Beacon is a city in Dutchess County, sixty miles north of New York City. It is a stop on the Metro North Hudson Line. The city is adjacent to Interstate 84 and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, which spans the Hudson River. The population of Beacon in 2000 was 13,808.
Beacon was named for the fires lit atop Mount Beacon during the Revolutionary War to warn of attacks by the British. The city is actually made up of two communities, which merged together in 1913: Fishkill Landing, which was a port on the Hudson River, and Matteawan, a factory town on Fishkill Creek.
Beacon has two prisons. One is Beacon Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison for female inmates. The other is Fishkill Correctional Facility, a medium security prison for male inmates. The latter was originally Matteawan State Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane, which opened in 1892.
The area around Beacon was first settled in 1709, when the first grist mill was built by Madam Brett. Many of these mills ran on water power, and were constructed along Fishkill Creek. In 1735, another mill was built by the Brinckerhoff brothers. A storehouse was built on Dennings Point in 1743 to carry cargo down the Hudson. Peter A. Schenck built a grain mill in 1800, and Beacon's first cotton mill in 1811. The following year, John DeWindt developed the shore along the Hudson by building Long Dock and a shipyard. The Judson Hancock foundry and machine shop was established in 1844, and manufactured guns used in the Civil War.
The Hudson River Railroad was built along the shoreline in 1851. Fifteen years later, in the shadow of the mills on Fishkill Creek, a second railroad laid tracks to Millerton, NY.
In 1864, the Matteawan Manufactoring Company began making wool hats. By the turn of the century, Beacon was considered the largest hat producer New York State. Many of the factory buildings established in the 1800s still exist today.
Beacon is home to many historic buildings, many of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Some examples are:
A wide variety of industries have supported the economic growth of the city. Beacon's brickyard was another major industry in the early 1900s. Many buildings in New York City, including the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center used bricks that were made in Beacon. The National Biscuit Company built a plant for the manufacturing of cartons and wrappings in 1928. The New York Rubber Company was located along Fishkill Creek.
For years, factories in Beacon employed thousands, producing locomotives, fuel economizer, air brakes, silk, coats, and paper clips. In addition to being a thriving factory town, Beacon was a tourist destination in the early 1900's as well. The Mount Beacon Incline Railway attracted sightseers from New York City, who would disembark in Newburgh and take Beacon's ferry line across the river.
After World War II, the city began to decline when many of the factories closed. New shopping malls elsewhere turned Beacon's once-thriving Main Street into a virtual ghost town, and Beacon's ferry line stopped running when the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge opened in 1963. The Dutchess Ski Area, located off Route 9D, closed in the 1970s due to a lack of adequate natural snowfall and inability to use snowmaking equipment. Finally, the incline railway on Mount Beacon caught fire in the 1980s.
The mayor of Beacon, Clara Lou Gould, has been eager to revive the town by making it a tourist destination once more. Over the past decade, Beacon has been showing signs of redevelopment. The historic buildings on the East end of Main Street were restored, and are fine examples of nineteeth century architecture. Today, the area is becoming known for its many antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Tours are available of the Tallix Art Foundry, where the 15-ton, 24-foot bronze recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Il Cavallo was created. Recently, plans were made for Dia Center for the Arts to renovate the former International Paper factory for use as an art museum, and a non-profit organization is seeking to restore the abandoned incline railway.