The ‘B’ in Beacon
Communications at ‘the B’, 1953 (family document)
One story that I grew up with is the tale about Mount Beacon and the origins of its name. The story goes that Mount Beacon got its name due to its use as a signal site for Patriots during the Revolutionary War.
But very few of us know how, why and when the name Beacon actually became official for this area.
That date was May 15, 1913 when the alternate name proposed for this city, Melzingah, was reversed due to public dissatisfaction.
Prior to the forming and incorporation of the City of Beacon, a committee was formed, the goal of which was to assign this area a specific name in order to distinguish it from its neighboring town–Matteawan–well known for its industrial history. This need for a new name came when the urban part of Matteawan began to grow much more rapidly than the hamlet and village of the traditional Matteawan setting itself. Water rights, public services like fire and police, schooling, road repair, all had to be evaluated.
Even earlier, this fairly populated urban setting was originally referred to as Fishkill Landing from the Dutch words ‘Vis’ (fish) and ‘Kyl”(creek). But with the name Fishkill now a popular name for the village located inland, the area called “Fishkill-on-the-Hudson” (or River) needed its own name.
Matteawan had its heavily populated area adjacent to the many factories that were there, a setting where brick buildings were built to house the employees of nearby businesses, factories and unique local craftsmanship settings.
The committee that was formed recommended a renaming of the city by the use of the local Indian name for this place–Melzingah. This decision was followed by a quick vote approving this name. Such a decision seemed too quick for some of the residents, however, a political decision made too quickly for a name that received little support outside the region.
There were enough people from outside Beacon frequenting this location who made fun of the new name Melzingah. Even worse, local businesses were dissatisfied by this indigenous name due to their need to follow suit with their stationary, business cards, address books and other written records. In just a few months, the name Melzingah was dropped from the plans for the next tourist map of this area and a new referendum composed giving this city its present name “Beacon”.
The Melzingah Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution (with Marquis de Lafayette stone monument to the left) and the Melzingah Reservoir up along the trails in the Beacon Mountain area are two clues to this past piece of local nostalgia.
But just where did the name “Beacon” come from?
The name “Beacon” was assigned in recognition of the use of its nearby mountain peak as a signal site during the War. Such a name had more presence than just a symbol of the past. The peak known as Beacon still served a role in strengthening the security of this country during its first years and decades of life, and this need for a watchtower overlooking the Hudson River was in part due to the recent past. The Hudson Valley and in general the region was home to a future military camp and fortress being developed for the area. West Point came to be as a result of the proximity of this area to New York, once a capital city for the country but by then its economic center, and a major inland route to the rest of this country–the place where if your were going to split the newly formed United States in two in order to sever its Unity, this is where it could be done.
The result of all this logic by the military and by political leaders was the establishment of this country’s first major military fortress and place to teach officers how to lead their troops to battle. A school was built here and finally became the military college that we know it as around 1802, a place just south of a small mountain range which today we know as West Point.
Such a simple history however was just the beginning of a much more detailed and complex history that this small piece of mountain terrain was going to develop. There were several even more famous tales of its history about to take place. A century earlier, any tales about this region came to us from the early local history writers, who told us about the sacred burial place atop a mountain overlooking the Hudson River once so important to the local Indians. Then there was that story about the Devil’s Chamber, a part of the river that seemed impassable at times if the winds were right. These natural forms of defense served to strengthen the value and safety of this part of New York State to many. It also provided the environment people were searching for to live a long, healthy life. Such was the case for a place with the Indian name Matteawan, the landscape that was formed just north of the mountain ridge used to define the west point location just across the North River.
Before there was Beacon there was Matteawan, a hamlet where the most efficient factories used to cart, weave and dye wool into fabrics and produce the red color so definitive of socks for that time was formed. To the north in the flat fiellds was where the sheep needed to make our clothes were allowed to roam free across the open space. Down south or back west towards the river was where you sent that product of yours if you wished to cash in on it. Between the inland hamlet of Fishkill near the Old Post Road and the riverside hamlet of Fishkill Landing where the boats docked were the hamlets or villages of Glenham and Matteawan. Matteawan geographically was downstream from Glenham, but both fed into each other with their manpower, precious factory goods and supplies and early stage industrial equipment. Certain responsibilities were passed back and forth between these two, trying to determine which setting provided which goods to the rest of the county or area, and in the end Glenham won out when it came to producing wool and other sorts of soft wears or goods, and Matteawan the more industrial of the two, engaged in making metal goods and wares or all sort, but most famous for its self-encapsulating blades pocket knife.
These numerous tales come back to us by a review of our local newspapers. The local business news, gossip columns, and announcements tell us plenty about the city of Beacon’s social, political and economic or business political life. A review of local business directories and registers for this region tells us even more, in particular pertaining to the use of Beacon as a retreat for the physically and mentally ill and people in need of serious health care due to their life long diseases. There are also a number of medical articles and advertisements that mention the value of Beacon and the nearby townships and regions. Then there is this postcard collection of Mount Beacon, a personal family photo collection I came upon, and even a diary kept during the depression about life in relation to one of Beacon’s most important contributions locally–its radio antennae–that reveal to us an even more personal story about what the City of Beacon and Mount Beacon itself offers to us an an important part of our local history.
Up until 1902, this part of the county was primarily known for the locally important township of Matteawan, which today we more often recollect as an important site for a local prison, ‘mental hospital’, and/or ‘correction facility’ (the terms used depending upon you generation). Even older people, individuals who are 65+ years old today, extending back to those who were alive but in their final years 50 years ago, would have recalled the importance of this region for its Matteawan history. All of that disappeared however as soon as plans were formed to turn this area into a recreational site for New Yorkers.
- In 1902, a plan was developed by several entrepreneurs to build an incline trolley on this steep mountain slope, in order to take advantage of the growing tourist industry. As a part of this development, the mountain was popularized for its important as a site where fires were lit to send messages up and down the valley regarding the War.
- During the 1930s, due to the invention of radio just a few years before, there was value assigned to Mount Beacon as a site for the new antennas. This antenna enabled New York’s Radio City building to be connected by radiowaves with the cities of Albany, Schenectady, Rochester, Buffalo, and numerous other towns and cities as far west as Chicago.
- During and after the Second World War, this recreational setting served as an important get-away for New York City residents, a site where many of the the Big Bands played. As a part of the post-WW II recovery, the increased establishment of suburban neighborhoods turned this region into place where tourism was still popular, but local families were now also becoming an important part of the local economic history.
- During the 1960s, the popularity of this suburban setting plummetted, and the urbanization of the city of Beacon became a potential deterrent for local tourism.
- Recent increases in environmental concerns by Hudson Valley residents, to which was attached first a study of the ecological meaning of the Mount Beacon setting, led to a repopulariztion of plans to redevelop this setting. By inquiring with locals however about such a plan, the common response is that such an idea has been around for decades, and yet no one has ever been able to successfully redevelop Mount Beacon as a tourist-targeting recreational stop.
- Even more recently there has been increased interest in the historical remains of this site. This interest been somewhat successful in improving the use and value of this local hiking and possibly touring site. It to the rebirth of a Mount Beacon visitor’s site, which now appears to be ready for some major redevelopment into a very important and attractive local and national historical site.
Elevation Measurements for the Twin Peaks of “Mount Beacon”
Mount Beacon, the Revolutionary War Site
According to local legend, the lighting of fires on the top of this hill was in order to warn towns to the north about the British coming up the River. The plans for this use of the mountain were continued once the war was over, although focus switched to the higher peak just to the south.
At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, fires were probably lit on the mount to celebrate our freedom from the British. The story which comes from Samuel Loudon’s Packet, dated to sometime around July 4th, 1783, and published soonafter tells us about the celebration which commenced. Whether or not Mount Beacon was used as a launching site for fireworks following the defeat of the British and the formal end of the War immediately after this was announced is uncertain however. According to Loudon, most of this celebration took place on the main street in the village of Fishkill, with in pubs, hotels and other gathering places, between Loudon’s office and John Bailey’s place, but according to some, a fire was lit as well atop the beacon hill.
During the first years of independence, July 4th celebrations took place on a fairly regular basis. For each of these highly publicized events there was even a large parade followed by a gathering where numerous toasts were given. These toasts were made to anyone and everyone national, international or local whose efforts served the war, and in some cases whose mistakes or accidents helped the Patriots win the War. Twenty years later, by 1798, this yearly responsibility was entrusted more to Poughkeepsie to the north.
These toasts tended to have a catchy phrase or statement, like thanks to a past British General for leading his soldiers into the final battle, or something like ‘we honor the assistance of Prussian and French commanders who taught our patriots how to win and how to succeed in battle’. Turning to the Poughkeepsie Journal for evidence about this, more than twenty years later around 1797 or 1798, we find some very popular topics within the lengthy list of toasts given that particular year, toasts to George Washington, General Clinton, the Livingstons, Brinckerhoffs and Swartwouts.
Source: personal collection
Uniting the States
Around 1800, with the war nearly a decade past, Mount Beacon just south of Fishkill Landing continued playing a central role in the local celebrations and the economic development of the region in general. This mountain continued to serve as a place for occasional watches and fire stations to be constructed and used. As the West Point fortress setting came to be a more permanent part of the local geography, several beacon towers were situated across the river from Mountain Beacon, to help others locate this important military site.
Future military official Captain Alden Partridge, who later also helped to establish the Corps of Engineers, was Mathematics professor at West Point during its earliest years and became one of the first surveyors of the Hudson Valley area’s climate and topography.
There were a number of important events related to the future expansion of the United States that led to some of the first detailed reviews of Mount Beacon. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote up plans to explore the continent of North American (recall Lewis and Clarke) and it was the responsibility of various state governors to survey and define the topography and climate of their perspective lands. In New York, following his graduation in 1806 from the United States Military Academy of West Point, Alden Partridge took on the task of mapping and documenting the mountainous areas of the New York area as well as neighboring states and territories. His findings were later reported in 1809 and presented at the New York Lyceum in 1810. This resulted in the first publication of information pertaining to Mount Beacon, identified as “Old Beacon”, and its more recently defined replacement identified as “New Beacon”. This information first appeared in The American Medical and Philosophical Register, as part of an article on the local topography by Colonel Jonathan Williams.
One year later, this work was further acknowledged by various peers in the professional world leading to the publication of “Observations Relative to the Calculation of the Altitude of Mountains, etc, by the Use of the Barometer”, dated 1812. Subsequent observations led to several corrections in the methodologies employed adn the way these elevations were to be reported, resulting in a new set of elevations to be published by 1818.
