Looking Back in Beacon

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

150 Years Ago (May 1870)

Charles Bates, who worked at the Seamless Clothing Co. in Matteawan, walked to work 5 miles each way from his home in Canterbury, south of Newburgh. He later moved to Low Point [Chelsea], 4 miles north of Matteawan, and complained that it didn’t give him as much exercise.

Ellen McCarty, who had saved $800 [about $15,000 today] over a number of years working for Mrs. Dubois near Glenham, began to obsess so fervently over the safety of her savings that Mrs. Dubois became alarmed and fired her. When McCarty began stopping at random houses in Matteawan, a county judge ordered her sent to the lunatic asylum at Utica.

125 Years Ago (May 1895)

Minnie Schatzle sued the village of Matteawan for $20,000 [about $600,000 today] for injuries she said she sustained when she slipped on an icy sidewalk on Fountain Square in March.

Matteawan police filed a warrant with the Brooklyn district attorney asking for a prisoner named Frank H. Sutton to be extradited for trial on charges that he was part of a gang that broke into the village post office in February, blew up a safe and shot a constable who responded to the explosion.

Fanny Korn, who had been convicted of killing one of her children, had tried to escape from the state asylum for the criminally insane at Matteawan eight times when she was taken to a court appearance in Newburgh. The female officer who accompanied her, Mary Osborn, stopped at the post office on their return to the ferry boat to mail a letter. When she turned around, Korn was gone.

About the same time, a judge ordered the release of James Haughey from the Matteawan asylum. Doctors from the hospital testified that the inmate was still insane, but two doctors not from the hospital said he just needed some fresh air.

Two employees were seriously burned and suffered broken legs when the cylinder of the centrifugal machine at the Matteawan Manufacturing Co. burst while making 3,000 revolutions a minute and sent fragments of iron in all directions.

The employees of C. Clayton Bourne’s brickyard, near Fishkill Landing, went on strike. Bourne called the sheriff, saying he had been threatened.

Beer, Public Health and the Pandemic of 1918
By Diane Lapis

The 1918 influenza pandemic had a stronghold in Beacon as it did everywhere across the globe.

John Cronin, the city’s commissioner of public safety, lost his brother, William, who lived in New York City, to the disease on Oct. 8. Three days later, a record 95 cases were reported in Beacon, with no end in sight.

John CroninIn response, Cronin issued two health orders. The first closed the schools, moving-picture houses, theaters, churches and Sunday schools, and canceled all public meetings and other public assemblies. The second closed saloons, hotel barrooms, pool and billiard rooms and ice cream and soda-water parlors. Goods were allowed to be sold, but only for takeout.

Eight saloon owners who defied the order were promptly arraigned before a city judge and released without bail. They immediately reopened their saloons and were again arraigned, but this time bail was set at $1,000 each (about $18,000 today). Their attorney advised them to “punch the nose” of any man who attempted to interfere with their businesses, beginning with Cronin.

Cronin ordered the police chief to send his officers to disperse any gatherings, but the chief refused and appealed to the mayor (who was also a liquor dealer), who backed him. Cronin then sent a 200-word telegram to the governor. On Oct.23, a hearing was held at the Mase Hook & Ladder Co. Cronin testified that he had observed 50 men at the Conway Cafe bar and that the bartenders were cleaning beer glasses by dipping them in cold water. Six doctors affirmed that they were treating hundreds of cases and that there were several deaths daily. They noted that disease spread when people congregated and that cold water did not remove germs from drinking glasses.

The case then went to a Dutchess County court. On Nov. 4, Judge C.W.H. Arnold declared that Cronin, under the power vested in him by the City Charter, had the legal authority to close saloons during a pandemic. Each of the eight proprietors was arrested for disorderly conduct, tried and convicted. A reporter described these proceedings as enough “to rival in intensity the liveliest action on the Western front.”

It is not known how many city residents contracted influenza during the pandemic. But the resolve of Commissioner Cronin probably saved many lives.

Lapis is president of the Beacon Historical Society (beaconhistorical.org).

100 Years Ago (May 1920)

Union painters adopted a pay schedule of $6 a day, an increase of $1.50. They argued that $6 was the equivalent of $3 before the war.

K.O. Smith, described as the “cigarette fiend from the State Hospital,” was the favorite in a main bout at the Beacon Athletic Club against Kid Sheldon of Hopewell Junction, but threw in the sponge against the upstart at the end of the third round.

The hotel at the top of Mount Beacon opened for the season with a new steel cable on the incline road. More than 1,000 people went up the first day.

Jack Moaks, who lost the spot for his lunch wagon in Poughkeepsie and attempted to relocate to Beacon, said he was misled by John Cronin, the commissioner of public safety, about whether he could operate there. After shipping his wagon to Beacon and setting up, Moaks said he was told by the building inspector that he was violating an ordinance that prohibited operating within 25 feet of any frame structure on Main Street.

The remains of Corp. George Delahay, who was wounded in combat in France and died at a hospital there of pneumonia, were brought back after burial in England. He was the first Dutchess County casualty whose body was brought home for re-interment. A service was held at St. Andrew’s Church.

In an unusual move, the prosecutor in the trial of a man accused of assault asked the judge to direct the jury to acquit the defendant. The defense attorneys for James Galvin produced multiple witnesses who said that the culprit who hit a Newburgh junk dealer over the head with a milk bottle was actually Joseph Skelly.

