Historical Hike | Meet Madam Brett, See The Factory Ruins While Hiking The Park

Find this view when you turn right on the trail and go past the mill. Shown in video below.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

Linking Beacon’s industrial past with its nature-loving, creative present, Madam Brett Park provides a unique ecological map of our city, including waterfalls, marshes, hunting grounds and habitats. Take in the various sights along boardwalks and dirt trails to see the remains of places that helped to form Beacon as we know it today, and to become an industrial powerhouse known, at one time, as the “hat-making capital of the US.”

The Nuts and Bolts of the Madam Brett Park Hike

A parking lot is off to the left once you go under the old train trestle just off Tioronda Avenue.

The entry point from Tioronda Avenue. Go under the old train trestle.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

According to Google Maps, it is two miles from the Newburgh-Beacon bridge via 9D. Start your visit at the park's east end, taking in the scenic Tioronda waterfall from the observation deck. The deck itself was part of the old


(a gate that controlled water flow), and you can still make out some of the foundation which was built across the falls.

A cement wall is part of the sluiceway that you will walk across as part of your hike east, headed toward the small waterfalls.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

This foundation is part of the sluiceway that controlled the creek's flow for the mill, and also was part of a structure that pulled trains across the creek. You will be climbing up it! The entry into the creek is worth it.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

The trails within

Madam Brett

are a gentle, fairly even mile, scraping the Fishkill Creek and the old

Tioronda Hat Works factory

, adjacent to the park in the large brick building via woodland or gravel trails and a boardwalk. 

The boardwalk along the old mill when you turn west to hike along the Fishkill Creek.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

Old ruins of a hat factory, seen as you walk along the boardwalk.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

At the entry to the boardwalk, take a look at what remains of the iron-truss Tioronda bridge, built between 1869 and 1873 (a

nd, for safety reasons, mostly torn down in 2006

) with its rare bowstring design. 

Old remains of the Tioronda Bridge.

Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

The twelve acres of parkland is full of all kinds of wildlife. Much of the woodlands surrounding Madam Brett is devoured by flora and fauna - just as it was in the Colonial era, when Madam Brett first laid eyes on the place. The banks, creek, hillside and marshland are home to a diverse set of animals, including predatory birds such as osprey and bald eagle who hunt and nest here, muskrats, and a large selection of fish and amphibious animals. In the spring, striped bass and shad journey up the Hudson to spawn here. Make sure to stop and take in several vistas along the marsh and creek, where the views are serene and plentiful. Listen for the variety of bird calls, and the train that passes now and again along the lazy tidal wetland.

The History of Madam Brett Park

As the trail itself now connects to Denning's Point, so does the history of Madam Brett’s land. Catharyna Rombout Brett (1687-1764) became the first European settler in Beacon, in large part due to the Rombout Patent. After her father, Frans Rombouts (sometimes spelled Francis Rombouts), died in 1691, Catharyna became an heir to her family’s third of a stake in the Rombout Patent. Twelve years later, 16-year-old Catharyna married Roger Brett, a lieutenant in the British Royal Navy who had arrived in the colonies with Lord Cornbury. The newlyweds took up residence in the stately Rombout family home in lower Manhattan. Roger Brett became a vestryman

for Trinity Church for several years as they enjoyed great wealth. However, after her mother passed away in 1707, Catharyna and Roger were left with very little money, an enormous house they couldn’t afford, and thousands of acres in the remote Hudson Valley wilderness. After the Rombout Patent was partitioned among the owning Van Cortlandt, Verplanck and Rombout (now Brett) families, Catharyna received more than 20,000 acres on the lower Fishkill Creek. They mortgaged the Rombout home in lower Manhattan, and - portending such migrations 300 years later - relocated with their sons and slaves to the remote and wild lands of what would become lower Dutchess County. 

The Madam Brett homestead.

After building their Homestead (the original Rombout Patent document is displayed at her historic home), the family got to work. While still relatively wild, Madam Brett saw the plot of land where Fishkill Creek let out into the marshy waters and into the Hudson River as opportunity. It was a popular spot for local farmers and Native Americans to congregate, sell and trade. The family soon built a gristmill on the land that married the creek and the river, and started to lease other partitions of land to farmers.

View Of The Fishkill Creek From The Boardwalk

While this was a very successful venture, tragedy would soon strike again for young Catharyna Brett. During these Colonial times, farmers in the region would ship their produce down the river to Manhattan on sloops run by Roger, a former Navy officer. One day, his sloop was struck by a freak storm upon returning from his delivery in the city, and he drowned in the Hudson. A widow at the age of 31, Catharyna partnered with George Clarke, secretary of the province and former partners with Roger, to make several key land deals in order for Madam Brett to become the sole proprietor of her land and the gristmill.

Running and maintaining the mill became the center of her life. Catharyna also looked out for the locals, to whom she provided food, clothing and servants. Aside from her fellow colonists, she became friendly with the local Wiccopee tribe, allowing them to camp on her front yard and spending time in their village. Her children Thomas and Francis could often be seen playing with the local Sachem (tribe leader) Nimham’s children. This relationship also proved beneficial when, during a financial dispute with Poughkeepsie settlers, Native Americans were sent to attack the Brett family, but the Sachem’s son warned them and the Bretts were able to escape.

In 1748, along with eighteen men, Madam Brett helped create the first river freight building to help ship produce from the local farmers, as well as the meal and flour her factories were grinding out. The building, called the Frankfort Store House, was erected on “Lower Landing,” what is now the Denning's Point area. It helped the village of Fishkill Landing (which would become part of present-day Beacon) become one of the first river ports, drawing the strategic eyes of American revolutionary military minds. (Alexander Hamilton landed just off the Store House as he finished his first entry in the Federalist Papers.) Madam Brett was also the first widow to arrange for a cooperative produce business for colonists.

As the Colonial era wound down and high fashion became all the rage, hat factories took the place of flour mills on Madam Brett’s land. At one point in the 1800s, as many as fifty factories were present around Beacon! The area’s reputation as an industrial powerhouse was strong, and would remain so for another century. 

Extend Your Stay on the Trail

The Dave Miller Connector Trail opened in 2013. It allows travel beyond Madam Brett Park, linking up with Denning's Point as well as the Klara Sauer Trail north to Long Dock Park. If you are up for a long, though not strenuous, walk through the history of Beacon, my wife and I will often walk from the Roundhouse, down Tioronda Avenue, through Madam Brett Park, on to Denning's Point and beyond to Long Dock. This loops back to the beginning of Main Street on the west side, which we follow all the way back. It’s a wonderful, leisurely hike that will take a couple of hours.

Madam Brett was a revolutionary businesswoman and the founding mother of Beacon. She built up a small empire, was a trailblazer in settling farms in Dutchess County and paved a free road through her lands to the river - today’s Route 52. She was one of the few to sell to settlers, allowing them to own their own land for farming (although, owning a keen business mind, she always made sure she had rights to build a mill on the property she sold). The parkland that we know today as Madam Brett Park played a key role in forming the local community, and helped stamp Beacon as an industrial hub, once of grain and later of hats. The park still plays an important role in Beacon, and is now helping to conserve the beauty and history of this region.

Please welcome back contributor

Dylan Price, a writer/filmmaker and avid outdoorsman who moved to Beacon with his wife from Washington, D.C., yet have since moved to Florida. They were attracted to Beacon for the unique mix of nature, art and food.