Part of the Hudson Valley’s River Town Revival: Beacon, NY
Photograph by Michael Nelson
Just 90 minutes north of New York City, Beacon, in southwest Dutchess County, has fast emerged as a quaint oasis for urban denizens in search of more subdued settings. Despite the fairytale backdrop, they can still easily reach their Manhattan offices via the Metro-North Railroad.
Two years ago the city, created out of a merging of two early 18th-century villages, Matteawan and Fishkill Landing, celebrated its centennial. Named after Revolutionary War-era smoke smoke signals atop the Fishkill Mountains warning George Washington the British were coming, Beacon was developed on land first purchased from the Wappinger Indians in 1683.
The circa-1901 Mount Beacon Incline Railway, then the steepest in the world, was a popular tourist draw to the city, but its manufacturing past is especially colorful. Beacon once thrived as the hat-making capital of the country. Additionally, some of the first American-made lawnmowers were crafted during the 1860s and 1870s in a factory and textile mill that is now the site of the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, a modern, David Rockwell-designed boutique hotel.
Such stylish accommodations would have been unfathomable in the midst of Beacon’s mid-century, post-industrial slump. That all changed with the 2003 arrival of Dia:Beacon, a sleek, sprawling outpost of the gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, in the old Nabisco box-printing factory on the banks of the Hudson. It reignited a cultural revolution in a city home to longtime resident Pete Seeger, the folk legend instrumental in helping clean up polluted Hudson waterways.
All these developments, along with charming housing stock, appealed to Lynnette Marrero, a New York bartender, consultant, and co-founder of the all-female bartending competition, Speed Rack. She and her husband, Ty Baker, bought their home, a farmhouse dating from the 1890s — located up on a hill and tucked away from Main Street’s hubbub — in 2007 after growing frustrated by New York City co-op prices. She knew someone who grew up in Cold Spring and raved about its idyll, so with Beacon being the next city over, decided to explore its own charms. “There was a speakeasy bar from the 1920s in the house, and it just spoke to me,” Marrero says.
Quinn’s Restaurant (left) and Hudson Beach Glass in Beacon
Marrero and Baker found more than a beautiful, affordable home, however; they also discovered a warm, convivial setting. “Being on this side of the river, with access to the train, makes it realistic for people who need to go back and forth to New York City,” says Marrero. “It accommodates the lives of entrepreneurs and freelancers well, so there’s a real creative community here. It’s great to be part of a town with so much edge.”
The Victorian and Tudor homes that fill Beacon are certainly alluring alternatives to cramped New York city apartments. Charlotte Guernsey, principal broker and owner of Gate House Realty, says that her “bread and butter customers are families from Brooklyn who just had a kid.” However, for those urbanites craving a luxe condo feel, Guernsey can also provide that type of experience in the form of a few forthcoming developments, including 1 East Main. These residential live/work lofts on the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls campus are outfitted with high ceilings, private rooftop terraces, and large windows flaunting mountain and creek views. “If it’s the kind of place you’re looking for, it’s hard to find here, so we’re very excited about it,” she adds.
Since launching her real estate firm in 2001, Guernsey has seen myriad changes in Beacon. “Prices were so reasonable back then and DIA had just announced it was coming,” she says. “It was the land of opportunity, and attracted a lot of investors and pioneers.” Main Street, quiet at the time, is now bustling with local businesses. Guernsey has sold 30 buildings since setting up Gate House and she points out there’s now very little inventory available for newcomers amid the slew of favorites such as Bank Square Coffeehouse.
Beacon’s Incline Railway (left) and DIA:Beacon
Beacon’s artistic inclinations also appeal to Marrero. She loves how all Second Saturday of the month galleries and stores such as Artisan Wine Shop and the new record shrine, Sound Shack, stay open until 9 p.m. hosting receptions and tastings. “Beacon is really varied in age and demographics, so it represents what New York is truly about. We all come together during this event,” she adds.
In Marrero’s opinion, craft-brew destination, the Hop, was one of the first spots in the neighborhood to attract younger locals coming in simply to hang out over pints. Dogwood Bar & Restaurant is another favorite, as is Quinn’s, “a quirky Williamsburg-like place with beer, music and a Japanese-meets-American food menu,” she says. “But it’s places like the historic live music venue, Towne Crier Café, that really bring in everyone.”