The 1811 versus 1818 readings for Mount Beacon
Over the next several years these readings were published by numerous popular press magazines and books distributed in the United States and across Europe. These included the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, the international magazine Nile’s Register (November 7, 1818), and the American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review (1818). This information also became a standard for one of the earliest United States Atlases by Jedidiah Morse, Aaron Arrowsmith, and Samuel Lewis named The American Universal Geography. . . (1818), in turn leading to its republication in numerous other atlases, gazettes and registries during the next twenty years. In 1822 it was first reported in one of the non-English international periodicals entitled Versuch über den politischen Zustand der Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-Amerika… (1822) edited by Friedrich Schmidt of Stuttgart.
By 1820, there was the Old Beacon mountain and the New Beacon Mountain, and a third mountain and watchtower across the river from West Point. The first solid evidence that what is today Mount Beacon, the lower of the two, was still an important place in local history, came during the early twentieth century as new plans for redeveloping this place came to be.
As a part of these concerns, the Daughters of the American Revolution had a needle made of cement and stone erected on the highest peak on Mount Beacon. This spire stands at about 1530 above the city of Beacon below and 1610 feet above sea level. But nothing was done with the lower mountain face. The lower face, due to its proximity to the village beneath, was the place you passed through to see the later, and this geography of it made it essential that attempts be made to make better use of this location. New plans were developed to make better use of this place during the later years of the 19th century.
DAR’s Beacon Monument
Mount Beacon and the Incline Railway
In 1937, the following synopsis of the Mount Beacon area was published as part of a tour guide to this part of the Hudson Valley (Van Kleeck et al., p. 80).
32. The CASINO, at the head of the Incline Railway (See Point of
Interest No. 16) , besides being famous as a resort, is noted for the view it
commands. Under the flank of the 1,200-ft.-high mountain spur, the course
of the Fishkill can be traced to the bay. Southwest, the vista extends to
the north portal of the Hudson Highlands. To the west are Cornwall Bay,
Sleeping Indian Mountain, and the terraced city of Newburgh, backed by
Snake Hill. A blue barrier on the far horizon, the Shawangunk range forms a
curtain in the west. The 4,000-ft. crests of the Catskills loom in the north
Rising still higher above the Casino is the crest of MOUNT BEACON
(1,500 alt.), reached by a foot trail, 1 m. This peak has gone by the names
of Solomon’s Bergh, Beacon Hill, North Beacon, and Old Beacon. The name
“Beacon” dates back to 1777 when signal fires were lighted on the moun-
tain as a means of communication with military outposts in Connecticut,
Westchester, and Sandy Hook. The city has borrowed the name of the
mountain. The summit duplicates the view obtainable at the Casino.
From Mount Beacon a trail extends to SOUTH BEACON PEAK (1,635
alt.), 1 m., the highest in the Highlands of the Hudson. It is called South
Beacon Hill by the United States Geological Survey, and was named New
Beacon or Grand Sachem in Hayward’s Gazetteer of 1853. Hayward writes:
“The river is visible from West Point to Tappan Bay on the south, and for
an extent of 50 miles on the north. The surrounding rich and highly culti-
vated country, dotted with villages, and wanting in nothing that renders so
extensive a landscape lovely, lies as a picture before the observer.” From the
fire tower which rises 75 ft. above the summit, the skyscrapers of Manhat-
tan are visible on exceptionally clear days. , The Empire State Building can
be seen with the naked eye, but binoculars are necessary to bring out the New
York outer and inner harbors.
At the turn of the 20th century, around 1901, Otis Elevator Company and several entrepreneurs from New Hampshire raised the money needed to initiate their building of the Incline Trolley. With the help of Mohawk Construction Co., Mohawk, New York and the Ramapo Iron Works of Hillburn, New York, the rails and the cars were built in the winter of 1901 to 1902. In spring of 1902, with track construction well underway, a section of the rails was lost due to a large boulder unearthed up above. But these rails were quickly replaced enabling the incline trolley to began operations on Mount Beacon on Memorial Day of 1902.
Newspaper article from May 29, 1904, Newburgh Telegram, for 1904 Memorial Day Celebration; the Pioneer log cabin was possibly from another year, and was more than likely simply a marketing technique employed by the developers of this site Walden F. Westo and Henry George of New Hampshire. See Craig Wolfe’s May 29, 1977 article in The Evening News entitled “Beacon Incline Railway 75 Monday” (Google Newspapers) and New Hampshire incline trolley history at http://home.comcast.net/~drat/Uncanoonuc.htm (log cabin postcard, posted below at the end of this page as well) and http://www.gotopinardville.com/uncanoonuc_mountains.htm.
Marketed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, this ascent was then the greatest of its kind. The trolley took a steep ascent along a slope that reached 74% or 67 degrees at its maximum angle. The rail traveled across about 2200 feet of mountain bottom and face, and was supported by a variety of different types of stone and cement walls propped up by boulders, logs and protruding stone masses.
Every possible makeshift means for support was used to produce the friction and gravity needed to run two trolleys on this steep slope. As a result, once the final trolley was developed, it had to be managed in such a way that a perfect balance of weight and track friction was maintained by its counterpart on the same cable system attached to the second trolley car at the other end of the rails–a perfect tug of war one could say. When operating, one trolley ascended while the other descended, such that they crossed paths next to each other only in the middle of the tracks where two sets of rails lie in parallel with each other. The importance of this equalization and balance between cars was demonstrated in 1967, when a fire began to burn away important parts of the other car parked at the base of the mountain. With time, this lower car became so light that the now much heavier car uphill began to make its way down the mountain on its own, carrying the burning car flames on the much lighter car all the way up to the top of the mountain, resulting in still more fires.
According to advertisements, the elevation of these tracks was about 1540 feet above the town below. Due to nearby cities and large towns, this became one of the primary forms of recreation for the local communities. During its prime developmental years of the 1950s, families and tourists were frequently engaged in recreation on the mountain during the daytime hours, while at night those who were more devoted to the big bands walked to the top or waited in line and took the trolley up in order to pass much of the night time away in the dance hall atop the mountain, imbibing spirits provided to them by the attached bar.
During it first year of operation, 1902, 92,000 tickets were purchased for the trolley. Between 1902 to 1978, about 3.5 million people travelled the Incline to the top. On a good day one could catch a view of New York skyline or gaze westward past the Shawangunks into the Catskill Mountains. On average, about 42,000 people rode this trolley over the years, with perhaps one in ten-thousand of these tourists and curiosity seekers members of the well-established social elite down in New York City based on news publication rates about their trip and ascent. (see wikipedia for more, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beacon,_New_York and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Beacon_Incline_Railway)
A Beacon for Health
In 1902, there were several very popular fads in health out there, all of which involved recreating in places like Mount Beacon for your health and physique. This was a time when hysteria and nervous breakdown were the norm for women, and drug addiction common to prostitutes and overworked housewives. Since the late 1880s, the sanitoriums that were developed (later called sanitariums) offered peace and privacy to those who were overly stressed and in need of a chance to get away from their daily problems. By spending a night in the fresh crisp air of the countryside or backwoods, sleeping in cabins close to everthing that defined nature, this Emersonian view of the countryside and mountain retreat made it a charm to urbanites, a necessity for valetudinarians.
Surgery and Mountain life for Health. To some, the only cure for tuberculosis, phthisis or consumption was to remove the infected portions of their lung, allowing the exposed chest cavity to remain open and exposed to sunshine and high elevation mountain air with hopes of killing the pathogenic mycobacterium. For these people, the higher mountains further west were the only places where this method of treatment worked. But before retreating to such places in Arizona, these valetudarians by neccessity had the mountains in New York awaiting their habitation.
Physical health and mental health were the reasons people retreated to upstate New York and places like Mount Beacon. Consumption, today known as tuberculosis, was the main reason for these retreats. Other reasons included persistent hay fever, recurring migraines, a weakened body, job-related stress, cancer, and the need to recover from surgery.
In 1902, such a retreat was required for adequate treatment of tuberculosis according to many physicians. The cause for Tb had just been discovered–a fungal like bacterium residing in the lungs. The fresh air was thought to cleanse the lungs of these pathogens. According to studies of the same published about this same time, dry mountain air was found to be cure for Tb. This meant that the only documentable treatment for it at the time was to reside in an environment with crisp, clean mountain air with hopes that your disease will go into remission. Those with the worst cases made their way into higher elevation retreat settings, of the Far West. Those unable to afford such a get-away, made their way to the Catskills. . . or Mt. Beacon. Be they infected with tuberculosis or not, during the very early 1900s Mount Beacon had something that was valuable to offer all of its visitors from the smog, smoke, and dust infested New York City–its proximity to much cleaner air due to a higher elevation.
The other set of medical conditions a trip to Mount Beacon could treat were the psychological, psychiatric or mental disorders. Neurosis in particular was commonly treated with the aid of a local mountain setting. A woman who experienced “hysteria” due to her life’s responsibilities and duties at home could escape her highly stressful city domestic and social life by making her way into the mountains to meet her special needs. Such a stereotype of a woman and her disorders–the hysteric and reckless housewife–made her a victim of anything and everything that defined her life style in reaction to her responsibilities. This popular cultural view of the woman’s disease led to the dispensing of numerous drugs for women to take, as over the counter drugs or in the form of prescription medicines. These products were meant to resolve her of this mental anguish but at times also led to addiction. The year the Mount Beacon Trolley began its rides was 1902, the first Food and Drug Act was still years away from being written and passed (this truthful labeling of over-the-counter products wasn’t developed until 1906). As a result, some of the medicines used by women to reduce their stresses, and even reverse their addictions, replaced the morphine in their remedy with a new derivative–heroin. Clearly the medical and social definitions of addiction, depression, mania, neurosis and hysteria were still in desparate need of review and improvements during the next decade or two.
In The Standard Medical Directory of 1902, there were three facilities set up near “Fishkill-on-Hudson” to service the underprivileged, stressed and mentally ill. The Fishkill General Hospital was the village’s primary health care location. Matteawan State Hospital was designed mostly for treating the “Criminal Insane”. For those who were in between the requirements for these two types of places, those in need of retreat and anonymity, there was the Riverview Sanitarium, a private facility design mostly to treat those with nervous diseases, either physical or psychological.
Four years later, the Classified Sanitarium Directory of Eastern United States published by G. L. Harrington, noted the Riverview Sanitarium as a place of retreat. Its address was provided under two important disease or illness categories—“Nervous Disease” and “Gynecology”. Everything from a woman’s hysteria or neuroses, to her recovery from hysterectomy or breast removal could be monitored here during her “recovery period.” Again, within such a listing, elevation and climate played a very important role in determining the emotional and physical healthiness of the each of the local retreats in the Valley considered for recuperation. Retreats with a certain amount of privacy and quietness played an important role in such uses.
