Initially, the Institute was established for an indefinite number of reasons. Poppenhusen's optimal goal was for the Institute to serve as a place for vocational training and educational opportunities for industrial laborers. Over time, the Institute became increasingly popular and specifically helped out incoming immigrant workers by offering English classes. These English courses were later supplemented with French and Spanish classes. Eventually, more sophisticated leveled classes taught draftsmanship and machinery-job techniques for factory workers dealing with relatively complicated technology. The Institute was open for anyone (regardless of race or religion) looking to improve their lives by preparing themselves for better jobs. Many of those that attended became successful business owners in the area.
Eventually, Poppenhusen Institute's purpose changed to better suit the community. At one point, the Institute was a courtroom, while other times, it housed the German Singing Societies, Justice of the Peace, College Points Savings Bank, a library, and a Sheriff's Office. Instead of donating the artifacts from this time frame, the Institute held onto even the smallest of objects and safeguarded them into the attic. These relics included books, pictures, statues, and other historical collections dealing with means of education or instruction. The Institute still holds signs of its historical purposes, such as the two jail cells from the Sheriff's Office.
Because of its rich history and Victorian architecture, Poppenhusen Institute was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1970, but despite these designations, it was threatened with foreclosure and demolition. Fortunately, the zealous efforts of an ardent community group prevented the Institute's demolition. However, the Institute lost its state-sponsored financial backing and is now depending on donation-based funding to operate.