This weekend is a big one - it is the Spirit of Beacon Day (ALBB will be there!! Look for our South Avenue Elementary float!) on one side of the Hudson River, and Newburgh Open Studios on the other side. For the first time in decades, a ferry between Newburgh and Beacon will be running on Saturday and Sunday, and it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a huge deal, actually, that’s been in the making for some time, involving several groups of people working together to make it happen.
Normally, the only way to get to Newburgh on the weekend - or mid-day, any day of the week - is by crossing the Newburgh-Beacon bridge by car, and hoping that there isn’t a traffic jam or bottleneck at either exit ramp. The ferry was first established with a charter from England’s King George II in 1743; that means its claim to fame - “it was used during the Revolutionary War” - holds up! Ferry service continued between Newburgh and Beacon for 220 years. During that time, many factory workers from both sides of the Hudson ferried across the river. In days past, the boat was larger, could carry up to 30 cars, had separate entrances for men and women, and offered additional fees for bikes and strollers.
In 1963, when the Newburgh-Beacon bridge was built, ferry service was discontinued. It returned in 2005 to accommodate commuters mainly from Newburgh, who wanted to hop onto the Beacon train to New York City. If you wanted to catch the ferry for a simple ride over to Newburgh during the middle of the day or the weekend, you weren’t able to. But many have wanted to, with various public opinion polls popping up over the years.
Who Decides To Say “Yes” To Making The Ferry Available?
As you see artists and businesses promote the limited weekend run of the ferry for the Newburgh Open Studios and Spirit of Beacon Day, you may have thought to yourself: “Oh, I’m glad that happened. It will be fun to take the ferry. The ferry must be something that someone can just green-light whenever they want. How delightful to cruise across the river in a ferry.”
And that assumption would not be correct. Well, the trip across the river is delightful, but it turns out, it has taken an entire commission of people on the Newburgh Transportation Committee, county legislators, the county executive, the local government leaders from both Beacon and Newburgh, Newburgh’s planning commissioner, and others to put this together. The first people to connect A Little Beacon Blog to this effort were Cher Vick of the Newburgh Restoration blog, and Naomi Hersson-Ringskog of The Department of Small Interventions and the Newburgh Chapter of the Awesome Foundation.
At a September meeting of the Beacon City Council, the trial-run weekend concept was put to a resolution, and the council members had to vote on whether or not they agreed to this limited ferry schedule. Beacon Mayor Randy Casale spoke about pushback he had heard from some Beacon businesses, who feared that Beacon would lose business to Newburgh. The City Council agreed to wait and see if a dip indeed happened, and voted unanimously in favor of powering up the ferry this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29) as well as the weekend of October 19-20, 2019.
How Some Beacon Businesses Feel About The Increased Ferry Service
At the City Council meeting, Mayor Casale issued words of caution about the increased ferry service, to protect Beacon businesses. Owners of Max’s on Main, Richie and Harvey Kaplan, were there to ask whether Beacon businesses had been polled about this move. Harvey recalled when he and his brother looked for a space to open their bar/restaurant in 2005 during a time when there was not a lot of business on Main Street in Beacon. They hunkered down, and other businesses followed in ensuing years.
“Other businesses came to Main Street, and we grew. Along the way, there were concepts that came. They wanted to build some stores down on the water and it was rejected because there were so many businesses on Main Street,” Harvey recalled, stating that he was Vice President of the Beacon Chamber of Commerce at that time. “If you want to try it… I would think about it very carefully before you let it go every day. It would hurt the businesses who have worked very hard.”
Council member Amber Grant reached for middle ground: “I would like to see how that [expanded service] goes and how it plays out in reality. The Loop bus runs [Beacon’s free bus that goes from the train to Main Street] on Saturday. You have an easy transportation method. Maybe it would be a positive impact.” Her sentiment was echoed by other council members, including Jodi McCredo, who asked to hear from Beacon business owners.
Another business owner, Kamel Jamal, owner of Beacon Bread Company, Tito Santana Taqueria, Ziatun, and (once again) Angelina’s in Cold Spring, also does not agree with the ferry service, saying this on Instagram: “All our NYC tourists can now jump on a ferry to the Newburgh waterfront. Orange County now gets our county and city tax revenue and gets our sales too. It’s a bad deal.”
Before the feeling of being trapped on an island (or being kept in a Beacon bubble) enters your mind, we reached out to see what others thought.
A Little Beacon Blog’s Small Poll Of Beacon Businesses
Recently, we here at A Little Beacon Blog added a new member to our team, Project Manager Teslie Andrade. She lives in Newburgh, drives across the bridge to our office, and was thrilled at the idea of increased ferry service. So we inquired with a few other businesses to learn about their situations.
