Looking Back in Beacon

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

150 Years Ago (January 1873)

A herd of 17 cattle belonging to a Chenango County drover broke through the ice while crossing to Newburgh but were finally got out by the exertion of men from shore with ropes and planks.

On a Saturday night at Fishkill Landing, a crowd was alighting from a northbound train when a southbound lightning express that was running late shot past at full speed and caused several narrow escapes from death.

A son of William Mosier of Matteawan nearly lost an eye in a bizarre accident. He was lying on the floor in front of a sofa where his brother was reading the newspaper in his lap with an open knife lying on it. The knife slid off the paper and missed William’s pupil by a half inch. He was expected to recover.

While visiting his stable on a Sunday morning, Maj. Albert Wescott of Glenham discovered a horse with a broken hind leg. It had apparently been kicked by its mate in the stall.

A convict who escaped from Sing Sing prison in Ossining managed to reach Fishkill Landing just before daylight. Cold and weak with hunger, he spotted a white cow and fed himself from one of her teats. At nightfall, he continued to his former wife’s home in Poughkeepsie. He knocked on the door at 1 a.m. and, when the new owner, Mrs. Sylvester Warren, cautiously answered, the man immediately dropped into a chair. Mrs. Warren lit a lamp and gave him food. As it happened, a neighbor named Martin Lougherman recognized the visitor as James Brady, a convicted horse thief. He knew this because Brady had stolen his horse, and he had testified against him. He alerted the police, who detained Brady.

Conductors on the New York Central and Hudson Railroad complained about a new system that required them to make five punches to each ticket. As an example, if a man traveled from Dutchess Junction to Fishkill Landing, the conductor needed to punch “Jan” and the day, “Dutchess Junction” and “Fishkill” and finally “10” for the 10-cent fare. He then returned half the ticket to the passenger.

Wolcott house

LOST HISTORY — Diane Lapis of the Beacon Historical Society says it doesn’t have any records of the home that burned at Wolcott and Teller on Jan. 3, although it was considered a Second Empire style popular from about 1855 to 1885. “The mansard roof gives a sense of stateliness and grandeur and the home was built for a wealthy family,” she says. “The shape was a simple box form with symmetrical windows and doors.” The original owner may have been C. Eugene Jaynes, who worked for the railroad in Yonkers and came to Beacon in 1880, she said. He died in 1915 and his widow lived until her death at age 95 in 1953. Later in the decade, the local paper advertised rooms to let in the house. The home appears at the lower right in an 1886 map of Fishkill Landing, below. (Photos courtesy Beacon Historical Society)


125 Years Ago (January 1898)

The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded the Matteawan school board discipline a physiology teacher who allegedly killed a cat with chloroform and dissected it in class. The principal said the teacher was being unfairly maligned; he said she had only shown organs taken from a cat to her students, some of whom grew nauseous and later complained to their parents. When the board declined to pass a resolution offering its support for the teacher, and instead banned all dissections, she and the principal each resigned in protest.

James Hancock, a Matteawan farmer, said one of his cows gave birth to a two-headed calf that lived a short time.

Five women took part in a wood-sawing contest for charity at the Dibble Opera House in Matteawan. Spectators paid to watch the women saw pine sticks, about 2 inches in diameter, for two minutes, rest for two minutes, repeat the process and finish with one minute of sawing. Belle Moshier easily won first prize, a gold watch, sawing through 47 sticks, followed by Ada Trainor with 20.

The Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminal Insane hosted a minstrel show for 500 village residents performed by patients and guards.

Lt. Eugene Antonio, a member of the Salvation Army in Matteawan, was nearly gored by a bull on Samuel Mahurter’s farm. The Salvationists were taking a tour when Antonio wandered into the enclosure. When the bull charged, Antonio grabbed its horns and was taken for a ride until his cries brought rescuers.

New York City police officers raided four Wall Street firms accused of swindling customers, including Everett Patterson, a telegraph operator at Matteawan. He testified at a hearing that after he invested $200 and received $87 in profits, he was offered a 65 percent return on $1,000 [about $36,000], which disappeared.

A 16-year-old Wappingers Falls girl who went missing for three days said she had been at Fishkill Landing with her married supervisor from the overalls factory. The girl told her mother she was going to the post office but instead met with John Seaman, 25, at the Methodist Church and traveled in his wagon to a hotel. Seaman, charged with abduction and rape, was released on bail to his home in Poughkeepsie, which was soon surrounded by 200 girls from the factory who had brought tar and feathers. The girls also passed a resolution to blacklist Seaman from the United Garment Makers union. [In May, Seaman pleaded guilty to the abduction but said he was so drunk that nothing more criminal had taken place.]

Charles Barton, who ran express delivery between Wappingers Falls and Fishkill, stopped his wagon in Hughsonville when flagged down by a cousin, John Moshier, who needed a ride. After they had gone a short distance, Barton asked Moshier to take the reins and apparently went to sleep. Three miles later, when the wagon reached the stables, Moshier discovered Barton was dead.

100 Years Ago (January 1923)

A judge ordered that voter registrations be mailed to 152 residents in Beacon who could not vote in the November primary because the election board ran out of forms. The voters were instructed to take the completed forms to City Hall if they wanted to vote in the Jan. 30 primary.

Eugene Daly, formerly manager of the Paragon Theatre, left Beacon for a better job as manager of the Century Theatre in Baltimore.

