Street in the City of Poughkeepsie, adjacent to the County Office Building in the Nelson House Park, and chronicles the history of the Nelson House, the hotel that formerly stood on the site and the location’s significance in both Dutchess County and City of Poughkeepsie history. As part of the exhibit unveiling, the park was dedicated in honor of former New York State Senator Jay P. Rolison, Jr.

County Executive Molinaro with NYS and local official ar Rolison ceremony

County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro said, “The Nelson House played an integral role in the shaping of the bustling Market Street corridor. On behalf of Dutchess County, I am proud to join together today with our community leaders, state, county and local representatives, and the Rolison family to recognize the historical significance of the Nelson House to the county and the City of Poughkeepsie, and to remember and honor Senator Rolison for his significant contributions to make our county a better place to live, work and raise a family. This exhibit will serve as a continuous reminder of the historical significance of the Nelson House to our county and nation and the lasting impact of Senator Rolison’s service to our community.”

The Nelson House was in a focal point of the Market Street corridor, serving as the center of county life and community gatherings since Poughkeepsie’s foundation. Beginning in 1777, the site was home to a number of hotels that hosted notable dignitaries including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de LaFayette, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staff, and a variety of artists and musicians who performed at the historical 1869 Bardavon Opera House.

The Nelson House opened on May 16, 1876. The hotel was named after Homer A. Nelson, a Poughkeepsie native who led a distinguished life of public service. During his lifetime, he served as Dutchess County Judge, U.S. Congressman, New York State Senator, Colonel of the 159th New York Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, and secretary of the State of New York. He participated in revising the judiciary article of the New York State Constitution in 1890. Nelson is interred in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.

The Nelson House Park panel exhibit features three panels that educate visitors about the origins of the Nelson House and the site’s role in city and county history. The exhibit also includes an original historical marker produced by the New York State Department of Education to commemorate the Nelson House in 1935 and an original hotel hitching post to which horses would be tied. The exhibit is part of County Executive Molinaro’s ongoing effort to showcase and celebrate the county’s more than 300 year history, including recognizing individuals in recent decades who have had a significant impact in the county. Like Homer A. Nelson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who both served in the New York State Senate, Senator Rolison was remembered at this morning’s ceremony for his lifetime of commitment to serving the community and his tireless efforts to fight for the interests of his constituents while serving in the New York State Senate.

History panels at Nelson House Park

Jay P. Rolison, Jr. was born in New Jersey in 1929. Rolison graduated from Seton Hall Preparatory School in 1947, received his Bachelor of the Arts degree from Providence College in 1951, and his law degree from Fordham University in 1954. After serving in the United States Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, Rolison and his wife Barbara moved to Poughkeepsie, where they put down roots, raised a family together and entered into a life of politics and community service.

Rolison served in the New York State Senate from 1966 to 1990. During his tenure in the New York State Senate, he rose to the rank of Chairman of the Banking Committee and Assistant Majority Leader. While serving in the Senate, he drafted legislation that assisted farmers, bankers, firefighters, rail commuters and the disabled, among others.

While in the Senate, he supported bills that increased the public’s access to bank loans and opposed the New York Telephone Company’s attempts to make unfair changes to their billing practices. His critical contributions included leading efforts to increase local job growth and supporting the establishment of the Hudson Valley Greenway linking trails throughout the Valley, including the City of Poughkeepsie’s waterfront. Rolison was instrumental in securing funding to construct Spackenkill High School and founded the Summer Scholars Program that provides high school seniors with a two-week residential program of study at local colleges.

Rolison’s commitment to the community extended beyond his tenure in the Senate. He served on the Board of Trustees of Marist College and Vassar Brothers Medical Center. He also was a lifetime member of Croft Corners Fire Company. Rolison maintained a legal practice in Poughkeepsie while serving in the Senate and later joined McCabe and Mack LLP as counsel, where he continued to work until his death in 2007.

Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Robert G. Rolison and son of Jay P. Rolison, Jr. said, “My father stood up for what he believed in and served as a tireless advocate on behalf of the residents of our community. In the state capital he made critical contributions on behalf of his constituents in the areas of public safety, education, and conservation while serving as a lifelong volunteer firefighter here at home. We are proud to dedicate this park in honor of his legacy of tireless public service and professional integrity.”

Jay P. Rolison Jr. plaque

Elected officials and community leaders from across the county and the state, including many who served with Jay P. Rolison, Jr., were in attendance for this morning’s ceremony. A plaque honoring Senator Rolison was unveiled at the ceremony and is positioned prominently inside the Nelson House Park.

“The exhibit panels and commemorative markers unveiled in today’s ceremony will stand as a lasting tribute to the history of public service in Dutchess County. The Nelson House played a vital role as the gathering place and headquarters for the men and women who dedicated their lives to Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, and New York. The park will commemorate the people who have made this part of Poughkeepsie a hub for our larger Dutchess County community over the past three hundred years,” said Dutchess County Historian William P. Tatum III.