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Many, many thanks to the nearly 200 people who came out tonight to support the Beacon Historical Society at our inaugural Beacons of History Awards! Individual Honoree Clara Lou Gould and Business Honoree Hudson Beach Glass are both great examples of those who appreciate and celebrate Beacon's rich history. This was a fundraiser for our new home at 17 South Avenue -- thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who contributed to our success! See you next year!
Presented by Robert J. Murphy
President of the Beacon Historical Society
There is an old French proverb that reads: “Happy is the country which has no history.”
This saying seems paradoxical to us today … especially in light of our hometown’s own rich past. More apt for our purposes would be this rephrasing: “Happy is the city with a history to tell.” Beacon has history a-plenty, and for more than 40 years the Beacon Historical Society has carried on the happy task of fulfilling our mission--to procure, preserve and present the history of this very special community.
In comparison to other area societies, we were late-comers to the party. Our sister city Newburgh, for example, founded its historical society way back in 1884. Perhaps it was this impression of a city-without-an-historical-identity attached to us that spurred a small group of like-minded Beacon citizens with a passion for local history to form the Beacon Historical Society in 1976. That was the same year that our nation “happily” celebrated its bicentennial, and it seemed the perfect time to launch an organization dedicated to telling Beacon’s story.
Our society’s founders were of the generation born between the great wars of the last century, Beaconites who had grown up during the Depression and then served their country so honorably in World War II. Our new Society was made up of men and women who were known and trusted in Beacon. So when they asked friends and neighbors to share memories and to lend out their precious family photographs, scrapbooks and Beacon mementos, the community willingly did so, and thus the society’s early collections of Beacon’s history began to grow.
They knew then (as we do now) that history can be fragile, often ephemeral—easily lost or quickly disappearing to fire, the dumpster, the bulldozer, and, increasingly, the highest bidder at an auction house. Their task then (as it is ours today) was to make our history real and relevant; to tap into our community’s imagination by describing what once was, and what can be again today. Put simply: history imagined is history remembered.
Just imagine, for example, a young Franklin Roosevelt coming here to Beacon in 1910 to give his first political speech. He is running for the state Assembly and he passes right past us up East Main Street—then called Fountain Street—headed for the waiting throngs of well-wishers at Fountain Square.
Or imagine, again in 1910, a young actress named Mary Pickford who with her famed movie director D.W. Griffith and his film-making entourage of the Biograph Movie Studio are riding the electric streetcars on the rails outside this Roundhouse. They are headed for the Mount Beacon Incline Railway which they will ride to the top and there film the movie, “The Song of the Wildwood Flute.”
Or imagine it is January of 1777, and a cold and weary John Adams, traveling from Boston to Pennsylvania, is close by and urges his faithful horse up-and-over what we today call Hell’s Hollow on Mount Beacon—the colonists’ shortcut pass from the Fishkill Depot across a rocky mountain trail to the foothill streets of Beacon and then down to the Fishkill Landing ferry. Adams would liken this passage “to crossing the Alps” in a letter to his wife Abigail. Hardly could Adams then imagine that, years later, his granddaughter Caroline would marry into the DeWindt family and make her home here in Fishkill Landing.
For four decades now Beacon Historical has been telling Beacon’s stories to all who would listen, recreating the lives and times of people both famous and ordinary. Of late, in our small office space at the Howland Cultural Center, our collections were spilling over onto the seating. We were hopelessly beyond Feng Shui …we needed a new home.
By now, you know where this story is going: Things have changed for the better, and as I stand here this eventful evening, I can imagine all of my late friends and colleagues—those founders who built this Society and since have passed on—figuratively standing alongside me and cheering for us. For their long held dream—that of a permanent home for Beacon Historical—finally has become a reality.
So I feel honor-bound to mention a few of the hallowed names of leaders and benefactors from our Society’s past—names probably unknown to many here tonight—as I offer my invitation to all of you to come visit our new home at 17 South Avenue.
… Come visit us and read the 19th century journals of the ex-slave James Brown—journals so lovingly transcribed by former city historian Joan Van Voorhis. Come in to our new home and see the local bottles collection, and the old Beacon postcards collection that our good friend and longtime member Gordon Ticehurst doted upon; Come see the ship models—especially the ferry “Beacon”—painstakingly crafted by one of our most generous and talented members, Jack Stearns; Come in and handle actual Revolutionary War letters about Fishkill Landing—collected by our Society’s first president, Lud Ruf; Come peruse the military records of every one of Beacon’s Civil War veterans, all dutifully collected from the Library of Congress by member Derry Dubetsky.
You see, we are like that person in every family who takes on the job of steward of the family’s history—the Great Aunt of yours or mine who saved all of Grandma’s letters … or the inquisitive second-cousin who quizzes everyone in the family until he has filled out all the names on the Family Tree … We are that steward, that repository, of our family’s—that is, the city of Beacon’s—memories. We are the Beacon Historical Society.