The Riverview Sanitarium was located just a few miles to the north and west of Mt. Beacon. It offered the locals promoting the use of the Fishkill-on-the-Hudson area the opportunity to make their town even more attractive to potential visitors down in New York City. Most people were already familiar with the Shawangunks, Catskills and Adirondacks, but few knew about the majestic mountain setting just south of Riverview. For this reason, the advertisement for Riverview included a picture in this book of this facility. Any brief look taken of this picture would tell you that it is clear that there are more things to do in Fishkill-on-the-Hudson than just sit inside your retreat shelter all day–this picture portrayed the rare and newly built Mt. Beacon Trolley–the world’s only railway of its kind, and a natural attraction to a certain kind of valetudinarian.
For various towns and villages up and down the Hudson Valley and across the nearby mountain ranges, the notion of escaping into some quiet, clean setting with a healthy atmosphere was the craze. In this same book the following list was provided of the various physical and mental health retreats in New York, with their elevation, miles from New York, capacity, and year established. According to the Riverview Sanitarium information posted in the ad below, the Mount Beacon Trolley was built in 1902, more 30 years after Riverview was built (1870).
The efforts designed to promote the use of these sanitaria were a culmination of recent efforts developed by some “alternate” health thinkers when it came to preserving the body and preparing for a long life. About ten years earlier, the work of Bernarr McFadden became quite popular, in which exercise and body shape in terms of musculature and weight formed the basis of his and Kellogg’s claims that exercise, fitness and health were the key triad to experiencing a long-lasting and very successful life. By travelling up the mountainface of Mount Beacon, and then strolling, hiking or actively exercising in the woods in the form of weight-lifiting, engaging in horseback riding, or taking part in outdoor air exercise programs, the common belief was that you would succeed in this particular venture in your life, you would stay healthy like your peers. There was also the ongoing belief in health foodways promoted by John Harvey Kellogg of the famous Kellogg Corn Flakes product. These individuals were the initiators of a second stage of an old health philosophy first initiated by Sylvester Graham and others in this same part of the Hudson Valley (ca. 1837-1850). The local farms and their healthy food, local climate, local topography, and fresh air, were all requirements for defining the healthiest place to reside in the Hudson Valley. Mount Beacon was proof that such claims were true.
Back in New York City, there is this old belief that urban life is less healthy than country life. The amount of smoke from the increasing numbers of transportation vehicles and the amount of burning wood, coal, creosote, kerosene and oil fires used to heat the various tenants were becoming a health risk. Urban life was deemed unhealthy by some, due to the crowding of low income urban settings, like makeshift apartments raised between buildings and upon their dried up dirt, oil, and asphalt surfaces located between building made for very unhealthy and crowded living quarters. Many living places had little or no latrine, bathroom or washing facilities. The numbers of tenants per living space turned diseases like measles, small pox, polio, influenza and tuberculosis into important public health emergencies to these communities. Add to this the unhealthy rats and other vermin creeping down the alleys, along with vagrants and bums lying on the street, and you had an easy to imagine impressionists’ view of a formerly orderly and sane city.
So, why travel to Mount Beacon? You did anything you could to get away from such a setting when you were ill, or had the potential to become ill. The only other thing you had left to do once you had become incessantly ill, mentally and physiologically, was to get away. According to the listing above, you had Riverside and Ballstown Spa to chose from. Mount Beacon was an added benefit, if the former was your first choice.
. Mount Beacon was one trip on the dayliner away from your high income, and sometimes highly contagious home setting in the city. By travelling to Riverside and Mount Beacon, you could leave the rats and contagious diseases behind in exchange for exposing yourself to the cleanest environment the earth could hold outside the New York City region. Spending some time away from home, assuming you had the money to do so, prevented you from making unhealthy contacts actively or passively with your very unhealthy neighbors on the street and in their homes.
Mount Beacon served as a retreat for children residing in the orphanages and homes away from home in New York city. At the base of the mountain there was a school where about 100 kids came up for the summer from downtown New York City. The countryside gave them the farming experience that their parents or guardians felt they needed. The learned to manage livestock, tend to the needs of their vegetable garden, learn a couple of new crafts or hands-on skills, and experience the emotional benefits of seeing the countryside. Mount Beacon was one of those places they took at least one excursion to per summer whilst staying up there.
In a set of yearly reports about these orphanages, we see those names so familiar with the Valley in general. These were the board members, financiers and overseers who helped initiate and support such enterprises. In a social and political sense, Mount Beacon gave these members of families who might otherwise be forgotten a reason to sign their name somewhere where the community could see these families still were around, even though for the most part they seemed locked within the urban setting of the ever popular New York City at times. Such a use for the lands about the mountain quickly led to similar businesses established, included the numerous summer camps developed around the mountain and its Lake Surprise, which still serve New York City people mostly to this day. Cottages slowly deteriorated were they not effectively used. On the other side of the mountain ridge there were similar retreat settings, with manmade lakes and reservoirs, and a few with cottages still standing in the 1960s and 1970s. These communal places, if they were still in use, seemed to serve mostly the local schools now, and were primarily devoted to arts, crafts and outdoor recreation activities during the mid to late stages in their development following World War II.
Mount Beacon – the Social Scene
In 1902, in association with the incline trolley, several buildings were erected at the top of Mount Beacon: a hotel-restaurant-like setting (the Beaconcrest Hotel), a gambling casino, and the station and the power building for this large trolley system. At the base of the incline tracks was the building where you would pay your tickets and wait to board the next car to the top. For most of the ascent or descent, there was one track; but these tracks split briefly in the center so that the other car could pass.
There were two cars on this Incline trolley, each of which carried as many as 50 to 60 visitors if crowding was allowed. Daytime visitors were there just to enjoy the views of the local towns, Hudson River and Catskill Mountains and perhaps have lunch or dinner at Mount Beacon’s fancy restaurant. Nighttime visitors were there for more than just family fun. During its earliest years, many riders were looking for dates the old Big Bands way. According to older members of my family, the most popular features atop this mountain were its dancing hall, and of course its bar and restaurant. When the fire company was in need of money, or some local children’s home or medical facility, a casino would be run for a night or two. During its peak years, more residents frequented this place at night than during the day. On a clear and locally quiet night, you could hear the bands playing above down on the streets below.
By the time the Incline was developed, the notion of mountain recreation for health and ‘restoring sanity’ had progressed to the point where Mount Beacon was not only physically and physiologically healthy due to topographic and environmental reasons, but also considered the social scene. People interested in travelling to the Beacon setting were into the social context of this activity. The Beacon area, now very much in reach of New York’s richer population, had opened its doors to other entrepreneurs willing to take advantage of this.
But along with social progress came technological progress. During the 1910s and 1920s, there were several changes in the communications field that had an influence of Mount Beacon and the social elite frequenting this secure retreat-like setting were about to witness an important change in the State’s communications history. Since the 1890s, communication by wire had been the rage. The telegraph had been invented in 1894 by Italian engineer Gugielmo Marconi (1874-1937). But radio was now taking over, with which it was possible for someone to communicate to another at great distances, without the need for anything other than a sender and receiver. For wilderness cottage dwellers, it offered that additional contact sometimes needed whenever homesickness set in due to be away from the family or out of the social spotlight for too long. With both the radio and the telegraph, it became possible for recreators to simply go down to the local telegraph office and pass on his or her news to the curious and willing newsreporters and telegraph operators sitting around for much of the day within their closed office settings.
In the Beacon area, we see evidence for this developing trend in social attitudes and behavior developing by 1920.
In 1913, the City of Beacon finally defined itself as an actual city. Prior to this time, the towns of Fishkill Landing and Matteawan resided as economic partners, with the towns paying for appropriate amounts of the shared services they were provided with in terms of roadway, sewage, and water development. Now, what was first known the City of Melzingah, followed by the City of Beacon, was on its own and responsible for its own resource utilization and maintenance and the Incline was now operating for more than a decade. The north face was now set up with cottages to meet the growing needs of seasonal travellers. The casino and danceroom were still operating quite successfully. Concerns about health were no longer attracting as many people as before to this setting. There was still this ongoing need for personal counseling or change in the outdoors, undergoing some form of psychological relaxation or a reduction in whatever nervous tension was responsible for your migraines and insomnia, but the other forms of recreation being provided by the casino operations seemed to stand out as the mountain’s major attraction, both locally and involving New York City people.
From the personal collection
Mount Beacon – Industry and Business
Prohibition was enacted from 1920 to 1933. In theory, this would have had a tremendous impact on the visitors to this site at night, were it not for the casino and the invention of the radio. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that throughout these adventures scientists and engineers had with discoveries and then experimenting with them using the mountain, gave this place yet another boost in its economic value. The radio wave was primarily experimental and non-developmental in nature in terms of equipment and use until William Henry Ward patented the use of radiowaves for communication in 1872. Thomas Edison then created the telegraph working with this “etheric force” in 1875, and again in 1885, patenting the use of this method for communicating with ships. Between 1885 and 1892, a couple of inventors tried using this device for some form of very local communications, although not to an extent that their discoveries were of much success or had immediate undeniable uses for the near future. The sending and receiving of this energy was improved substantially between 1890 and 1893. The Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1893 helped to popularize the potential values radiowave messaging had to society in general, but without the ability to impact our communications methods too much due to ongoing failures of application and evidenec for any potential utility.
In 1894, a code was developed by our local Samuel F. B. Morse. It was used to send a message by radiowave successfully to Oxford, England. This had little more of an impact for the next two years.
In 1896, it was announced that someone in India had successfully sent the first wireless message by radio signal: “The inventor (Jagadish Chandra Bose) has transmitted signals to a distance of nearly a mile and herein lies the first and obvious and exceedingly valuable application of this new theoretical marvel.” (wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invention_of_radio). Between 1894 and 1896, the transmission of radio waves was successfully employed by Alexander Stepanovich Popov of Russia and Guglielmo Marconi of Bologna, Italy. Popov’s messages at first traveled between adjacent buildings; in 1898 he was able to transmit 6 miles; in 1899 this distance was increased to 130 miles. Marconi’s work enable him to transmit up to 34 miles between towns. For long-distance communications, he first made use of kites and antennae but quickly switched to the use of a more stable structure for the same.
In 1901, work began on trans-Atlantic communications. By 1903, Marconi was able to use this method to converse with President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904, this was finally recognized as the new way to share and send news about world events between distant continents. The radio gave locals another way to keep Mount Beacon alive and of economic worth. The following timeline of radio is pulled directly from wikipedia’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_radio.
Audio broadcasting (1915 to 1950s)
- Ad for an Atwater Kent radio receiver in the Ladies’ Home Journal (September, 1926) 1916: First regular broadcasts on 9XM (now WHA) – Wisconsin state weather, delivered in Morse Code
- 1919: First clear transmission of human speech, (on 9XM) after experiments with voice (1918) and music (1917).
