Looking Back in Beacon

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

150 Years Ago (April 1872)

The steamer Neversink docked at Fishkill Landing to take aboard a 3,000-pound hat press to be delivered to New York City. When two deckhands were halfway across the gang plank, it snapped and the press and men dropped into the river. One hand was quickly rescued; the other, John Murray of Catskill, disappeared. His mates lowered a weighted line where they thought he might be, and he grabbed it, but they could not pull him up. A deckhand dove in and found Murray alive but with his legs beneath the press. He tied a rope around Murray’s arm and the men made another attempt but could not rescue him. The Neversink departed, and Murray’s body was recovered the next day.

A landslide near Glenham covered the railroad tracks with 3 or 4 feet of mud.

About 25 feet of the deck railing of the ferry Fanny Garner, traveling from Newburgh, was torn away when it was pushed by the wind into the Dutchess Junction pier. “The lady passengers were badly frightened,” reported The Cold Spring Recorder.

The Matteawan Enterprise reported that counterfeit nickels made of lead were in circulation.

A case of varioloid — a mild form of smallpox that affected people who had already been infected or vaccinated — was reported in Matteawan.

Following the wake for a 38-year-old Newburgh woman at her home, her widower and another man agreed to remain with the body as overnight “watchers.” In the middle of the night, they were awakened by smoke and the crackling of flames; candles at the feet of the corpse had ignited the shroud. They escaped, but the heat was so intense that every pane of glass within 6 feet shattered.

Local property owned by the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad was scheduled to be auctioned at the Orange Hotel in Newburgh after the firm defaulted on its $1 million mortgage. Along with a ferryboat, its holdings included Denning’s Point on the east side of the river, and a dock, store and warehouse on the west side.

Locomotive No 1

Locomotive No. 1 of the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad was built in 1863. (University of Connecticut)

Benjamin Higgs was jailed on a charge of setting fire to the barn of the Glenham Manufacturing Co. Higgs was notorious because of his testimony in an 1866 lawsuit filed by the Francis de Wint family of Fishkill Landing, who said they had been swindled in a land deal. Higgs testified that the landowner had hired him to plant oil on the property to increase its perceived value, earning him the nickname “the swamp angel.”

125 Years Ago (April 1897)

The propeller ship Ramsdell left the pier at the foot of Franklin Street in New York City at 5 a.m., made four landings in an hour and was moored at Newburgh by 9 a.m., a distance of some 60 miles.

Orville and Charles Conkling, two of the fastest bicycle riders in Matteawan, according to the Fishkill Standard, announced they would use only Fowler racers during the current season.

Susan Haight celebrated her 84th birthday at the Teller House, where Gen. George Washington often stopped. She was the last surviving daughter of Confederate Capt. John Haight.

According to an account in the New York World, a few minutes before her death at age 69, Mrs. Edward Thomas of Fishkill Landing looked through her eyeglasses at a sweeping view of the Hudson. About three weeks later, her daughter saw what she thought was a smudge on her mother’s spectacles. On closer examination, it appeared that the irises and pupils of her mother’s eyes had been imprinted on the lenses, apparently by the sunlight. The spectacles were sent to Columbia University for examination.

Beacon Jewish History

The Beacon Historical Society and Beacon Hebrew Alliance have collaborated on an exhibit that explores 100 years of Jewish history and culture in the community.

The free exhibit, which continues through April 30, is open to the public at 61 Leonard St. The society also has created a virtual walking tour of former Jewish businesses on Main Street. See jewishbeaconhistory.com.

Sarah and Jacob Ritter

Sarah and Jacob Ritter, shown here about 1940, were founding members of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance and local business leaders. (Courtesy Frank Ritter)

Among other topics, the exhibit covers Jewish immigration to the Hudson Valley; notable early Jewish residents of Beacon; the vacation resort Camp Nitgedaiget (later Camp Beacon); the founding of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance in 1921; the changing role of women; and Jewish veterans of World War II.

The Beacon Historical Society is open Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment. Call 845-831-0514.

100 Years Ago (April 1922)

More than 1,000 men attended a smoker hosted by the Beacon council of the Knights of Columbus. The undercard of a four-round boxing exhibition between two Poughkeepsie fighters included a son-and-father bout between Midget and Pete Vidman of Newburgh.

A gang of about 10 armed robbers held up a northbound New York Central Railroad freight train overnight. Police believed the gang members parked at Roseton on the west bank of the Hudson and took motor boats across about 4 miles north of Beacon. Two crooks had boarded at Harmon while the others waited in the brickyard sheds along the tracks. Someone pulled the air brake to stop the train as it traveled about 6 mph up an incline. The men forced the engineer to uncouple the locomotive from the seven freight cars and continue toward Poughkeepsie. Police surmised the gang was targeting a train that passed by 15 minutes earlier known as the “silk and money” special; the seven cars of the one they hijacked were filled with sugar.

Cornelius Keheler purchased the eight-acre Thompson estate at the foot of Mount Beacon and said he planned to open a tourist hotel.

Samuel Lewis Jr. visited Beacon as a member of the staff of the grand chancellor of the Knights of Pythias, who was speaking at a convention. In 1911, as chief of the bill-drafting bureau of the state Assembly, Lewis had written a charter for the city, which would be formed in 1913 by merging Matteawan and Fishkill Landing.

The city attorney called City Judge Ferdinand Hoyt “a nuisance” when the jurist visited the finance commissioner and asked to see the invoice submitted by Thomas Shannon, who had been paid $400 by the mayor as an informant against local establishments allegedly violating temperance laws. The city attorney ordered finance clerks not to answer questions from Judge Hoyt or any reporters from the local newspaper, which the judge happened to own. The mayor then called on Hoyt to resign; the judge said he would if the mayor went first.

