What began as a routine housecleaning turned into a solution to a century-old mystery…So begins an article in
the Poughkeepsie Journal, October 16, 1990. Until an inquisitive funeral director began digging through the archives in the Dutchess County office building in Poughkeepsie, no one was aware that the famous Vassar brothers, Matthew Jr. and John Guy, had lived at 218 Mill Street.
Michael J. Torsone, whose family had lived and run their funeral business at 218 Mill Street for three generations, unearthed a 19th century ad for M. Vassar and Co. Pale and Amber Ale amid the stored artifacts in the building’s attic. The ad was from the first brewery in Dutchess County, run by the entrepreneurial Vassar family.
His curiosity piqued by the Ale’s ad, Torsone began three weeks of hectic research and ultimately established that his family’s Victorian home had indeed been the home of the philanthropic Vassar family.
Local historians agree with his (Torsone’s) claim and say the location has not been publicly acknowledged for years.
According to Torsone’s research, Matthew Vassar Jr. bought the property at the corner of Mill and Vassar Streets in 1836 for $800. Sometime between 1836 and 1843, the house on the corner was built and was listed in a directory as 234 Mill Street.
In 1886, the City of Poughkeepsie streets were re-numbered, and 234 Mill St. became 218 Mill St. Records indicate that John Guy Vassar moved into the house on Mill St. with his brother during the 1850’s. By the last quarter of the 19th. century, the house was occupied by both brothers, and Matthew Vassar Jr.’s second wife, Irene Beach Vassar.
According to the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, now the Poughkeepsie Journal, both of the Vassar brothers died at their residence at 218
Mill St., Matthew Jr. in 1881, and John Guy in 1888. Afternoon funeral services were conducted in the parlor for each of them. According to local historian Clyde Griffin, the 1900 census reveals that at the turn of the century, Irene Beach Vassar, the widow of Matthew Vassar Jr. occupied the house, along with two servants. The second Mrs. Vassar died in 1902.
In 1929, 31 years after John Guy Vassar’s death, and after three changes of ownership,Michael Torsone and his family, including sons John Guy Torsone and Guy Joseph Torsone, moved into the house.
Although six original marble fireplaces and original hardwood remain intact, the Torsone family did alter parts of the inside of the house through time. In the 1940’s, the fascade of the house was changed from Victorian style to Georgian Colonial.
The Torsone’s also purchased the house at 220 Mill St. in 1945, and in 1973 the two houses were joined to accomodate the needs of the growing family business.
“One of the best aspects of this”, local historian Tim Allred commented, “is that a John Guy would move into a house where a John Guy used to live. It’s like the fact that Evelyn Kennedy was President Lincoln’s secretary, and Evelyn Lincoln was President Kennedy’s.