- 1920: Regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began in Argentina, pioneered by the group around Enrique Telémaco Susini.
- 1920: Spark-gap telegraphy stopped.
- 20 August 1920: E.W. Scripps’s WWJ in Detroit received its commercial broadcasting license and started broadcasting. It has carried a regular schedule of programming to the present. Broadcasting was not yet supported by advertising. The stations owned by manufacturers and department stores were established to sell radios and those owned by newspapers to sell papers and express the opinions of the owners.
- 31 August 1920: The first known radio news program was broadcast by station 8MK, the unlicensed predecessor of WWJ (AM) in Detroit, Michigan.
- October 1920: Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became the first US commercial broadcasting station to be licensed when it was granted call letters KDKA. (Their engineer Frank Conrad had been broadcasting from his own station since 1916.)
- 1922: Regular wireless broadcasts for entertainment began in the UK from the Marconi Research Centre at Writtle near Chelmsford, England. Early radios ran the entire power of the transmitter through a carbon microphone.
- Mid 1920s:
- Amplifying vacuum tubes revolutionized radio receivers and transmitters; Westinghouse engineers improved them. (Before that, the commonest type of receiver was the crystal set, although some early radios used some type of amplification through electric current or battery.)
- Inventions of the triode amplifier, generator, and detector enabled audio radio.
- Fessenden and Lee de Forest pioneered the invention of amplitude-modulated radio (AM radio), so more than one station can send signals (as opposed to spark-gap radio, where one transmitter covers the entire bandwidth of spectra). Westinghouse bought DeForest’s and Armstrong’s patent.
- 1920s: Radio was first used to transmit pictures visible as television.
- Early 1930s: Single sideband (SSB) and frequency modulation (FM) were invented by amateur radio operators. By 1940, they were established commercial modes.
The true need for radio was appreciated very little by people in the city of Beacon itself. Radio of course served as an important means of recreation in the home, no matter where it was built, but it was in the backwoods and countryside where radio had its greatest impact. Those people settled in the outskirts of civilization during the time, the families and relatives of families of the elite not only had the money needed to take full advantage of radio, they also had the daringness required to make it part of their everyday life, isolated in the woods.
There was also this combination of radios and prohibition that led to the unique lifestyle out there in the wilderness. According to one Pine Plains members of the Dutches’s family, you could process your corn into whiskey here back in the 1920s and 1930s, using an old metal tank buried beneath the ground (it was still there when I last visited him), and use this to develop a second business on the side, operating a reputable drinking establishment at night, card tables and all, hoping the local gangsters might walk in an up your facility’s income just a notch or two. Such was the case at the Northern end of Dutchess County, in a place that unknowingly needed other places below to live their live in peace and harmony with local needs, so to speak. And a little to the north of his property there resided a lady who the neighbors knew as Old Ma Tripp.
This Period of Prohibition of the early 20th century first came about due to an Act written up in 1917, approved by Congress in 1918, and commenced in 1920. The purpose of Prohibition was originally was to develop a reserve of alcohol for potential use should another World War commence. This act was in part due to such a long term social demand for the elimination of alcohol from society that this act quickly evolved into the movement we often relate it to today–a move against alcohol consumption in any way, shape, or form, through any type of cultural or social mechanism possible. The Prohibition Act was in full force from 1920 to 1933, and on and off had an impact on society as a whole. One of these impacts pertained to business, and the manufacturing and selling of alcohol at places like the Mount Beacon casino, dancing floor and bar, and restaurant.
In spite of the Prohibition Act and its purported reductions in income these places may or may not have experienced, the existence and maintenance of these Mount Beacon important parts of the the local and urban-suburban social network remained active financially and economically. Were it not for the recurring fires and occasional accidents and law suits such injury cases resulted in, this special form of adult recreation area on Mount Beacon might have been fluent back then, without any need of entrepreneurial financial assistance. But around that time, the town of Beacon was incorporated for just a decade, still struggling some say to make ends meet in certain types of local businesses. With the newspaper stories circulating in Manhattan, and the Radio City Music hall serving as the primary place to visit, social elites had the time, money and luxuries of comparing notes for their times off so to speak, like in the cottages on Mount Beacon, or in some hideaway place again having to deal with their recurring bouts of melancholy, bad heart and depression.
It was the discovery of the radiowave form of communications that for a short while led up to some rapid development of Mount Beacon area during the teen years of the 20th century. By the 1930s this new industry was well underway. When the first stations in New York City began broadcasting around 1920 to 1922, the first solid evidence for where to place a stable broadcasting station had yet to be decided. The first most regular staion was WSAP 833 AM, known to be regularly broadcasting in 1922. In 1923, two more stations began operating–WSDA 1140 and WDBX 1290. By the end of 1923, a very small station WOKO began operating out of Manhattan. Three years later, in 1926, WOKO moved its facility up to Peekskill and began to rely upon Mount Beacon for transmitting its signal.
WOKO was still dealing with at least three other competitors by this time located in the New York City area. This lead WOKO to moved its station and facilities further north up to Poughkeepsie later that year, still using the Mount Beacon antenna for transmission. In 1931, due to poor ground conductivity, WOKO was forced to removed once again, this time up to Albany. By now, the value of Mount Beacon as a source for transmissions was completely established, buts its value in transmitting AM signals was questionable.
On December 27th, 1932, the building known as Radio City opened (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_City_Music_Hall). This building would serve as one of the major site for antennas to be built for transmitting signals out of New York City. To enable these signals to reach the western part of the state, a linear array of antennae was set up in the direction of upstate New York. Between 1929 and 1940, the continued development and improvement of this site during the John D. Rockefeller years added to the glamour of this Radio City Hall event. To make the success of a new radio station happen, an Art Deco style building was constructed, and regular stage performances were aired by radio to the lower parts of New York state. The the upstate families like the Tripps became involved. Ma Tripp’s husband John was a fan of the new radios, had an antennae strapped to his car and another to the rooftop of his home. He also brought with him a battery for each, in pairs, in case one went dead or was needed by a friend. For the time period we are talking about, and the time and distance and routes he had to take to Radio City, John seemed to take the opportunity to travel there quite often, snow or not, and in her diary she often spoke about this as if it was a required event for each and every friend of the Rockefellers.
Most amazing however is this simple piece of paper she left in her diary, a small piece of paper on which she noted the radio stations available to her on their new radio. The most important show that was playing was Amos & Andy out of Chicago. Could it be possible that Mount Beacon brought Amos & Andy to New York for the first time?
Even more interesting perhaps is the background on this piece of local history you can find when scavenging the ruins of the modern internet. No radio was needed for for me to find this little treasure. And so at the end of this page is a table I found that was provided by a Comcast site (table and link appear at the end of this page), suggesting the closest signal was coming out of Albany, pretty close for Ma Tripp’s home, and far, far away for New York City. (For more on radio in 1934 see http://www.old-time.com/halper/halper34.html)
The 1920s Revisited
Ma Tripp’s notes also tell us that even though there was a radio working along with a telephone installed in her home, there was limited electricity in and around the area of Ancram, NY. According to her April 7th, 1934 entry, their radio worked by battery which her husband John frequently had to bring a with him where ever he went, including the one for the radio, telephone, and even car. John’s business locally pertained to the “Ld mines” (lead mines) in what is today known as Ancramdale. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancram,_New_York). But batteries were his life according to what she said – – but then again, lead was the major ingredient for a battery.
In 1933, Frequency Modulation (FM) was patented but its first commercial broadcasting stations wouldn’t begin operation until 1939 when General Electric’s WRVE station began transmissions from the company’s main factory in Schenectady, NY. GE was trying to connect its major manufactory in Schenectady with its office in New York City. To accomplish this, several towers had to be erected between these two urban areas–Mount Beacon was one of these sites. This succes attaches a date to when Mount Beacon became important to the communications industry–the antennae was erected sometime around 1939 or 1940.
It wasn’t until 1958 that the first FM station signed on in Dutchess County, WKIP, Poughkeepsie. Originally broadcasting since 1940 in the AM format, the new WKIP began using both AM and FM frequencies. With FM, the antennas up on Mount Beacon were now a success.
The television and its various inventions and patents related to the public were a decade two behind those of the radio The first television to capture a public audience broadcasted its first signals sometime in 1927, with the first signals directed to the public in 1928, possibly when an upstate New York company WRGB broadcasted signals out of Schenectady, New York for the station W2XB. This was followed later that year by W2XBS, the predecessor to WNBC. The regular broadcasting by a regular broadcasting famility was not common until the late 1930s or very early 1940s (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_years_in_television). Even then, regularly aired shows were not common until after World War II.
With regard to Mt. Beacon history, the television broadcasting system had little impact on local commerce until plans were developed to better utilize its geographic position and topography when it came to public broadcasting. A number of early attempts had already been made to use this facility by radio broadcasters in the 1930s. These were at first successful, but in the long run failed due to poor signal transmission and physiographic interference. In 1947, companies with stations broadcasting in frequency modulation (FM) succeeded in establishing a broadcasting position atop the mountain. Their relationship with other broadcasters and once again, their experiences with broadcasting shed more light on the limits of Mt. Beacon. Dor this reason, few if any television stations made much of an attempt to use the same setting for transmission, except for the very local broadcasters. [For more on this subject, see the report titled “Mount Beacon, Beacon, N.Y.” dated June 18, 2010, accessed September 18, 2011 at http://www.fybush.com/sites/2010/site-100618.html].
Business was progressing at a moderate pace when the Great Depression began in late October 1929. Since the opening of the trolley and buildings at the top of the mountain, the Casino, Dance floor and restaurant remained a stable source of income for this get-away place for New York urbanites. Beginning in 1930, the value of everything began to diminish, ranging from property and personal businesses to the availability of personal wealth held by banks. Many felt that money had to be hoarded. Those with a lot of money lived a life that was very different from that of the low income sectors of the workforce and poor sectors of local communities.
To both the rich and poor, the casino was an escape from this way of life. It served a primarily recreational purpose for the rich and well endowed. For the poor, it served as a way out of the depressing lifestyle they and their families were facing. In reality, such a decision ultimately became the last decision any member of such a home had to make.
For numerous reasons, gambling and casinos never suffered as much as regular businesses during these financially stressful periods. Just prior to the first year of the Depression, Herbert Hoover was elected president and took his oath and seat in 1928. Four years later and about one-third of the way through this phase in the national economy, in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) became president. The beginning of a recovery from the depression took place beginning about one year later.
Between 1927 and 1933, a little bit of the anti-establishment attitude held by hoodlums seemed to be common talk.