A 45-year-old Beacon man who worked for the ferry company drowned when he fell into the river. He and a co-worker were tying up the last boat of the night when he slipped on the deck and fell into the water. His co-worker managed to grab his hand but, after a few minutes, could not hold on because of the cold.

John Palisi of Beacon High School donated a pint of blood to a classmate, Ogden Seaman, for a transfusion operation at Vassar Hospital. Many other students had volunteered but Palisi was chosen after blood tests.

A Friday morning fire destroyed a two-story building at Beekman and Main streets, displacing seven families. One firefighter, Augustus Bopp, was overcome by illuminating gas [used for lamps] while rescuing occupants.

A branch of the Kiwanis Club was founded with 50 charter members.

A jury awarded Josephine Smith and her son, George, $1,350 [about $23,000] in damages following an auto crash. George was driving his mother’s new touring car, purchased the previous day, through Beacon when he said he pulled to the right to let a Tidewater Oil Co. truck pass. Instead, the two vehicles locked hub caps. The truck driver said that, in fact, he had moved to the right and the Smiths struck him.

FOUND HAT — This hat traveled from the Debway Hat factory at 1 East Main St. in Beacon to the head of Pvt. Peter Roger Silva of California, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. The Beacon Historical Society purchased the hat on eBay. The factory opened in 1935 and was one of the largest hat manufacturers in the city, according to Diane Lapis of the historical society. Debway also made caps for female tour guides and attendants at the New York’s World Fair in 1939. (Photo courtesy Beacon Historical Society)

75 Years Ago (January 1948)

William Hamm, the longtime director of physical education at Beacon High School, was told by the school board that his job had been eliminated but he could apply for the new position as physical education instructor for $750 less per year. Hamm said he would think about it. “This is the best job I ever had in Beacon because I am through at 2:30 p.m. and can go out in the country with the chickens and humans,” he said. Hamm had irritated the board by submitting an overtime bill, for coaching the cross-country team, which it declined.

The New York Central Railroad Co. paid a $38,000 settlement [about $470,000 today] to the widow of a signal-maintenance worker who was electrocuted while cutting wires on a Beacon bridge.

50 Years Ago (January 1973)

Anthony Degelormo, who lived on Dutchess Terrace, asked the City Council to issue ID cards for door-to-door salespeople because many “won’t identify themselves and are difficult to get rid of.” The mayor said that because the city couldn’t screen out bad actors, it would effectively be licensing people to commit criminal mischief.

A proposal to build a 12-story apartment building on Fishkill Avenue between Main Street and Verplanck returned to the Planning Board for the sixth time in six months. Although a consultant suggested restricting the height of any building to 100 feet, the board recommended a zoning change to allow up to 13 stories and 135 feet.

During his annual State of the City address, Mayor Robert Cahill said: “1972 will be looked upon as the year of turnaround for Beacon. For the first year in a very long time, the thinking of the residents of the city has turned positive.”

The commissioner of public works chastised Main Street residents who were putting their trash on the curb four or five days before collection.

Because of student violence during the lunch period, the Beacon High School principal suggested to the school board that it be eliminated by reducing classes by three minutes each and ending the day at 1 p.m. Over the previous three weeks, a student had choked a teacher, another slammed a door into a teacher’s face and three others struck a custodian with a shovel. The board blamed the overcrowded, poorly lit school building, while the Rev. David Houston of the United Methodist Church said the bigger problem was that most residents “want someone else to solve the problems at the lowest cost possible.”

Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team, coached by Beacon native Digger Phelps, defeated Marquette, 71-69, to end its 81-game home winning streak.

William Few

Col. William Few

Funeral home director Dick Phelps (the father of Digger Phelps) sifted through the Chrystie family vault at the Reformed Church to collect the bones of Col. William Few, one of the signers of the Constitution, so they could be reburied in his native Georgia. A New York banker, Few died in Fishkill Landing in 1828 while visiting his daughter. His burial site was in question until 1939, when a resident entered the vandalized vault and found a silver casket plate with his name amid the debris.

Douglas Clarke, a Beacon native who was jailed in 1948 for refusing to give information to an Orange County grand jury while he was news editor at The Newburgh News, died of a heart attack at age 57 at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he was the Sunday editor. Clarke was sentenced to 10 days for refusing to reveal how he obtained two illegal lottery tickets as part of a story about gambling in Newburgh.

In a four-part series in The Poughkeepsie Journal, a reporter examined housing, race relations and economic change in Beacon. In Part 3, Jim McKenna, who had moved from New York City 10 months earlier, said: “A lot of our friends have come up to visit and have fallen in love with the place. In fact, one of my friends has decided to move here.” Another resident observed: “Do you realize that the prices for comparable homes in Westchester are nearly double what they are in Beacon? Sooner or later, Beacon is going to reach that point.”

A developer revealed plans to construct a shopping center called the Dutchess Mall on Route 9 south of I-84 with 70 stores, including Macy’s, and the potential for 1 million square feet of retail space.

25 Years Ago (January 1998)

Metro-North committed $300,000 to study whether it could create a commuter service from Beacon to Brewster to connect the Hudson and Harlem lines. A major challenge would be crossing Routes 9 and 52.

The state installed E-Z Pass tolls on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

After its boiler died, the Howland Public Library closed for a week, then reopened with space heaters.

A judge delayed the sentencing of a 19-year-old honors student who pleaded guilty to vehicular assault following a high-speed police chase through Beacon at 3:30 a.m. The judge said he would suspend the case until late May, after the defendant finished his term at Marist.

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