Travel articles about Beacon pop up with regularity in the New York Times and other places and most follow what by now is a well-known story line, some version of old industrial town in decline gets revived by developers, big art museum, and an influx of “creatives” and sprouts art galleries, boutiques, and fine eateries.
True enough I suppose, as far as oft-told tales go. But I’m here to give you a slightly more off the beaten path tour, based on my eight years of residence in the city, and my fancies at the moment. I’ll be leaving out tons of great places and shops because we can’t do it all, so friends, forgive me for my sins of omission.
A pioneering Madame
Roger and Catheryna Rombout Brett were surely the first two folks to come to this neck of the woods straight from the “big city,” leaving due to financial distress to claim Catheryna’s father’s one-third share of the 85,000-acre Rombout Patent. When Roger died after being knocked overboard by a boom on his sailboat at the mouth of the Fishkill Creek, Madam Brett remained in the wilderness, on the homestead they built at what is now 50 Van Nydeck Ave., to raise three sons and run several business ventures, including a co-op that used her mill to grind wheat and her fleet of sailboats to bring the flour downriver to the city.
In 1954, when plans to raze the home and construct a supermarket on the site were unveiled, members of Melzingah Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, with the support of the local community, rescued the historic homestead, the oldest building in Dutchess County. Insider tip: Madame Brett (1687-1764) was an accomplished horseback rider, and would survey a good part of her extensive holdings most days. Closest cup of coffee: The back entrance to Zuzu’s Leaf and Bean is just down the street.
An anchor of glass
As the 800-pound paperweight at 162 Main Street, this fine art glass retail store complete with furnace and workshop area can’t go without a mention, even in my eclectic tour. Since its opening in the old Thompkins Fire House in 2003, Hudson Beach Glass has been the retail anchor, the Macy’s of Main Street. It now features a second floor art gallery in addition to the usual displays of fine glassblown creations on the first floor. Starting mid-November, the annual blow your own ornament tradition begins. Insider tip: Sign up quick–co-owner John Gilvey says the event just keeps getting bigger, and sells out fast.
Closest cup of coffee: Tie between Suppa’s Deli, School of Jellyfish (head east) and Bank Square Coffee House (west). Suppa’s has a decent and inexpensive blend, but get a special mention for one of the few delis in town that carries pickles. Big shout out to Frankie and Dot! SOJ features architecure, eco consulting, and excellent hot chocolate. Bank Square Coffee House is run by Beacon retail kingpins Buddy and Katy, who also own Mountain Tops Outfitters just down from Hudson Beach, where you can rent kayaks and get maps for the Fire Tower hike.
Mt. Beacon Fire Tower
The fire tower atop South Beacon Mountain is not for the faint of heart. The view from the top of the 60-foot steel structure, at about 1650' above the river, is kinda spectacular. The photo below was shot from a helicopter by Dave Rocco, who is heading up a restoration effort. The trail head is at the Gateway to Mt Beacon Park, located at the intersection of Rte. 9D and Howland Ave. From there, take the red trail to the top of the incline for some great views. With the river to your back, you will get your first glimpse of the Fire Tower atop South Beacon Mountain. Continue on the red trail for another mile until you intersect the white trail. Take the white trail on your right to the summit. Trail maps are suggested and can be found at Mountain Tops Outfitters, 144 Main St. Insider tip #1: You will probably get a little lost, even with the map. Insider tip #2: Never sign up for the Fire Tower Run. Closest cup of coffee: Bob’s Corner Store, across the street from Mt. Beacon Park.
Beacon Roundhouse project at the Falls
The building known as the Roundhouse sits on the corner of Main and East Main, just downstream from the waterfall. Long a symbol of Beacon’s faded industrial past but also imbued with hope for its future, the building is finally scheduled to be overhauled. According to the project’s jack of all trades Brendan McAlpine, phase one is scheduled to be completed spring 2011, and will include a 50 to 60 room hotel, an 80-seat restaurant, and a catering event hall that can handle 225 people, plus five artists live work spaces. Insider tip: The developer has cleared brush from the west bank of the creek and laid out a pathway and installed viewing benches right at the falls. Closest cup of coffee: Tas Kafe, 504 Main, where they roast their own beans on premises.
Not very long ago, Beacon was home to about a dozen antique shops. Today it’s down to BJ’s Antiques on the west end at 159 Main St., and Dickinson’s Antiques on the east, at 440 Main. BJ’s specializes in black forest cuckoo clocks and imported antiques from Germany. Dickinson’s is a giant man cave. Like most shops, it reflects the proprietor’s interests and predelictions. Here you will find massive old desks and bookcases, industrial metal furnishings, old tools, lots of big, heavy things, and many interesting and strange doodads. Dickinson’s has hundreds of clocks, most of them ticking and clicking away soothingly in the background. Insider tip: It’s the building with the Texaco sign hanging out front. Closest coffee shop: Zuzu’s is directly across the street, but we mention them elsewhere, so we’ll give this one to the Beacon Bagel Shop a few doors down. Submit your bagel sandwich creation along with a catchy name and become famous throughout Beaconland.
Equally at home as a citizen of the world as he is a citizen of Beacon, Pete has done much to make the Hudson Valley what it is today, from inventing the sloop Clearwater as a vessel to engage the public with the Hudson River to being the impetus behind Beacon’s waterfront park to being the driving force behind Riverpool. Insider tip: Pete is in great shape going into his 10th decade. He gets much of his exercise from chopping wood. Closest cup of coffee: Guessing here, but atop his wood stove, or, when in town, Quinn’s Luncheonette at 330 Main, which also has incredible homemade bread.
From brickyard to estuaries institute
Headed up by John Cronin, the Hudson River’s first Riverkeeper, this organization can be found in two locations: the main office and bookstore/gallery at 199 Main Street, and Beacon Institute’s first facility at the Denning’s Point campus, the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education (CEIE) This building is a model of green design that is reusing an abandoned industrial structure from the former Denning’s Point Brick Works. The Institute’s project historian is Jim Heron. His book Denning’s Point, A Hudson River History, is fascinating. Insider tip: You can walk to Denning’s Point from the MetroNorth train station. The Klara Sauer Trail (formerly known as the Beacon River Side Trail) starts at the southern end of the river side of the station. It’s about a mile to the Point. A few hundred yards on, you’ll see the old NABISCO lettering, faded but still readable, on the back of the DIA:Beacon museum (an awe-inspiring space.) Also keep an eye out for the REON (Rivers and Estuaries Observation Network, built by IBM) platform sensor in the river. Closest cup of coffee: Your thermos.
Madame Brett Park
At 555 South Avenue, after you pass under the railroad trestle, are the remains of a factory complex, the historic Tioranda Bridge minus the historic part, and the park. Down at the creek to the left is a path that takes you to a sluiceway, and falls which turns into churning rough rapids after heavy rains.
To the right is a walkway with the historic factory buildings on one side and the creek on the other. Insider tip: A great view of the surrounding mountains awaits if you go to your right after passing under the bridge. Closest cup of coffee: Emil and Annie’s house, just the other side of the now closed Tioranda Bridge. If you make it across, don’t tell them I sent you.