75 Years Ago (May 1945)

Charles Nagle retired as chair of the Beacon Republican Committee, after 10 years in which he oversaw every city office, except commissioner of public works, claimed by a Republican. The Beacon Democrats said they were determined to offer a full slate of candidates in the next election.

Corp. Jay J. Newcomb Jr. was listed as a German prisoner of war.

The three sons of Mr. and Mrs. John Bride were each serving in the Armed Forces: Pvt. 1st Class Walter Bride was with the infantry in Italy; Seaman John Bride was training in San Diego; and Sgt. William Bride was in Burma.

Thirty-two people, including two young women from Beacon, were arrested when police raided a speakeasy in Newburgh. Each was fined $10.

Two brothers, ages 16 and 28, were arrested for stealing tires from automobiles parked near the Beacon theater. The elder brother was given 60 days in jail.

Herbert C. Pell

Diplomat Herbert C. Pell spoke at a Memorial Day service in Beacon in 1945.

Herbert C. Pell, a former minister to Portugal and Hungary, and most recently a member of the Allied War Crimes Commission, spoke at a Memorial Day service in Beacon. “We can honor the dead in no better way than by considering the survivors,” he said. “We must see to it that we are a nation and not a mere fortuitous agglomeration of self-seeking individuals.”

Philip Walter, 53, also known as Boob Geeters, was sentenced to three months in jail for assault.

Carol Wheeler of Beacon wrote to President Truman to ask that her husband, who was serving in the Navy in the Pacific, be furloughed to see their 3-year-old daughter, whom doctors said might not live much longer due to a heart condition.

Nine men were arrested by police officers who broke up a game of “skin” in the basement of a Ferry Street home at 4:15 a.m. The officers confiscated $19.

An 18-year-old Beacon man drowned after the canoe he was paddling with two friends overturned in high waves in the Hudson River south of Long Dock. A patrol officer grappled from shore for five hours before he could hook the body; the water was too rough for boats to recover it.

50 Years Ago (May 1970)

The Schoonmaker’s Department Store building, sitting empty at the corner of Main and Chestnut, was purchased by the Beacon Furniture Co., which planned to move its operations there from 165 Main St. The firm was founded 1937 by Philip Isaacs at 155 Main St. and in 1940 moved to 165 Main. When Philip retired, his son Marvin took over the business.

Schoonmaker Building

The Schoonmaker Building (Beacon Historical Society)

Corinne Pine, 17, a senior at Beacon High School, was named the 1970 Dutchess County Loyalty Day Queen.

The chairman of the Beacon Republican Committee said a “small clique of miscontents” was trying to destroy the local party by protesting its decision to find a member guilty of disloyalty because he ran on the Conservative Party line for commissioner of finance.

After a group called People Against Pollution asked the Beacon council to ban pesticides such as DDT, which was used to kill mosquitoes, the city’s health officer said “there is no basis or foundation to any claim that cancer may be the result of such spray.” [The federal government banned DDT in 1972.]

Curt Stewart

Curt Stewart in a 1969 magazine ad for Brut aftershave

Curt Stewart, who had moved to Beacon with his family from South Carolina at age 11, appeared in a television series, A Town Without Shame, that was unusual in that it had no script; the actors improvised the dialogue. His film credits included Putney Swope, Cotton Comes to Harlem and The Landlord.

The 2,500-acre Hudson Highlands State Park was dedicated by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller on Breakneck Ridge. The preserve had been purchased with $1.5 million from the state and $1.5 million from the Rockefeller family. Conservationists first called for the area to be preserved as a state park in 1931, when a stone quarry began eating away the face of Mount Taurus. In 1963 Central Hudson said it planned to build a power plant near Breakneck Ridge and in 1967 Georgia-Pacific said it would construct a wall-board plant on Little Stony Point. Both plans were dropped. About 100 state corrections officers were among the 250 people who hiked with the governor to the foot of Breakneck for the ceremony; they were there to protest their stalled contract negotiations.

A woman was charged with shooting her husband dead with a single shot to the chest from a .22 caliber pistol. Four of their five children, who ranged in age from 22 months to 10 years, were home at the time, police said.

Two patrolmen who responded to a call about a crowd gathered at 294 Main St. helped deliver a baby boy.

25 Years Ago (May 1995)

Serial killer Ricardo Caputo went on trial for the 1974 death of his court-appointed psychologist at the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He had been sent to the Beacon facility after being found incompetent to stand trial for a 1971 killing. The psychologist had him transferred to a minimum-security facility on Wards Island, and, while on a weekend furlough, he strangled her in Yonkers. Caputo fled to San Francisco, where he killed a third woman in 1975, and to Mexico, where he killed a fourth in 1977. (He also was a suspect in two other U.S. murders.) He returned to his native Argentina, married and had four children, but in 1994 turned himself in to U.S. authorities, saying he felt guilty. [Caputo changed his plea during the trial and was sent to Attica, where he died in 1997 of a heart attack.]


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One thought on “Looking Back in Beacon

  1. I grew up in Beacon, born in Cold Spring. I left in 1998 but still visit. Beacon in the 1980s was wonderful — everyone knew everyone!