Political life in Dutchess County has always been centered in Poughkeepsie, New York. It not only was the county seat of government, but during the Revolutionary War Period it also accommodated the State Government. In 1788, the State convention which ratified the Federal Constitution was held. The beginning of civil government in Dutchess County is said to have occurred as of October 23, 1713, when by an Act of Assembly, the county was empowered to elect a supervisor, a treasurer, two assessors, and two collectors.
While the record of the actual construction of the first courthouse is obscure, it is plain that the Act of Provincial Assembly of 1713 directed the justices of the peace of the county to issue directives to call a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants. Among these directives was erecting a county house and prison. There is no record that shows that anything was done under the act. There was also not a pressing need for a courthouse and prison, but the project was not abandoned all together. A second Act for the construction of a county courthouse, as of May 27, 1717, called for the completion of the structure within three years in Poughkeepsie. This courthouse was occupied around 1722 and it served the New York Constitutional Convention.
In September 1806, it was destroyed by a fire. A new building, authorized by the state legislature in 1809, stood until 1901. The nineteenth century courthouse was believed to have incorporated a part of the walls of the earlier building and housed two dungeons. It was located at Main and Market Streets in Poughkeepsie and was flushed with the sidewalk, as is today's courthouse. In the basement of the courthouse (from 1812-1814) Matthew Vassar, the founder of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, conducted an oyster bar and ale saloon. The former Vassar Brewery served as the county jail for a time when the current courthouse was being constructed. The courthouse that stands today was built in 1902. It is located at 10 Market Street.