George Atkinson, 96, lives in the same house in Beacon where he was born in 1927. His responses are excerpted from an interview for the Beaconites podcast.
What was your early childhood like?
I was 2 years old when the stock market crashed and my whole childhood was spent in the Depression. We were pretty fortunate. My father had a job, and my older brother had a job, so we weren’t as bad off as some. It was a week-to-week struggle, but we got through it. My father’s name was Richard Atkinson and he worked for the New York Rubber Co. Rubber was a pretty stable industry throughout the Depression. One of the big products was conveyor belts for the coal mines. My mother was born in Ohio, but her mother’s family was all here in the Beacon-Newburgh area. Her father was a coal miner who got injured when my mother was about 3 years old, and he couldn’t continue working in Ohio. So they moved back here to what is now Beacon.
Tell me about the house where you were born.
I think the price was $2,400. My parents moved in and my father started to renovate the house with what money was available. Little by little it got to be a decent home. It was paid for and I figured I didn’t want to get involved with paying a mortgage on another house, so it worked out pretty well.
How old were you when you had your first job?
My father died a year before Pearl Harbor and my middle brother, Richard, was drafted into the Army. So at 14 I was the man at the house. In the high school they had a brand-new machine shop and a brand-new woodworking shop. For any kid who was mechanically inclined, it was like going to heaven. I went to work in a machine shop, making the steering mechanism for the Liberty ship motors. The Liberty ships were freighters carrying freight and troops all over the world.
Except for people like doctors and lawyers, nobody had expectations of ever going to college; they simply couldn’t afford it. Back then, if you wanted to go to the Beacon doctor for something, nothing too serious, you paid him $2 for an office visit. If he came to your house, it was $3. But still, he was wealthy. He lived in a big house, had twin tennis courts alongside, belonged to the yacht club, had a yacht, flew airplanes, and was one of the first ones to have a television set.
What do you think of the recent changes in Beacon?
The whole Hudson Valley got pretty run-down for a long period, from Yonkers all the way up to Albany. In Beacon, we’re in pretty good shape right now. But progress creates a lot of problems, also. My contention right now is with all these four-story apartment buildings. You got more and more cars feeding out into the old horse-and-buggy streets. If you try to park on Main Street, you’re gonna have a hard time.
How do you spend your time these days?
Well, I’m a 73-year member of the Presbyterian church, I belong to the historical society and I’m involved with an organization called the Experimental Aircraft Association. All over the world, people are building their own airplanes. Now, I never got to build an airplane, although I wanted to. But in our local chapter, one member is building an airplane. I go up once a week and do what I can to help. It’s a night out and a little camaraderie.
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