Like many of these public places in the valley, there was some talk about hoodloms and bankrobbers being associated with this place. Distant heroes like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, “Baby Face”, and Al Capone were welcome at this place, although they probably rarely came. Just as well, there were already a number of local villians, one whom my grandfather was mistaken for during the 1930s–Willie Sutton, a bank robber from the ’30s to the ’50s. Gambling and alcohol were the trades that pulled these people together, no wonder Mount Beacon was somehow linked to this.
Grandpa Walter Altonen (center), with two of his friends
Still, the locals and their cars liked to recreate and as part of that recreation made their way to the casino set up on top of the mountain. At night, their activity up there was perceivable by locals in the forms of loud bands playing and lights displaying well into the early morning. When FDR rescinded the Prohibition ban in 1933, this opened the doors for some new sources of income and once again the casino flourished.
As the 1940s progressed, the casino and hotel up on Mount Beacon became more popular. The Big Bands were developing during this time, and although somewhat compromised in utility and use due to the ongoing needs of the second World War, these bands did as much as they could to keep the local businesses up on the Mountain active. It was not be a surprise to find performers like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby the Andrew Sisters performing worldwide for the troops. Atop Mount Beacon, their efforts were honored and mimicked by the local bands and stage performers. In one of my discussions with a former customer of this recreational site, it was mentioned that during the 1940s and 1950s, a number of the more popular big bands were playing at this casino, including such artists as Glen Miller, Bennie Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. The local Fire Department liked to involve these bands and other very common local performers for fund raising events and the like. On a typical night, multiple bands would play and the dance floor would remain open until everyone had completed their performances, which usually continued into the early mornings of 1 or 2 o’clock. On a good night, with the clouds placed just right and the wind barely blowing, it has been said that one could hear quite clearly the songs being played up on the mountain, as far away as the dummy traffic light corner located at the intersection of Main and East Main streets, nearly two miles away from the dance floor as the crow flies.
With regards to popularity, on a typical night there were two to three hundred people frequenting the dance floor, restaurant and bar. For those who just arrived at the base of the mountain waiting to board the Trolley Incline, on a popular night this usually resulted in a long wait. For those who were more anxious to make their way to the top, it was not unusual to spend the hour or hour and a half needed to climb the face of the mountain, by way of the woods, following a trail that was laid parallel to the trolley tracks. Today, the same kinds of trails exist due to the hikers, trails which back in the 1940s and early 1950s were hardly there, if present at all.
In spite of the use of the term casino to refer to this place, minimal gambling took place here during the peaks years, and possibly for most of its lifespan. This was largely due to the state laws prohibiting this. On occasion, gambling was allowed, and special permits were required for card tables, roulette wheels and slot machines to be brought in. Such a night usually was made known to the public and called a “Vegas night.” Mostly just the local community service agencies and groups like the local fire companies were allowed to engage in this money-making process. All of the machines and paraphernalia needed for such an event to occur had to be carted in.
Personal File and Collection
The repeated loss of facilities due to fires and worst of all vandalism during the 1970s and especially 1980s is a statement of the lack of responsibility and association then felt by these members of much younger, much later generations. At its peak, according to another family member who frequented this place, the floors were made of beautiful dark hardwood, and in the center there was a dome ceiling.
Mt. Beacon’s Local Economy, Progress and Recreation
When the war was over, was had a local company which was soon to become IBM switch from rifle manufacturing back to its traditional office management mechanization goals. This began with the invention of its first Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator of 1947, followed by its Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator of 1948 and its Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator of 1949. In 1950, IBM began working on its first computer using vacuum tubes, the IBM 701 (see http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/history/decade_1950.html). The industrial and economic progress these growth led to helped to keep the local region alive for a short while. Long enough to allow the 1950s to become the last completely innocent decade for the inclince trolley car business and its ridership.
Sources: http://www.bristol.k12.ct.us/page.cfm?p=3842; http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/cpc.html; http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/xxx-ibm-cpc.html; http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/markI/markI_intro.html
It was during the 1950s that we benefited the most from the services of our soldiers in World War II. As veterans and their families went back to a regular life style, many of these families were able to move into a brand new houses built just outside the megalopolis of lower New York city and its northern suburbs throughout Yonkers and Westchester County. These families took advantage of this ever-changing technology, finding work up in the Dutchess County area and flocking to new suburban shopping malls being built during this time. Automobiles were also now significantly improved, and the former suburbia with many of its houses fairly isolated and at great distances from each other was now pulled together to form neighborhoods. The dozens of single family homes that occupied each of these neighbor had children, and with these children came the need for large schools in order to accomodate growing education needs.
One of several old photos found on the display at Mt. Beacon, Courtesy of Mt Beacon Historical Society
Unlike many of the homes outside the urban setting for the decades before, one’s home in the local Hudson Valley suburban to rural setting was a middle class home, much better than the homes of a decade or two before. For the first, it was a guarantee that you would have your own electricity, and that your bathroom was indoors instead of being an outdoor water closet. Your stove was powered by something other than locally mined coal or seasoned wood, and there were several ways to get water into your house, including the traditional well pump but also by indoor plumbing connected with a water system that the town or city provided you with. Then there was the car, which was manufactured better than before. By the 1950s, the car was not just a luxury, but a necessity. The manufacturers of these new automobiles also designed to satisfy manufacture vheicles meant to satisfy the old war heroes willing to buy, and to produce else in order to satisfy the much younger consumer population–the trouble makers of the late 50s and early 60s.
This turned the suburban and rural home setting into a sign of economic expansion and success, a product of the success of a new and rapdily growing industry–International Business Machines. For the investors and entrepreneurs paying for and helping to fund the Mount Beacon trolley car company, this growth led to another significant wave of tourist industry visitors, but it was also the last of the the big waves of people to flock to Mount Beacon.
During this time, the use of the Mount Beacon Incline Trolley line was at its most important peak as a symbol of the American culture. But unfortunately its use was also decaying away at a steady pace. Aside from the trolley, we had other signs or ruralism and country that became increasingly attractive to locals. Buses on main street and any remaining trolley cars in the urban settings of Beacon and Poughkeepsie were less utilized. Maintaining these public transportation vehicles also became limited, to such an extent that as a kid I can recall looking back into the bus or main street trolley and seeing coffee cans hung from back posts, for use by the old time tobacco chewers seated back there. Segregation was at its peak during this time. The only place my grandmother would allow me to sit on these public transportation vehicles as we headed to Luckey Platt, over to the parking area, or down to the Ferry, was in the very front.
These fairly antiquated public transportation vehicles had become a deterrent to visitors during the 1960s. Those wishing to visit the city of Beacon to take advantage of its Incline trolley preferred some form of shuttle to make their way into the interior of the city of Beacon. The unattractive and very decrepid look of these old public transportation vehicles during the 1960s drew many of the customers away and served as a distraction to the attractiveness the countryside presented to tourists when they came in by boat and dayline cruisers. The Beacon Incline once set up to attract you to the area was now only worth a visit if there were other other events that took place locally which were equally fascinating, add-ons to your daily trip out into the countryside. More and more, there were other alternatives to all of this that became more preferable. Living in the City, one could just decide to remain close to home by visiting the hyperactive city setting. With both daytime and nighttime activities available to engage in, you needn’t search that far in order to decide what it was wyou and your friends were going to do next.
Hotel/Casino and Restaurant. One of several old photos found on the display at Mt. Beacon, Courtesy of Mt Beacon Historical Society
For Mount Beacon, the 1950s was unfortunately followed by the 1960s. Climbing a simple incline was no longer the amazing attraction it once was. Like the Coney Island boardwalk, the novelty of what a visitor could do at the site seemed to be less and less important as you got older. Who were once the most devoted visitors of this site were by now aging and retired, and tended to visit more distant places. The much younger people now frequenting these sites were during the worst years of this settings history, interested only in using their ATVs and had little concern for the local ecology–the more worn and damaged the woods became, the better. Fortunately this disrespect for history and ecology changed in recent years. Many of the current users of this setting are more interested in hiking and camping.
The idea of taking a simple trolley up some very short although very steep local hill, was not more the attraction that it used to be. Even for myself during this time, I spent a lot of my time following the paths through the woods leading up this hill, instead of taking a short train of bus ride. For others living in this vicinity, these trails and woods were places to be trouble makers in the 1960s and 1970s sense–in a much more destructive fashion than that taking place one decade before. Poverty was now becoming a large part of the Beacon profile, as well as the impact this problem had on the local tourism industry once depended upon.
When I reached my college age during the 1970s, I took that route and therefore usually lacked personal finances needed to take the trolley. Instead, my college roommate, younger brother, and I would simply visit the old places like Mount Beacon, where we ascended the mountain by foot, headed towards the fire tower, and then descended down the back slopes to the Reservoir and the summer camps located nearby (not really recommended, or allowed!). For this reason I barely noticed the closure of the trolley car in 1978, and learned about it only in passing. By 1979 or 1980, hiking was the only way you could see the trolley cars up front and very close once again up there on the hill; they were parked in the middle of the tracks, where the rails divide, about half-way up the rails and two-thirds of the way up the mountain slope.
Notice the split rails up the slope (ibid)
Mt. Beacon during the 1950s
Even more revealing about the incline rail rested in one of my relative’s home. In an old family album I found evidence for what these rides were really like. Back in July of 1953, a member of the family had taken some pictures of the ascent they made.
Accompanying her were some were neighbors and friends.
Viewing these pictures I could tell this ascent was one of the peak events of its day. Although now old enough to be considered adults, the enthusiasm these local “tourists” experienced got the best of them during their journey to the top. Like a carnival ride often does to us, this ride up the mountain was a thrill more than it was just another everyday travel experience.
On the way up to the top, at the rail-split, they passed by the other car coming down. This car served as the counter weight for the ascending trolley. The reason for the roof missing is that this was removed by a fire during the 1930s.
A sign of the times, this car lost its roof during the third railway fire in 1936 that burned this rail car along with 300 feet of track. The first fire was in 1927, and resulted in the destruction of the Casino and Beaconcrest Hotel. The casino was rebuilt the following year. The Hotel was rebuilt until after The Great Depression. The second fire took place in 1934, and involved 480 feet of track. See http://www.inclinerailway.org/history_decline.htm.
At the top of the Incline Rail there was the docking station. Following a walk around the buildings and former casino, they all prepared for the descent.
At the old building on top of the Incline, she bought the souvenir book. This souvenir book had a number of old illustrations of this visitor’s site.
Mt. Beacon Souvenirs
The above souvenir was purchased at this site during a visit in 1953 when the use of the Incline trolley was at its peak. Many of its passengers came from New York City, by way of Hudson day cruiser lines. The cumulative total number of visitors to this site by this time was nearing 1.5 million (Source: http://www.inclinerailway.org/history_decline.htm, accessed 7-7-2011). However, by the end of this decade the use per year by visitors had begun its decline.
