Looking Back in Beacon

Editor’s note: Beacon was created in 1913 from Matteawan and Fishkill Landing.

150 Years Ago (March 1870)

The Matteawan Herald reported that “200 girls in the village are dyeing to get married. Rather old girls they must be.” It also reported that “Miss P___” made a marriage proposal to a young hatter. “She claims women have as good a right to make an offer of marriage as a man has.”

The Herald reported that “[Mr.] Millerton has a girl 18 years old, who can speak her mind freely. She spoke a few nights ago at a Methodist meeting, telling one of the deacons that it was time for him to leave off lying and live up to what he professed.”

Benjamin Beach, of Matteawan, was in possession of a silver watch that had been in his family for 160 years.

The Port Jervis Evening Gazette reported that “Fishkill Landing is one of the meanest places on record. They shuffled off a poor helpless man on a neighboring town, refusing to give aid themselves. It is a wonder that they had sufficient charity to direct him to Newburgh, where they knew he would be cared for.”

The newly organized Peabody Life Insurance Co. announced that its New York agent would be W.T.Y. Schenck, of the machinist firm H.B. Schenck & Son in Matteawan. “Capt. Schenck has been for some years indirectly connected with life insurance, and brings a large circle of acquaintances throughout the entire state,” it said. “He is a gentleman of the highest standing and of quite considerable wealth.”

The right arm of James Hopper, of Fishkill Landing, a brakeman on the Hudson River Railroad, was crushed while coupling cars at the station and had to be amputated.

125 Years Ago (March 1895)

Henry Piano, of Fishkill Landing, who led the West Point band for 18 years, was granted a military pension payment of $400 plus an allowance of $12 per month. [According to a 1902 story in The New York Times, Piano was born at West Point in 1822, the son of Louis Piano, who “served in the French war with Napoleon and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Waterloo.” The Times said the younger Piano, who had retired to Fishkill Landing in 1867, “walks miles about town every day, attending to the tuning of pianos and giving instructions on that and other instruments.”]

The Fishkill Electric Railway Co. was incorporated to build and operate a street surface railroad from Matteawan to the Village of Fishkill.

The Fishkill Electric Railway garage near South Chestnut Street (Beacon Historical Society)

Charles Robinson, 73, of East 44th Street in New York City, died at his home. He was known for the fine horses he bred at his family farm at Fishkill Landing. He made his fortune investing in mining interests in Colorado and California and the Northern Pacific Railway.

John Russel, who bought a wagon in Matteawan “just as it is,” took that to include the several blankets inside. When the seller objected, it cost Russel “$10 besides the return of the blankets to settle the matter,” according to the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. The paper warned its readers to be careful, “as there are a great many swindlers in the country, and it is very evident that Matteawan is not in want.”

A judge ordered the release of William Harris, 28, from the Criminal Insane Asylum at Matteawan. He was supposed to have been released months earlier, but the superintendent of the facility said he thought Harris was still insane.

Another inmate at the Matteawan asylum, Thomas O’Connor (alias Edward Doyle), 20, escaped after being transferred to a facility in Brooklyn. Soon after the escape, the attendant who had been with Doyle disappeared, suggesting to authorities it had been an inside job. Doyle was said to have “a mania for committing suicide.”

A group of men and boys looting a shanty in Byrnesville (a suburb of Fishkill) days after its owner died at a friend’s home in Matteawan found a large stash of hidden bank bills and silver coins. It was unexpected because John Corcoran had been a coal heaver. The New York Herald reported “the shanty is to be torn down in the quest for more of the money.”

The State Eclectic Medical Society, which promoted the use of botanicals and physical therapy, elected Dr. A.R. Tiel of Matteawan as its president.

D.S. McLaughlin of Fishkill Landing sold his tobacco and cigar route, horses and wagons to John Schwartz & Sons of Poughkeepsie. McLaughlin had done his route, which covered Fishkill, Wappingers Falls and Cold Spring, and into parts of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, for 40 years.

100 Years Ago (March 1920)

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the population of Beacon was 10,926, or 3.5 percent more than the combined populations in 1910 of Fishkill Landing and Matteawan.

The Mount Beacon monument, about 1900 (Library of Congress)

Richard Hoctor, designer of the Mount Beacon monument (at right) and others at the West Point cemetery, died in Newburgh.

The will of Elizabeth Barnard, signed an hour before her death, was presented for probate. Although her estate was worth $10,000 [about $150,000 today], she had refused to make a will. On her deathbed she dictated her wishes to a friend and was said to have signed the document — “Elizabeth” filled half the width of the page and “Barnard” less than a quarter of an inch.