We also spoke with our business neighbor, Scott Tillitt, founder of BEAHIVE, the community workspace who has two locations in Beacon, a hive in Albany, and has just announced a long-awaited expansion in Newburgh in the Wireworks building. How does he feel about the increased ferry service? “There’s already a lot of flow between Beacon and Newburgh,” observed Scott. “By expanding BEAHIVE to Newburgh, I hope to build a metaphorical bridge between the two creative communities. Increased ferry service that serves more than just commuters will help create a more literal bridge. Personally, I share a car with my partner Amy, and I can foresee times when the ferry would come in handy if I need to get over there and she has the car. (Granted, we live right above the train station, so it’d be super easy.) I know others in the same boat (haha). And I imagine it will only help drive foot traffic in both communities.”
As for the restaurant community, we reached out to Greg Trautman, owner of the renovated Beacon Hotel located on Main Street: “I feel people in Newburgh like to come to Beacon, and people in Beacon like to go to Newburgh. Making it easier to connect helps both.”
Barb Fisher, owner of Barb’s Butchery located on Spring Street just over Fishkill Creek, said: “It’s not likely it’ll affect me... but I think more is better. Maybe people will come to Beacon from the other side of the river.”
Beacon is not the same city it was in 2005. Thanks to the businesses and the home and commercial renovations that have transpired, the “tipping point” that everyone was talking about in 2009/2010 has tipped, and we are in a state of pouring, or rushing water. Council member Jodi, ever concerned with traffic congestion on Main Street and Route 9D, pointed out that “Beacon has been written up a lot lately... I see it freeing up traffic on 9D. Parking. I definitely understand those concerns, but I do see benefits.”
Businesses opening up now in Beacon are benefiting from major national news coverage that A Little Beacon Blog has done a round-up on. While every city and community should be cautious about its growth, Beacon may not need to underestimate itself and fear a developed waterfront of restaurants like on the Newburgh side. People like to eat, shop, learn, explore, and be inspired. This will happen whether they are driving, walking, biking, and maybe now boating across.
As an aside, taking the ferry across the river is a stress-relieving way of traveling, and scenic too. You’re floating in between two mountain ranges!
Local Government’s Take On Increased Newburgh-Beacon Ferry Service
Dutchess County Legislator Nick Page, who represents Beacon, has been working on increasing the ferry service. “My feeling is that Beacon would be well-served to increase connection with Newburgh, both socially, and, especially in the mid- to long-run, economically,” Nick told A Little Beacon Blog.
“The conversations that I’ve had with Beacon business owners over the summer in regards to a weekend ferry option have shown an interest in increased connection and an understanding that our success here is more than a zero-sum game - a dollar spent in Beacon is more than simply a dollar not spent in Newburgh, and vice-versa. Overall, the more that we can sensibly offer, and the more that we can engage, the better off we’ll be.”
After the trial service was approved and set into motion, the City of Beacon’s City Administrator, Anthony Ruggiero, distributed a press release that shared opinions from several political levels:
Beacon Mayor Randy Casale: “The Spirit of Beacon is a day to bring the city together and get to know one another better, learn to know what each other liked in conversation, feelings, entertainment, education and food. And now this same spirit is being extended to the City of Newburgh. Only [by] working and supporting each other can the region thrive.”
Newburgh City Manager Joseph Donat “thanked Alexandra Church, Director of Planning and Development for her around-the-clock efforts to make this happen. The City of Newburgh also extended its thanks to Orange and Dutchess counties, as well as to Beacon. This service will encourage people and families who live on both sides of the river to discover more of each other’s neighborhoods and communities, just a 20-minute ride from each coast.”
Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus: “Orange County is thrilled to partner, and cost-share this service, with our friends in Dutchess County. I encourage everyone to go out and enjoy the great experiences we have to offer along the Hudson River.”
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro: “This partnership will benefit residents in both communities, giving us another avenue to showcase some of the many locations and amenities that make us distinctly Dutchess. We are happy to have partnered with our colleagues in the Dutchess County Legislature, as well as our friends in Orange County, to make this collaboration a reality.”
Unpacking This Ferry Development
We have more articles about the possible increased ferry service. More, you ask? Is there really more to running a ferry? There is! Articles to come:
IMPORTANT FERRY INFO
Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29
Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19
Saturday: 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday: 10 am to 4 pm
DEPARTURE: Boat leaves Newburgh at the top of the hour. Boat leaves Beacon at the half hour.
Newburgh: Newburgh Washington Street Boat Launch (2 Washington Street)
Beacon: Beacon Institute Dock, located on the Beacon waterfront by the Metro-North Train Station. Note: this is not the regular MTA dock, but is next to it.
COST: $2, cash only