As a result of the decreasing popularity and use of the incline, its ownership was turned over to a new company in 1960– Mountaintop Lands, Ltd. In 1960, the number of visitors per year was only about 20,000 to 30,000 (ibid). This low attendence continued until November 10th, 1967, when the remaining building at the base on the incline was lost due to a fire along with the railway car. The facility was then shut down for a while but again reopened.
In 1978, the land at the top of the mountain was forfeited due to taxes, afterwhich the station was forced to close for good. The incline trolley cars were then parked midway between the top and bottom of the mountain.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, periodic closures due to a need for upkeep, repair and replacement of parts, and the related safety concerns and issues that sometimes followed, led to an irregular flow of visitors. The glamour of riding the Incline was lost.
From 1970 to 1978 the business managing the Incline tried to remain afloat. In 1972, lack of income continued to have its impacts on the overall operating facilities when the railway was forced to closed due to unsanitary conditions at the top of the mountain. Nevertheless, this business once again reopened in 1975, but only for a brief while. Fewer and fewer urbanites were making their way to Beacon during this time, and the local and regional respect often offered to Mount Beacon and the City of Beacon suddenly plummeted. In 1978, this lack of respect was at its worst, when an arson set the tracks on fire.
Mt. Beacon Ski Slope, 1967 – 1975
From 1967 to 1975, Mt. Beacon developed and then managed a ski slope. The very first winter this facility was opened, my sister and I were engaged in skiing lessons in a teaching area defined at the bottom of the slope next to its southern edge. The number of old-time skiers at the facility was substantial, matching the number of intermediate skilled downhill skiers from the local community.
The warm weather and recession of the 1970s helped to close the skiing facility for good.
Current Status – the Archeology of the Trolley Line
During the early 1960s, Mount Beacon seemed fairly quiet compared with the changes underway in and around downtown Fishkill. The city of Beacon had a number of well known colonial places for people to visit, as did Fishkill. But Fishkill was still growing and Beacon seemed to be facing some limits in its ability to manage much more population growth in the downtown area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even though this growth continued, the direction it was heading was very different than the direction it first took between the sesquicentennial years of 1800 and 1950. Throughout the 1800s, Gresham and Matteawan became two of the most prosperous villages in this part of the county. In each there were numerous factories which became well known for the manufacture of clothing and hats. With some of the largest buildings established along the Fishkill creek, these industrial settings produced a variety of textile and clothing goods, with their most important products were made using local wool.
Clues to the history of these factories can still be found in the woods adjacent to the foundations of buildings still occupying these sites. If one takes the time to meander the forest floor adjacent to these buildings, turning over the first inch or two of soil or a large rock or two next to it, it is not unusual to uncover small pieces of fabric and numerous buttons. Just how much these are worth to a collector of antique bric-a-brac remains uncertain. Well, the same is true for Mount Beacon and the Mt. Beacon Trolley or Incline.
Many people today have little or no knowledge about this skill once very popular during my childhood–scavenging through the old dumps, something more politely referred to as bottle hunting. The remains of old garbage sites and privies from 50 to 150 years ago reveal quite a bit about the local history and I was quite amazed by what I could find still existing on Mt. Beacon today along the Incline Trolley tracks. The debris along these tracks allow us to imagine numerous short stories about what took place on these tracks over the years. Ascending the mountain by way of ditches formed due to rainwater runoff, remaining just a few yards from the trail and tracks throughout, I found that the alluvial fans formed at the base of the mountain bore the best evidence to its past. The bulk of these remains cover a period of about five or six decades ago, and include the bric-a-brac needed to provide us with the insights needed to better understand the history of the Mount Beacon Incline.
Now thirty years older, with two members of the family still alive to talk about the mid-19th century history of the Mountain and its Incline, an interesting series of tales have arisen due to my return to this place. These tales tell me that not only is the preservation of this site necessary, along with the return of the trolley to Mount Beacon, but also there still remains a few stories about this place still waiting to be told. Twenty or thirty years from now, members of the numerous generations who have had some sort of direct experience involving the Mountain and its trolley will have passed. The Mount Beacon Trolley may be there, or at least its remains, but the experiences attached to it will quite soon become lost and forgotten. It is for these reasons that the Incline Trolley must be built or restored, and its numerous stories somehow kept alive.
Recently, I decided to go up the hill and follow my own path off the trail in order to see what I may find. I headed a few yards into the woods. Just a few feet from the edge of the old rails, I was amazed at what was there.
In the local drainage ditch for the mountain, along with sand and gravel, there were little bits and pieces of the relics scattered all across this site–chips of old White Rock soda bottle glass, some dark green bottles with very thick bubbled glass, and a part of the name still showing on a piece of White Springs soda bottle.
There was a complete set of pieces for a soda bottle, still lying in their original order in the mud.
There were also glass chards from bottles with a glass so thick you could tell that for years they were re-cycled, sterilized by steam, and then refilled over and over again.
White Rock soda and an unidentified with “This bottle is not to be sold alone”
Most of the tracks for the incline are still there as well. They start very close to the station at the bottom of the mount and continue up the steep incline as far as the eye can see.
Many of the old beams supporting them are present, with minimal signs of any charring experienced during the three fires that consumed this part of the mountainside.
At the bottom of the hill there was the pole still standing which held the old emergency switch to be triggered should the car need to be manually stopped.
Whereas the 1950s seemed full of innocence (and perhaps a little rebelliousness), the 60s full of individuality and a need for exploration, and the 70s a period of naturalism at its worst with our fights against the excess use of gas and energy and the pollution of our environment, the trolley business was by on its way out for most city settings, long gone in nearly all suburban and rural big town settings, except for Mount Beacon.
The trolley car system of Mount Beacon continued running until 1978 when the business closed for financial reasons. During the late 1960s and 1970s, part of this mountain was transformed into a ski area. In 1982, this site became registered with the National Register of Historical Places, thereby protecting it from unnecessary changes and overdevelopment. But in 1983, that which could have been saved was lost when a fire induced by vandals consumed the remains of the original buildings.
Today, it is a tradition for locals and visitors to still take advantage of the trails through this area. Many supporters of this local program also support the goal to re-build the Mount Beacon Incline Trolley. The following are the questions this plan brings about:
- How would rebuilding such a traditional Beacon resource impact our region, our local commerce, our financial and environmental growth?
- If we rebuild the Incline trolley system, how much will it impact all of the other important aspects of our local history? (This depends upon just how we rebuild it.)
- Do we build it and make the rails something like the turnpike leading you between two discrete places, without concerns for the in-betweens?
- Do we build it like it was during old times, making its way across rough terrain, through hot and potentially flammable woods, with cars passing close by the sumac, poison ivy and ailanthus some of us are allergic to?
- Do we replace the old rails with new rails, or treat the old rails respectfully, like a very important piece of local history?
Rte 9W, heading south and out of Beacon, 2011
Mt. Beacon – Nature Hikes and Trails
In 1982, this site was registered in the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior. The following year it was once again set ablaze by arsons in September of 1983. Nearly all of the remaining portions of the track and building were then destroyed.
A slow revival of the area has since progressed from a period complete dissatisfaction and abuse by locals to the redevelopment of a place meant to fill the needs of the various outdoor enthusiasts, recreationists and environmentalists residing in the Hudson Valley region. This site is used by ATV riders as much as by hikers and even naturalists. Like any site that has undergone a devastating ecological change, the local wildlife and plants seemed to have suffered little from the human misbehaviors that perpetuately resurfaced over the years and decades, especially during the 1980s.
The historical value of this site is fairly well known. With the help of some studies performed by the New York State Department of Conservation, there is some recognition as well of the local inhabitants of the mountains as a natural setting. Aside from the expected, such as woodchucks, deer, squirrels, skunk and on occasion porcupines, we have the possibility for a local Bobcat population which the descriptive board provides us with some insight into. The garden planted immediately adjacent to it has some plants with local recognition and important long since forgotten since these plants first became part of the local ethnobotany and used by Wappingi and Mahikander Native Americans, with follow ups to these uses produced by the local colonists of the lands around Beacon.
All along the trail up to the top of the mountain, one will pass numerous plants worthy of recognition, in particular the following:
- black birch
- white birch
- red columbine
- mountain laurel
No single plant really stands out for Mount Beacon’s ethnobotany history. The most economically important natural crops from this setting were no doubt any old conifers that filled to original mixed conifer-deciduous forests once occupying this setting, prior to settlement. The old eastern hemlock trees in particular would have likely have been the most majestic of these conifers, and the most useful once it was learned that their bark served as a very important source for tannins used by the leather and curry trade. The local oaks served such purposes as well, but were more quickly able to replenish their reduced stores. The remaining conifers, especially pine trees, served in the production of naval stores and lumber for homes and ships being produced closer to New York, with its sources for lumber found mostly in the local county setting.
The signature crops for the lands at the base of Mount Beacon were most likely corn and grains, especially wheat. But there were other plants grown in the domestic gardens that would ahve immediately escaped to become a part of the local ecosystem in this setting, namely dandelion, plantain (english and regular), chickweed, the various clovers, buckwheat, medicago, large daisy, motherwort, mints, etc. Those resembling the herbs found in the garden, and sometimes replanted to produce a domestic form include the oswego tea or bee balm, the black cohosh, black snakeroot, trillium, and the lady’s slipper.