Twenty-five men competed in a 16-mile walk from Beacon to Poughkeepsie. “Some of the best walkers in Dutchess County have been entered,” noted the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. Walt Knauss finished in 2:29:10 and won three trophies: for arriving first, for reaching the city line first and for being the first soldier or sailor to finish.

Anthony Faurellet died of “sleeping sickness” [encephalitis lethargica] — the first local fatality in an epidemic that had been confined to New York City.

Ferdinand Hoyt, who resigned as city judge to fight in World War I, returned home to discover that the man appointed as his successor, Daniel Dugan, was running to keep the seat. It was too late for the Democrats or Republicans to nominate Hoyt, so he won on the Citizens’ Party line.

Pvt. Daniel Merritt, an Army machine-gunner, won two citations for bravery, one in Belgium and one at the Hindenburg line. At the same time, Harrison Holmes was cited for bravery by the U.S. Navy for submitting to experiments at a naval hospital for the treatment of influenza.

75 Years Ago (March 1945)

Twenty state troopers on a Saturday at 4 p.m. raided two illegal gaming dens — Speeds Smoke Shop at 342 Main St. and the Men’s Independent Club at 238 Main St. — and arrested 32 players and six operators. Beacon police said they were not aware of the raids until after the fact. At the subsequent jury trial of the operators, an undercover officer said he lost $20 playing craps at 238 Main St. In response, the men’s defense attorney, Daniel Prior of Albany, told the jury: “On the door there is a sign, ‘Members Only.’ They played for 25 cents and gave refreshments free. They had to pay the rent and it was paid out of the contributions. The state police rushed in and took everything they could. I hope they will admit they took some liquor out of the cellar. They took a sledgehammer and smashed everything to smithereens. I don’t know why they should do that.” All six operators were convicted.

Frank “Dough” Dubetsky, Joseph Myers and Francis “Speed” Dubetsky were arrested in Beacon on gambling charges in 1945.

The South Avenue school was evacuated after dense smoke filled the second-floor hallways; firefighters discovered the assistant janitor’s trousers, hanging from a hook in a closet, were smoldering and two feather dusters nearby were aflame. The fire chief said that wooden matches in a pants pocket had ignited.

Harriet Brewer of Beacon was presented with an Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster at Mitchell Field on Long Island, both awarded posthumously to her son, Tech. Sgt. Frederick Brewer, who had been killed in action.

Beacon boxer Melio Bettina fought fellow heavyweight Jimmy Bivins to a draw at Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 15,000. Although Bivins was a 3-to-1 favorite and knocked Bettina down for a one count as the bell ended the fifth of 10 rounds, Melio recovered and managed a draw, with one judge scoring it 5-5, the second 8-2 Bivens and the third, 6-4 Bettina.

Jimmy Bivins of Cleveland (left) and Melio Bettina of Beacon fought 10 rounds before 15,000 fans at Madison Square Garden in 1945. It was a draw.

50 Years Ago (March 1970)

A hearing held by the Public Service Commission on the weekend closing of the Penn Central ticket office at the Beacon station lasted three hours as residents complained about the railroad service.

The Beacon Savings Bank said that, as part of a push for urban renewal, it would allocate $500,000 in lending funds to assist lower-income families, $500,000 for FHA loans and $250,000 for property improvement.

The Beacon Housing Authority opened bids on $3.2 million in notes to finance the construction of the nine-story Forrestal Heights project for the elderly to alleviate what the agency said was a “critical housing shortage” in the city.

The Beacon High School boys’ basketball team finished as the best offensive and the worst defensive team in the Dutchess County Scholastic League. Beacon’s Jerry Williamson led the league in scoring, averaging 22.3 points per game.

The state authorized a 44-bed addition to Highland Hospital, bringing its capacity to 125 beds.

Firefighters rescued nine children from a fire at 98-100 Beekman St. that left eight families homeless.

25 Years Ago (March 1995)

The Beacon City Council moved forward with a plan to spend $19,000 to install security cameras along Main Street. City officials said it would be less expensive than hiring two police officers.

During a meeting at Beacon High School, Detective Thomas D’Amicantonio told concerned members of the Parent Advisory Council that most of the gang problems in Beacon had been “minor so far. If they escalate, so will we.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at St. Andrew’s Church, called on Hudson Valley residents to join him and about 20 other marchers who were walking from New York City to Albany to protest “mean-spirited” budget cuts they blamed on Gov. George Pataki. They earlier had protested outside Pataki’s Garrison home (below).

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