Once a bustling manufacturing town best known for its brick and hat factories, Beacon, like many towns along the Hudson, fell on hard times in the 20th century. Many of its 19th-century buildings were boarded up or covered with dust. The town was used as the setting for the 1995 movie Nobody’s Fool, starring a down-and-out Paul Newman.
In the last few years, however, revitalizing change has come to town, thanks largely to Dia:Beacon, a major contemporary arts museum which opened here in 2003, bringing gentrification in its wake. During its first year of operation, Dia:Beacon attracted almost 100,000 visitors—twice as many as projected.
Main Street now boasts artsy clothing boutiques, bistros, and antique shops, while second-home owners have jacked up real estate prices.
Mount Beacon towers over the city and has played an important role in the town’s history. During the Revolutionary War, the colonists set signal fires on the summit to warn their compatriots of British troop movements. During the early 1900s, a casino serviced by a funicular sat atop the mountain—the tracks are still visible today.
Housed in a 240,000-square-foot former printing plant, Dia:Beacon (3 Beekman St., 845/440-0100, www.diabeacon.org, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Thurs.–Mon. May–Oct., 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Fri.–Mon. Nov.–Apr., admission $10) displays the permanent collection of the Dia Art Foundation, an innovative arts institution based in New York City. Among the highlights on display are Andy Warhol’s 1979 Shadows, composed of 102 paintings; Richard Serra’s monumental Torqued Ellipses series; a large-scale sculpture by Walter De Maria; a series of fluorescent light works by Dan Flavin; and Agnes Martin’s 1999 suite of paintings Innocent Love, created specifically for Dia:Beacon.
Redesigned from a factory into a museum by artist Robert Irvin, Dia:Beacon sits on 34 landscaped acres peppered with flowering fruit trees. The museum is within walking distance of the Metro-North train station, and on weekends, the Beacon Shuttle trolley bus provides transportation to various stops in town.
At the Mount Gulian Historic Site (145 Sterling St., 845/831-8172, 1–5 p.m. Wed.–Fri. and Sun. Apr.–Oct., 1–5 p.m. Wed. and Sun. Nov.–Mar., adults $7, children $4), you’ll learn about the Dutch, Native American, and African American culture of the Revolutionary War–era Hudson Valley. Costumed guides conduct tours.
Though it’s open by appointment only, the 1708 Madam Brett Homestead (50 Van Nydeck Ave., 845/831-6533), built by Catheryna and Robert Brett, has an interesting history. After the death of her husband by drowning, Mme. Brett succeeded in establishing the region’s first thriving business venture—the Frankfort Storehouse and Mill. The locals used to joke, “All roads lead to Mme. Brett’s mill.” During the Revolutionary War, Catheryna’s granddaughter entertained Generals Washington and Lafayette here.
“The meeting and eating spot of Beacon” is Quinn’s (330 Main St., 845/831-8065), an old-fashioned town café with a big American flag outside and great homemade bread, meat loaf, potato soup, and rice pudding inside. Also on Main Street, and housed in an 1880s former bank building, is The Piggy Bank (448 Main St., 845/838-0028), serving Southern barbeque; the former vault is now a wine cellar.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition