Beacon is a city located in Dutchess County, New York, United States. The 2010 census placed the city total population at 15,541. Beacon is part of the Poughkeepsie–Newburgh–Middletown, New York Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the larger New York–Newark–Bridgeport, New York–New Jersey–Connecticut–Pennsylvania Combined Statistical Area. It was named to commemorate the historic beacon fires that blazed forth from the summit of the Fishkill Mountains to alert the Continental Army about British troop movements.
The area occupied as Beacon was originally settled as the villages of Matteawan and Fishkill Landing in 1709, which were among the first communities in the county. Beacon is located in the southwest corner of Dutchess County in the Mid-Hudson Region, approximately south of Albany, New York, and approximately north of New York City.
In 1683, the land that would come to include the City of Beacon was purchased from the Wappinger Indians by Francis Rombout and Gulian Verplanck, merchant-fur traders from New York City. The sale was confirmed, in 1685 by royal patent issued in the names of Rombout, Jacobus Kipp (as successor to the deceased Verplanck, and Stephanus Van Cortlandt. Rombout died in 1691, leaving his share to his daughter, Catharyna, who later married Roger Brett, an officer in the Royal Navy. The Rombout Patent was partitioned in 1706 with Catharyna Brett receiving about 28,000 acres along the Vis Kill. In 1708 the Bretts re-located upriver from the family home on Broadway to an area near the mouth of the Fishkill Creek and built a grist mill on the lower creek. In June 1718, Roger Brett was drowned when his sloop encountered a fierce squall near Fishkill Landing while returning from New York with supplies. Thereafter Catharyna Brett continued to manage her holdings, becoming a well-respected businesswoman.
Unlike the Verplancks, Livingstons, and other landowners, Madam Brett was not averse to selling land to settlers, although often retaining the right to build a mill. Of paramount importance was the commerce in flour. During the first third of the nineteenth century, Dutchess County ranked first among New York State counties in wheat production, supplying one third of all the flour produced in the State. Madam Brett laid out a free road over her property from the river eastward to the limits of her lands. “Madam Brett’s Road” (now, route 52) ran from Fishkill Landing through Matteawan to Fishkill. The mill thrived, attracting farmers from both sides of the river. Wheat and corn were ground into flour and meal, and shipped to New York. In 1748, Madam Brett, with eighteen others, entered into an agreement for the building of the Frankfort Store House. which stood near the water at the "Lower Landing" north of Dennings Point. This was the origin of river freighting. Fishkill Landing developed into a river port. As early as 1780 two dozen vessels operated out of Fishkill Landing.
Between the voyages of the Half Moon and the Clermont there were two centuries when sloops conducted much of the river traffic. The sloop is of Dutch origin. In its simplest form, it is a vessel of one mast, carrying a mainsail, jib, and generally a topsail. For steering, a long tiller was used. Sloops were a favorite means of travel, and for the shipping of light articles, parcels, and letters. Frequently, better time was made the sloop than by the stagecoach. The Caroline, built by John Peter DeWint and named in honor of his daughter, once made the sixty miles from New York to Fishkill Landing in five hours.
Ferry service between the future locations of both cities had existed in some form at least since 1743. By the early 20th century the fleet had grown to three 160-foot (49 m) coal-fired ferries, the Orange, Dutchess and Beacon, capable of carrying 30 vehicles each. It linked the two segments of NY 52, the major east-west artery at that point. Increasing traffic on 52 by midcentury, however, coupled with the building of the New York State Thruway in the Hudson corridor, was straining the ferry beyond its breaking point. The state's Department of Public Works began planning for a bridge, but it was not a serious possibility until federal money became available through the construction of Interstate 84. Beacon is serviced weekdays by a commuter ferry, The Newburgh-Beacon Ferry, over the Hudson between both cities which helps alleviate traffic to the Beacon Train Station from Orange County commuters. The ferry's route runs between Beacon City Harbor and Newburgh City Waterfront.
The city served a variety of roles during the Revolutionary War. It manufactured war supplies, and served as a fort and signaling point. The city's name came from signal fires that were atop nearby Beacon Mountain. During the 1800s, the city became a factory town and was known as "The Hat Making Capital of the US" with nearly 50 hat factories operating at one time.
During the 1960s, urban renewal led to the destruction of some significant historic buildings. In the late 1970s, the Dutchess Ski area, which had been a large tourist attraction, was closed. Also in the 1970s, a decline in the economy shuttered most of the factories. This decline quickly became a severe and ongoing economic downturn that lasted from about 1970 to the late 1990s, during which almost 80 percent of the city's commercial business spaces and factories were vacant. Starting in the late 1990s, with the opening of one of the world's largest contemporary art museums , Beacon began an artistic and commercial rebirth. New development continues to enlarge the city. Currently, the two largest planned projects are a waterfront hotel and conference center, and "The Rivers and Estuaries Center" on Dennings Point.
Beginning on February 24, 2010, a massive snowstorm affected the city and surroundings. On February 25, Mayor Steve Gold enacted a State Of Emergency, due to total snow accumulations in excess of three feet. The city was without electricity and gas services for over two days.
Beacon is home to one of at least three operating "dummy-lights" in the United States, located at the intersection of Main and East Main Streets. It is a traffic signal on a pedestal which sits in the middle of an intersection, dating back to the 1920s. The other two are also located in New York, in Canajoharie and Croton-on-Hudson.