On our last field trip of the class, we headed to Beacon, NY, where we visited a magazine publisher, The Valley Table, and then went out to explore the town.
Beacon is a small city in the Hudson Valley – just 90 minutes away from New York City by train (Metro-North). Beacon is a popular day-trip destination amongst the city crowd – situated across the riverbank from Newburgh, similarly laying just south of I-84 corridor. With a bustling and attractive main street, a factory turned contemporary art museum in the form of Dia:Beacon, a thriving arts community, and the nearby Mt. Beacon, there is certainly a lot to do in this Dutchess county community. Perhaps one of the most glaring examples of a blossoming “arts” community in the Hudson Valley – it is hard to miss the influence that the processes of gentrification has made its mark a distinctive mark on the city’s urban landscape.
THE VALLEY TABLE
Our first stop in Beacon was the office of a regional food magazine known as The Valley Table. Situated on the second floor of a historic building – just above a popular restaurant specializing in cheese and sandwiches , we were greeted by Janet Crawshaw, the publisher, who introduced us to the rest of the magazine’s small team.
The magazine staff had set up a small space for us to sit and chat, and be presented to. Best of all, they treated us to some delicious doughnuts, apples, and cider – and gave each of us (except Ray) a bag of Irving Farm coffee beans. Janet gave us some interesting background information about the magazine and a primer on the Hudson Valley’s culinary scene and its growth since Janet’s direct intervention in it.
The Valley Table had been established in 1998 by Janet and her husband, with the aim of celebrating the Hudson Valley’s culinary history, traditions, and contemporary state of culinary arts in the regon. In her own words, she wanted to bring together the various regions of the Hudson Valley and highlight the region’s distinct identity through its unique food culture and geography. By highlighting the quality of food and local produce in the region, the magazine supported local agriculture and businesses – encouraging a form of sustainable urban, agricultural consumption – for instance, she talked about how the revival of the hard cider industry and growing interest in the many breweries and distilleries in the Hudson Valley has supported the region’s farms and orchards, thus preserving its unique place character, its historical commodities and its landscape.
After leaving the offices of The Valley Table, we headed down main street, heading westward towards the river, in search of of nothing in particular, but that which caught the eye. To our great fortune, a few blocks west of our first stop we walked slightly north on Chestnut, and found ourselves outside of the Hudson distillery by the name of Denning’s Point Distillery, founded in 2014. This structure is part venue, distillery, and according to the head distiller – also a farm. Those of age and present were able to get a little taste of the flavours offered at the site, and all of us got a quick run down of the basics and background of distilling, the distiller, and the historical forces that came to define the properties that constitute what Whiskey is and means. The head distiller was quite a friendly person, full of knowledge into the intricacies and the sociotechnical systems that enable the modern distillery.
Walking down Beacon’s Main Street was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The city in general was very walkable, with tree-lined streets and interesting shops, businesses and restaurants to pop into. The streets were not very broad, and about similar in comparison to the rest of the Hudson Valley’s small towns and cities. Similarities in zoning are also common to the rest of the valley. Main street is lined with all types of businesses, and those that appear to arise where there are what shall be for this instance deemed “the bohemian”- such as the classic olive oil store, artisan goods, galleries and curated antiques, boutiques and bars. One of our classmates pointed out a glass blowing shop, and we also spotted an eyelash extension studio. I particularly liked the Beacon Creamery, an ice cream shop with a cute bear mascot.
We then crossed Wolcott Ave, which divides what appears to divide the town from the uphill/downhill. We crossed Wolcott, accidentally crossed the police station, and found ourselves walking to the other main street. Nearby, there appeared to be an erection and construction of a relatively large structure. As we walked onto the riverbanks of Hudson, we noticed that there started to be an abrupt change in zoning along this lower Main street. Another brewery, and an auto repair shop were overlooking a residential area that descended into the Beacon train station beside the Hudson. Along the way to the train station, we walked past a residential area, which also felt rather wealthy.
Perhaps a result of its proximity to New York City and its reputation as an “artsy” town, Beacon represents a larger, more visible trend of gentrification in the Hudson Valley. On the one hand, it makes for a vibrant, bustling community and city with curiosities of its own – on the other hand, rents and property prices have risen as a result, no doubt pushing out the area’s lower-income residents. We passed by realtor while exploring the town, and one of the nearby houses being sold had a hefty price tag of $450,000. As was the case with New Paltz and to a lesser extent, the rest of the cities we visited, there was the phenomena of second-home buyers from the city driving prices up, along with restaurants and businesses and entrepeneurs entering these towns in waves of inhabitation and investment– particularly the Dia:Beacon catering to these hip, wealthy visitors from the city or out-of-town.
That being said, I think the city has done a good job preserving its own unique small-town character and reviving its main street such that all its residents benefit from a highly-walkable public space – which is a desirable form of urban fabric in itself, and an amenity in such an aesthetically gifted sector of the Hudson Valley.