In a review of a partial list of Mount Beacon flora provided by a local botanist on the web (see http://nynjctbotany.org/lgtofc/nyfshkll.html for a 2003 listing of plants, which follows, and more, as seen during one excursion by Torrey botanist Patrick L. Clooney), those plants which stand out in terms of ethnobotanical and local historical value for the Mount Beacon are so marked from the provided list (dates are for flowering):
Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)
Acer rubrum (red maple)
*Acer saccharum (sugar maple)
Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)
*Betula lenta (black birch)
Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory)
Castanea dentata (American chestnut)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)
*Ostrya virginiana (American hop hornbeam)
Pinus rigida (pitch pine)
Populus deltoides (cottonwood)
Quercus alba (white oak)
Quercus prinus (chestnut oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Quercus velutina (black oak)
Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust)
*Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry) [I]
*Chimaphila maculata (striped wintergreen)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
*Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) 10/23/04
*Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)
*Lindera benzoin (spicebush)
Lonicera morrowii (Morrow‘s honeysuckle)
Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak)
*Rhamnus cathartica (common buckthorn)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry)
Rubus odoratus (purple flowering raspberry) 7/20/03
Rubus sp. (blackberry)
*Sambucus canadensis (common elderberry)
Staphylea trifolia (bladdernut)
Vaccinium angustifolium (low bush blueberry) 10/23/04 a few in bloom
Vaccinium pallidum (hillside blueberry)
Viburnum acerifolium (maple-leaf viburnum)
Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)
Vitis labrusca (fox grape)
Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) 8/26/03 [I]
Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) [I]
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed) 8/26/03
Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut)
Aquilegia canadensis (columbine)
*Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
Arctium minus (lesser burdock) 8/26/03
Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
*Asarum canadense (wild ginger)
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) 7/20/03
Aster divaricatus (white wood aster) 8/26/03
Aster spp. (aster) 10/23/04
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (ox-eye daisy) 8/26/03 [I]
Cichorium intybus (chicory) 7/20/03 8/26/03 10/23/04 [I]
Cirsium vulgare (bull thistle) 8/26/03
Commelina communis (Asiatic dayflower) 8/26/03
*Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper)
Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace) 8/26/03 [I]
Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink) 8/26/03
*Epigaea repens (trailing arbutus)
Erigeron annuus (common daisy fleabane) 8/26/03
Eupatorium rugosum (white snakeroot)
Euthamia graminifolia (grass-leaved goldenrod) 8/26/03
Geum canadense (white avens)
Glechoma hederacea (gill-over-the-ground)
Lepidium virginicum (poor man’s pepper)
*Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco) 8/26/03
Lysimachia sp. (whorled loosestrife)
Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
Medicago lupulina (black medick) 8/26/03 [I]
Melampyrum lineare (cow wheat)
Melilotus alba (white sweet clover) 8/26/03 [I]
Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe)
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose) 8/26/03
Oxalis sp. (yellow wood sorrel) 8/26/03
Plantago major (common plantain) [I]
Polygonatum sp. (true Solomon’s seal) [I]
Polygonum virginianum (jumpseed)
Polygonum cespitosum (cespitose smartweed) 8/26/03
Potentilla norvegica (rough cinquefoil)
Prunella vulgaris (self-heal) [I]
Rumex obtusifolius (broad dock) [I]
Silene vulgaris (bladder campion) 7/20/03 8/26/03
Smilacina racemosa (false Solomon’s seal)
Solidago caesia (blue-stem goldenrod)
Solidago juncea (early goldenrod)
*Thalictrum pubescens (tall meadowrue)
Trientalis borealis (starflower)
Trifolium pratense (red clover) 8/26/03 [I]
Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) [I]
Verbascum blattaria (moth mullein) 8/26/03
Verbena urticifolia (white vervain) 8/26/03
Veronica officinalis (common speedwell)
Carex laxiflora type (loose-flowered sedge type)
Eragrostis cilianensis (stinkgrass) ?
Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stilt grass)
Panicum clandestinum (deer-tongue grass)
Schizachyrium scoparium (little blue stem)
Setaria faberi (nodding foxtail grass)
Setaria glauca (yellow foxtail grass)
**Asplenium trichomanes (maidenhair spleenwort fern)
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern)
Bromus inermis (smooth brome grass)
Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern)
Dryopteris marginalis (marginal woodfern)
Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)
Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern)
**Polypodium sp. (rock cap fern)
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)
Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern)
*rock tripe lichen
My curiosity about the history of this site was peaking soon after my move back to this region. It was nearly 50 years since I first learned about this site and sixty years since members of my family ascended it one fine summer day. In early Spring of this past year, I decided to go back up to the top of the small mountain overlooking downtown Beacon, to see what evidence remained of the trolley.
When I reached the top I took a small path that headed off to the right, knowing this would take me to the old power station.
Much of the hardware at this site was pretty much intact, although very rusty. Vandalism still presents itself at this site, although nothing as serious as the arson incidents that resulted in the total loss of the building structures decades earlier.
Changing Views – From Gafitti to Art
Some eyesore graffiti artists boldly proclaimed their presence at these facilities, but their impacts are outshined by the artistic repainting of particular parts of the engines still remaining.
The old wire coils used to produce the EMF for the engine on the far right have been gold-sprayed (see far right edge of photo).
Looking at the horizon through the powerstation for this car, we find the views to still be unmatched.
Looking West towards the Newburgh-Beacon Toll Bridge
Looking South towards Storm King
Recovery – Old Plans . . .
Progress is what left the Incline Trolley behind in Mount Beacon since the late 1970s. As this part of the Hudson Valley continued to grow economically, the establishment of several big name industries and the growing Artisan’s trades located close to Mount Beacon gave locals the chance to restore the trolley and its facilities during the 8os and 90s. In 1985, Dick Shea, Staff Writer for The Evening News, wrote a Commentary on this entitled “It’s a shame to forget about Mt. Beacon’s incline railway.” Piece by piece the railway, its cars and its buildings subsequently left this scene due to fires.
Like any site of historical importance, there are people out there who have memories of taking the trolley. More than likely many of these old timers today would like to see the trolley rebuilt for nostalgia’s sake. But it is now three or four generations since the trolley last made an ascent, and those most familiar with this piece of our local history are now passing. Only the younger generations really have much to say and do with the site should it be restored. Perhaps their grandparent’s or great grandparent’s memories, or a few old family photos found here and there in the family photo albums will encourage them to try to understand this part of the local past.
Some treasures are left unrecognized as such due to the absence of knowledge about the treasure itself, how to recognize it, and determine its value. Just how many individuals today would be able to walk along the tracks and recognize an Orange Crush or White Rock bottle due to its unique shape alone if it was found lying there in the woods?
The number of people travelling up to Mount Beacon was a problem in earlier years. This along with the quick-fix attitude some people had about finding a way and reason to sue a company like that operating the trolley only added to the economic problems our region and companies were facing. Now, all of this negative history was reversing.
A number of the locals would like to re-open this site and turn it into a source for tourist’s dollars. Installing a new trolley would certainly make this site more attractive, like the observatory added to Mount St. Helens, put in place more than a decade following its 1984 eruption, or the dizzying clear plexiglass walkway installed over the edge of the Grand Canyon.
One of the issues about re-opening an old recreational form such as the trolley is defined by the question: ‘what exactly is it that we want to save?’
In the beginning, a similar incline rail was set up in New Hampshire. The similarities between this site and the Mount Beacon site at the time it started in rather remarkable. Each share the fire tower, a hotel and recreational building, and the cabin. This site in Un-Ca-Noo-Nuc opened about one year after the Beacon Incline and involved the same developers.
Traditionalists would like to restore the Beacon Incline trolley to its original state, which means that we would have to pull up the old tracks that are remaining and remove any remaining evidence of this important piece of local history. Countering this is the more conservative approach in which we would leave the track and debris where they lie, place a new trolley elsewhere, thereby allowing for both the use of the hiking trail already established, and sparing the old relics from any chances of further removal by developers. The most creative developers, if there was anyone who wished to invest in this way, would probably wish to open a new recreational site, add a long waterslide, once again make the slopes available for snowboarders in the winter, place a small hotel and restaurant on the site, and advertise its use as a year-round recreational facility.
Currently, the types of Incline trolley site operating are variable in the nature and type of trolley they make use of. The New Hampshire Site created by the same developer as Mount Beacon has a predictable similarity. Even the outdoor uses of this mountain have resemblances to the fate of Mount Beacon. The presence of a Nature Trail and the incredible view that were marketed are both strong attractions for this site.
Other sites have features which enhance their attractivity due to location relative to other activities people can engage in. The plans in 1976 were to build a recreational facility at the mountain base, focusing on athletics and probably resulting in a fairly expensive athletic club type of facility, one which would not really fit into the old Mount Beacon turn of the century scenario. Fortunately this plan never really surfaced.
Evening News, September 22, 1983
Aside from diminished public respect, unregulated all terrain vehicle use of the Mount Beacon terrain, limited upkeep of its trails and remaining mansion sites attached on the southern face of this mountain range, and the overall inattentiveness people have had towards this mountain in general, this site still has a potential for future arson-related events and other mishaps on the mountain if we are not careful.
This lack of financial stability of the place is what added to the social disintegration the local city underwent durign the decade prior. There remained a sense of restoring the downtown facilities and trying to take better advantage of the history related to the immediate local urban setting, but no solid plan could be developed for restoring the nearby corridor located between downtown and other popular touring and viewing sites such as the hiking areas opposite Storm King, the restaurant located adjacent to the tunnel carved through the Breakface Mountain front, and other sites visible all the way down to Cold Spring.
Evening News, September 21, 1987
The next big plan to develop Mount Beacon was again extensive and very ambitious, and once again it was a failure. If it had been initiated, the result would have been completed by around 1997. The lack of complete inclusion of the railway in this potential development opportunity ultimately resulted in a failure to get final approvals from all sides involved.
. . . and New
Various plans that have been proposed or suggested in recent years for Mount Beacon are quite extraordinary. There are probably more semi-tycoons, entrepreneurs, visionaries, industrialists and idealists who have made proposals for how to redevelop Mount Beacon as are well-minded developers and planners. Chances are the varioous of plans that we do know are out there are only half to one-third of the ideas some past investor had on what to do with this part of the past.
The initial planners had in mind only recreation and summer fun, and so during this time the trolley was built and later a number of cottages built along the sideface of this setting
But due to the development of the City of Beacon, the discovery of a new type and band of radiofrequencies, and the history of this mountain as an important site for long distance communications to be established, the Mount Beacon site became and remained primarily a site for radio and much later television antennas. In between these two highly popular social venues for communication were the numerous other types of antennas put in place up on the Mountain such as the ultrahighfrequency versions for police and other governmental uses. It was during these several decades of about 1920 through the 1940s that the prinicipal investor, owner and capital raising company and profession with large amounts invested in Mount Beacon was the principal owner of this idea of using the site for radiowaves transmissions–radio station ODOM. But with time, like many companies, this company slowly began defaulting of tax and loan payments and its sources of income began to dwindle.
With the revitalization of the Incline use and interests in the 1950s, the temporary lapse in local income could be negated to some extent, one reason the plans to further extend the plans for the use of this area began to develop in the minds of local investors and planners.
Throughout the earliest years of the use of the Incline, it primary source for revenues was the daytime tourists from the city and the nighttime recreationists from the city as well as local. The exact atmosphere of the casino and dance floor during this time is unclear to myself, along with probably everyone else still alive who has a relative that engaged in the activities that went on up on this mountain. The stories we hear range from the good to the bad, with little to no shenanigans found constituting the major premise and reason for what we are being told, to stories rich in the complex lifestyle of the gambler, dating the local mistress, and engaging in personal and illegal activities at this site through most of the nights he and she were spending at this location.
A simple review of the newspaper for this time provided a few bits and pieces of this story, telling us about the famous man and his mistress up on the mountain, the local father-to-be leaving the area for a while so as to not damage his and her reputation too much, and the famous debutante up in the mountains, staying at the cottages for a month or two, just to get some peace in her life after spending nearly a year cooped up in the urban chaos of New York City.