Mary Hinkley, the superintendent of the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, was held in contempt for failing to produce in court a 20-year-old Brooklyn woman whose mother had sued for her release. The woman had been committed to the reformatory at age 14 “on the charge of improper guardianship,” according to the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. After being released to the custody of Fred Burbrow of Beacon, described as “a newspaperman,” the woman “got into trouble and returned to the home,” the paper reported. “She has refused to name the man responsible for her condition.”

Seven Spanish and Puerto Rican immigrants — none of whom spoke English — were sentenced to 10 days in the Dutchess County jail on the complaint of Samuel Beskin, the former mayor of Beacon who was constructing a dam at Wingdale. Beskin said he hired 30 men from New York City as laborers, but that the seven were unhappy with the conditions and robbed the other 23 of shirts, razors and watches.

The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News noted that, while the water in Beacon wasn’t so great and its milk sold unpasteurized, two residents had recently celebrated their 80th birthdays and another turned 100.

Although John Yaccarine of Beacon survived the war, his mother continued for more than three years later to receive letters from the Graves Registration Commission asking where to ship his body. Yaccarine lost a toe during a battle on Sept. 27, 1918, and was taken prisoner for several months, which may have led to the confusion. His mother was informed on Dec. 24, 1918, that he was dead and soon after began receiving commendations and citations in his name.

75 Years Ago (April 1947)

Because the Beacon charter had no provision that allowed the City Council to fill a vacant seat — W. Vincent Grady had resigned to become county district attorney — it was left to Gov. Thomas Dewey. The local Republican committee voted 8-7 to ask Dewey to appoint Richard Gerentine, president of St. Rocco’s Society.

A 25-year-old Ferry Street man was accused of stabbing a Beekman Street bar owner in the face with a penknife.

Members of Mac’s and Beacon Bombers couldn’t agree on a time to play the deciding game of the city basketball title series, so they were named co-champions. The league said the Bombers wanted to play on a weeknight and Mac’s insisted on Sunday. Mac’s blamed the Bombers, saying the team had postponed the game three times because of alleged injuries, while the Bombers accused Mac’s of filling its roster for the playoffs with college players.

The newly constructed First Presbyterian Church was dedicated; the previous sanctuary had burned down in 1943.

The American Legion hosted its first drum competition since before the war.

Thirteen employees of Castle Point veterans’ hospital, including seven residents of Beacon, were injured when the bus they were riding to work overturned on Route 9D. The driver said something went wrong with the steering as he rounded a curve.

Thomas Hanlon, owner of the Wonderbar, died at Highland Hospital.

A 64-year-old Beacon man on his way to Cold Spring with his wife to see his heart doctor went into cardiac arrest as the train passed through the Breakneck Tunnel and was pronounced dead at the Cold Spring station.

50 Years Ago (April 1972)

A group of Black students at Beacon High School presented a play, Nation Time, Nation Builders, written and directed by Curt Stewart, a city native who was starring in the PBS series, Our Street. “It’s not the regular, standard American play,” he explained. “It’s free-form. Each character has his own plot — this is the direction of the young Black artist.”

Curt Stewart

Curt Stewart, a Beacon native, starred in the PBS series, Our Street.

The Mid-Hudson Council of Mayors met for the first time.

Members of the Beacon Jaycees helped monitor an election at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville in which prisoners selected 27 members for a newly formed Inmate Liaison Committee.

The principal from Sargent Elementary reported to the school board on his early impressions of an experimental open classroom that combined students from kindergarten through second grade. He said discipline problems had decreased and that some 5-year-olds were reading at the first- and second-grade levels.

The Poughkeepsie Journal profiled Jacob Moreno, 81, a psychologist who in 1935 established the Moreno Sanitarium and Institute at 259 Wolcott Ave. Moreno, who studied in Vienna with Sigmund Freud, was credited as an early practitioner of group therapy, “sensitivity sessions,” “sociometry” and “psychodrama,” or “exploring the truth through dramatic methods.” He claimed that President Lyndon Johnson once sought his advice because he was unsure how to act while receiving the English prime minister at the White House. Moreno said he told Johnson to act out the encounter beforehand, playing both roles.

Jacob Moreno

Jacob Moreno in the early 1960s

25 Years Ago (April 1997)

The Poughkeepsie Journal named Luke Dysard, a Beacon High School senior, as its wrestler of the year. Competing at 220 pounds, Dysard finished 28-5 and won the Section I title.

David Lemon, who had been commuting by train to New York City from Beacon for 20 years, told a reporter that Metro-North had much improved. “When I began, there were maybe 20 of us getting on at Beacon,” he said. “On some days, the train wouldn’t show up and we would drive down to Croton to catch it there. Sometimes the Amtrak train would take us on.”

In the first vote held by the Howland Public Library District, residents approved a 3 percent increase in the annual budget, to $410,000. The vote was 223-210.

Advocates for the disabled rallied in a park across the street from the Tallix foundry on Fishkill Avenue to protest that none of 10 sculptures in a new memorial in Washington, D.C., for Franklin D. Roosevelt showed him in a wheelchair. (Tallix had cast two of the 10 sculptures.) The president used a wheelchair from 1921, when he contracted polio, until his death in 1945. [The design team had reasoned that since Roosevelt did not show his disability in public, they would not, either. However, a statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added in 2001.]

Roosevelt

A bronze statue by Robert Graham of Roosevelt in his wheelchair (National Park Service)

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