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Report from the road: Beacon, NY

September 5, 2010

I’d heard about Beacon, NY several times in recent years in the context of arts & cultural revitalization. I happen to go pretty close by when I take my oldest to and from college, so today I finally checked it out.

Beacon is a town of about 15,000 on the Hudson River. According to City-data.com, the town’s median income in 2008 was about $59,000; the median for New York State is $56,000. The median in 2000 was $45,000.

Check out their map on the home page of their website. When you hover over a peg and then click it, you get the name and location of a gallery, restaurant, or whatever. They have the pegs color-coded by category, too.

Beacon’s renaissance was aided by the opening of Dia: Beacon, one of the largest contemporary arts museums in the world. It’s located in a former Nabisco box-printing plant.

Their Main Street is interesting in that it’s got a stretch of just incredible red brick architecture, where virtually every storefront is occupied, then a stretch of 1950s architecture that is kind of rundown, and then another stretch of charming, upscale shops, which includes the Bank Square Coffee House. That’s where I am right now, taking advantage of the free WiFi. (I’ll have you know that I’m not a WiFi mooch! I did have a vegan chocolate, chocolate & cherry chip cookie that was melt-in-the-mouth crumbly and oh-so-chocolate-y, too)

Back at the other end of town, there are galleries, vintage clothing, several cafes, a wine bar, an Irish pub, real estate offices, antiques, and The Beacon Theater, which is in use while it’s being restored. (Why, oh why, can’t Pottstown still have the Hippodrome or the Strand??). Get this: In The Beacon’s window there’s a sign that says, “Thank you to the Planning Board for our facade approval!”

Along all of Main Street, right now there’s an exhibit called “2010 Windows on Main Street, Uniting Art & Commerce.” Local artists do installations in the windows of the shops. Stores & cafes have piles of large postcards with a map of Main Street, designating the locations of the installations. So you can see interesting stuff even when you’re just browsing. The exhibit runs from Aug. 14-Sept. 11. There are opening & closing receptions. The town is also having 4 different musical events on 9/11 at different times/venues in town.

Okay, I’ve got to get going to find their waterfront and then head home. I’ll update you on that tonight. I’m sorry I don’t have my camera with me!

Beacon’s Riverfront Park is separated from their dowtown by a few streets and the Metro-North Railroad‘s Hudson Line and station. It’s a pretty nice park that’s got a pier and a piece of land, with lawn and trees, that juts out into the river. It’s got a beautiful view of Newburgh across the river and of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The park has a couple basketball courts, volleyball, grills, and playgrounds. It was filled with lots of people coming and going, as was the train station. The park seemed to be used mostly by locals, bringing big coolers, grilling and having fun. Apparently, I missed the river pool. It must be on the other side of the basketball courts, which is the northern tip of the park.

In the area of the pier is the Sloop Club, out of which the Woody Guthrie sails. It’s a replica of a Hudson River ferry sloop. Free sails are offered. From the website: “Launched in 1978, her purpose is to promote the beauty and wonder of the Hudson River by offering free sails to the public and sail training to volunteers. Only by experiencing the power, serenity and sheer glory of this American treasure will we as a people be inspired to cherish and protect it, and thereby ourselves.” The Club holds or participates in many festivals during the season to raise funds for their environmental programs.

Lessons to take away from Beacon, NY
– Main Street is home to many arts & cultural attractions, food/drink businesses & has kayak rentals.
– Waterfront is geographically separated from downtown, about a mile away, but accessible by foot, bike, car or Metro North railroad.
– Waterfront is not overtly commercial. Lots of opportunities for outdoor activities, which are generally free. – – There is a year-round Sunday Farmers Market.
– The Hudson River near Beacon is much wider than the Schuylkill River in the vicinity of Pottstown.
– Dia: Beacon museum, which is also not in the town center, draws large crowds that come downtown & help sustain businesses.
– I didn’t notice any lots, but the on-street parking was free!

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6 Comments
  1. September 7, 2010 12:57 pm

    My old stomping grounds Sue.
    I used to live just downstream in Cold Spring and I still have some friends who bought in Beacon when that was considered a questionable investment.
    In part, it was their example that helped convince me to buy in Pottstown.
    Another important point is the railroad you mentioned.
    I also lived in another Hudson River town, Ossining, for several years.
    Cold Spring, Beacon and Ossining all had train stations connecting them to Manhattan.
    I was also familiar with the commuter lines internal to Westchester County, the Harlem Line.
    And I will say although having a train station did not automatically mean a downtown could thrive (Ossining during my time there being a case in point), I saw few downtowns that thrived without one.
    There were people who lived in Cold Spring, whose downtown revitalized around upscale antique stores, who commuted the hour-plus train ride to the city every day.
    I hope the stars align and we can finally get rail service into Pottstown. I agree fervently with Gen. O’Dell, that it will be “a game changer.”
    No, it will not magically eliminate the traffic on Route 422, but it will provide an alternative that people who tend to be attracted to more urban sustainable living, such as Pottstown has to offer, find very important.

    • September 7, 2010 2:23 pm

      You said it – I hope rail service comes back too. It would be huge. Interesting that you lived in those towns – what’ s Ossining like today? I only know of it because of Sing Sing. Did you ever read Newjack by Ted Conover? That’s one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years.

      • September 8, 2010 8:15 am

        I’m afraid I don’t know what Ossining is like today. I heard it was on the way back up, but I don’t know enough to say so definitively.

        Never read that book either but I will add it to my very long list.

      • September 8, 2010 8:38 am

        Newjack is the story of the writer, an investigative journalist, going undercover and getting a job as a guard at the prison. (He had requested access to do some reporting and had been denied.) I think he worked there for a year, madly scribbling notes as soon as he got off his shift every day. Risky business, but we get a really interesting perspective of how it is on the inside.

  2. September 9, 2010 10:56 am

    Interesting.
    My father wrote a book, titled Reality Police, the Experience of Insanity in America, for which he got himself committed to an asylum for a week or two to get the inside story.
    It is indeed a risky business.

    • September 9, 2010 2:34 pm

      Whoa! I have to get my hands on a copy of that… I see they have it at Amazon. The plot thickens…

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