Follow the Hudson River north from Manhattan, travel past the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, past the Bear Mountain Bridge in Garrison, even. Keep going until you hit the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. You may think you’ve gone too far, but there we are on the east bank of the river, nestled at the base of Mt. Beacon (elev. 1,611′). Mt. Beacon used to be known for having the steepest incline railway in the country. A century ago, city folks would travel up the Hudson on steamship, ride the trolley up Beacon’s Main Street, then take the railway straight up the mountain to play at the casino that was located at the top. Today it lies up there in mysterious ruins.
The artists here are still inspired by the Hudson. “Mount Beacon Dawn” by local photographer Robert Rodriguez, Jr. © Copyright Robert Rodriguez, Jr.
I moved here in 2006, looking for an affordable place to focus on my work that was within train distance to the city. Beacon had a coffee shop and a yoga studio, satisfying my two primary requirements for civilized living. The rest of town was in the beginning stages of “gentrification.” Dia:Beacon, the larger-than-life home to Dia Foundation’s permanent collection, had opened in 2003 and many talented artists followed. Here I found a wonderful, warm community of like-minded creative types. Amid the beautiful, crumbling brick, Beacon immediately felt like home.
View from my first place in Beacon. The old brick building has now been rebuilt into a stunning restaurant, bar, and event center.
Each summer, I help organize Windows on Main Street, a public art exhibition along Beacon’s Main Street. It’s really cool — 40-50 Beacon artists (oh, there are way more than that habitating here!) install site-specific artwork in the retail storefront windows along our mile-long Main Street. It’s a testament to the fantastic scope of Beacon’s artistic class.
Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
Over the last seven years, the New York Times and others have written about our city numerous times, continually hailing it as the “art destination” of the Hudson Valley. It’s true, there are more galleries than coffee shops along Main Street, and the living-artist population continues to grow as more young entrepreneurial families move out of Brooklyn to the “Williamsburg of the Hudson Valley.” Just last week, Bloomberg News wrote about how we’ve “shed our crummy image.” But Beacon shop owners continue the struggle to keep inventory moving during the winter months when there are far fewer tourists. Secretly, I think we loyal residents don’t want too much fuss about our little town. It’s nice when the post office staff knows your name and face, and I hope Beacon stays that kind of place.