The Dance Hall, Restaurant, and Casino continued to operate well into the 1940s, with much of these events still noted in some of the 1950s advertisements and some very brief one sentence chitter-chatter like reports regarding the very local news. The New York Times did much to keep members of its urban readership in touch with what was happening on Mount Beacon as well. But for the most part, these stories told us when there was another fire on this popular upstate site and what buildings and other infrastructures were damaged by this last event. Reviewing these stories in the Times, we can even see how much they changed from the 1920s and 1930s when this news was not so socially penetrating and accusatory as they became during the 1950s and 1960s, when the disntegration of a formerly docile society in and around Beacon had turned into some out of control band of arsonists and numerous other kinds of trouble makers. What else might a New York reader imagine about the Mount Beacon area during this time? other than to conclude that this former luxury place of stay was losing its charm with the urban folks. There were better places to take you next steamboat or ferry trip up the Hudson River to.
In 1967 for example, some investors with the cash needed to cough up the few hundred dollars they needed to invest in the face of Mount Beacom were unable to make any progress with it. Those who gambled inside the casino decades earlier were willing to risk more of their personal time and earning than the individual engaged in this plan to cover the whole side of the mountain with sports and recreational facilities.
Somewhere in between all of these options formulated in the past by unsuccessful dreamers and speculators is the right way to go with developing this potential recreational site.
The current progress being made on this site as of 2011 is the study of possible redevelopment of the land tracks forthe trolley by ConsultEcon of Cambridge, MA, in association with Scenic Hudson and The Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society (see http://www.midhudsonnews.com/News/2011/May/24/Bea_InclRR-24May11.html for related article, http://www.consultecon.com/services/market_financial_feasibility/economic_feasibility/default.cfm for ConsultEcon company site). The current estimate is that 14 to 18 million dollars is needed to rebuild this site, which would include reinstalling a track and land trolley, and setting up a weatherproof observatory at the top of the mountain (ibid, MidHudson News).
If the Incline were in a downtown setting such as Main Street, Beacon, I could see the virtues of restoring the old rails as they lay, being that we would probably have to make use of the more modern overhead electrical-driven trolley care settings common to most cities with such as history. These same activities took place in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. But along the Incline, such a restoration process is very different. There are numerous relics remaining at this site. These relics add the need for properly attending to any archeological remains of this site. Such costs would be related primarily to preserving the artifacts that still exist along the rails, requiring an archeological review of the are along the tracks and at the top and botton of the incline to be completed before any site development could begin. This in itself could cost as much as $25,000 to $50,000, take a year to complete, and once the site was adequately mapped and surveyed by a company experienced in archeological and historical preservation, this could restrict or add some additional costs to the original plans planners had in mind.
Putting all of this into perspective, there is perhaps that old engagement ring Mrs. Johnson threw off the Incline car that night the wedding plans were over, some old set of keys lost by one of the passengers hanging over the edge of the car a bit too far, or the penknife that some boy lost trying to reach out to cut a tree branch. We know for a fact that there is debris strewn about the edge of this path, and it is still there. Due mostly to the ruggedness of the terrain and the poison ivy filling the woods all along the edge of these tracks, such obstacles to treasure hunters have grown worst, not better, with time. Nature has provided with some natural form of protection for these recent artifacts, but has also provided us with a way to get a better glimpse of this part of the past. The drainage areas situated along the rails just parallel to it, some of which are now carrying this debris to the bottom of the hill, are loaded with this 1940s to 1970s bric-a-brac.
The relics that remain along the incline are unlike the relics that were long gone once the old trolley roads were repaved in the downtown city settings. This means that the Incline Trolley rails has some Americana depicted by it rails, wooden beams, station foundation, platform and remaining stone walls, that the restored vintage trolley settings in a city could never provide us with the same type fo glimpse into the past that the Incline could provide. For this reason, another way to restore this site is needed in order to retain the numerous bits and pieces of relics and debris strewn about the hillside from the top of the Incline to the bottom–relics that tell a story of the trolley that similar settings along Broadway or Main Street tend to be lacking.
Advances and Alternatives
With the development of the estuarine institute in Beacon, the development of downtown Beacon in the form of restaurants, artisans, yachting facilities, and several unique countryside urbanite attractions, it is now much easier to find the commercial support needed to further the Mount Beacon Incline Restoration venture.
To obtain the kinds of funding needed to produce such a tourist attraction, a cost-benefit analysis would have to be produced and studies of environmental impacts be made. The source for funding is unknown.
Would the same development of a land-bound facility be less? Probably not. This would require a new clearing be cut for the new device, since removal of the older remains may perhaps be prevented due to archeological and historical evidence still found throughout the area. A ground-based trolley placed alongside the old device is also possible, but then the problem once again becomes dealing with the cable car system and how to guide the car up the slope. In the end, the cost is going to be about the same for both.
From the display greeting hikers at the base of the Mt. Beacon Trail. See Scenic Hudson at http://www.scenichudson.org/parks/mountbeacon
The ‘B’ . . . New Plans
So just what was ‘the B in Beacon’ in 1953? Was it just a phrase used by my aunt and her aunt, or local term referring to the busy-ness of the city and surrounding township known as Beacon?
‘B’ stands for ‘Bustling’, or better yet, ‘Big Money’.
During the 1950s this city was still Booming as a locally established Business setting. This was before the old docks were totally closed down and before the old stores and small personally operated businesses became overwhelmed by the new metropolitan like lifestyle many of the newcomers to this area wanted to see happen. The large mall was about to be established, like the Grand Union and A&P buildings located in the suburban areas adjacent to the downtown city. In Oregon, the largest mall in the country if not the world was about to be announced; completely outdoors, it had a large ice-skating rink placed right in the middle of more than 30 or 40 small shops one accessed on foot, staying beneath an overhanging rooftop.
By 1960, these larger malls turned the metropolitan settings and their Main streets and Broadways into less desirable shopping routes. In Poughkeepsie there was Lucky Platts on Main Street, in Newburgh there was Lloyd’s located down close to the river. The downtown trolley had been replaced by open buses, most with signage telling people where the tobacco chewers could sit, also hinting at where the negroes living in the city taking these buses were expected to be seated. I can recall whenever I boarded a trolley-life bus in such a setting my grandmother who was with me making it a point that we have to sit up here in the front. Looking down the aisle you could see coffee cans hanging from the metal posts and top corners of seats–indicating this was where the sputum was left and old cuds had to be placed by those busily chewing their wad in the last side and back row seats.
From signal tower to trolley, to radio tower, to tourism
To most of us, the “B” in Beacon refers to the possibility of re-establishing some reminder of the old Incline Trolley on this hillside, as a part of the local tourism industry.
As far back as I can remember, there has been talk of reinstalling the Incline and marketing it as a possible local, state and interstate tourist attraction. The installation of such a trolley could be of significant cost to the local city of Beacon. One possible option is to install such a device and have it operating during the regular tourist period in the Valley, weekends only between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. But overwintering maintenance could be of concern, and the amount of graffiti up there on the old building and engine remains to some are an eyesore. Youth in every way has diminished as much of the impetus to recover this important local attraction, contrary to the impacts such an attraction had on the youth of the past.
But we have to realize that such development is possible, if not inevitable. The old ferry boat that once took me and my parents and grandparents from Beacon to Newburgh and back is running again. So it is possible the economic input needed to develop this Incline trolley could also be present. The establishment of the regular weekend flea market, the development of the estuary research center, the local handmade glass business, the addition of numerous antique stores and art galleries set up in the city, and there large number of fancy pubs and restaurants opened there, suggest to me that there is a mini-revival of the downtown setting currently taking place. With New York urbanites now frequenting this town and city for much of the year, it seems possible for local to find the local and regional support needed to re-build the Old Mount Beacon Incline.
The Howland Cultural Center. “History of Beacon, N. Y.”. Accessed at http://www.howlandculturalcenter.org/beacon.php
V. Kleek, Van Bourne, Toi, Seabury . AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES. DUTCHESS COUNTY. SPONSORED BY THE WOMEN’S CITY AND COUNTY CLUB OF DUTCHESS COUNTY, NEW YORK. PUBLISHED BY THE WILLIAM PENN ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA. MCMXXXVII. Copyright 1937 by the WILLIAM PENN ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA. Compiled by THE WORKERS of the DUTCHESS COUNTY UNIT, FEDERAL WRITERS’ PROJECT of the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION in the STATE OF NEW YORK Accessed 7/14/2011 at http://www.archive.org/stream/dutchesscounty00federich/dutchesscounty00federich_djvu.txt
For more on this site go to the Mount Beacon Incline Railway Historical Society’s website at http://www.inclinerailway.org/history_construction.htm.f
Other sites with recommended Mt. Beacon Trolley coverage:
Local and National Radio Station History
Note: In the following chart of NYC radio station histories and competitors from the first years of broadcasting, WOKO is the only station associated with Mount Beacon during this time period.
Ancram Lead Mines
A lead mine complex located between Boston Corners and Pine Plains (Dutchess Co.). Ore was in 2 or 3 small veins on contact of limestone and schist. First worked prior to 1740. (Pulsifer, 1888)
The following item was published on this mine in 1878 (Accessed on 8-11-2011, source http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/county/columbia/ancram2/ancram_lead_mines.htm):
THE ANCRAM LEAD MINE
By Capt. Franklin Ellis
[Ellis, p. 249]
About seventy years ago Henry Keefer had what is called a “stone bee,” at which his neighbors lent their assistance to clear a field of the stone that so greatly interfered with the work of cultivation. While prying out some projecting rock he was struck by the strange metallic lustre it possessed, and upon investigation found it to be lead ore. The farm was held under lease, and Livingston, hearing of the discovery, immediately bought him out and erected a small smelting-furnace, in which he reduced the ore. He continued to run the mine for about ten years. It was then abandoned, and remained idle until in 1836 or 1837 the lease was bought by a New York company, who worked it a couple of years. In 1848, Harmon McIntyre became owner of the mine by virtue of a purchase of the soil. In 1850–March 1–the mine was leased for a period of twelve years to Josiah Sturgis, of New York, who worked it for about three years, and then sold the lease to Alexander C. Farrington for $2000. It remained idle till 1863-64, when a stock company was formed and the mine was fitted up with all the most improved machinery for crushing, washing, hoisting, and handling the ore, at a great expense. The company continued operations about two years, and then stopped, since which time nothing has been done. The shaft was sunk to a depth of one hundred feet, and galleries of varying length were opened in all directions.
Ellis, Capt. Franklin, “History of Columbia County, NewYork”, (1878)
Spafford, Horatio Gates, ed. (1815) “Valuable Lead Mine,” The American Magazine, vol. 1, p. 329.
Lee, Charles A. (1824): Notice of the Ancram Lead Mine (The American Journal of Science and Arts), Volume 47, p. 247-249.