The Telephone Building – Unearthing the Past to Create the Future

telephone-building-preservation-MAIN.jpg

This article was written and prepared by Diane Lapis, Trustee of the Beacon Historical Society.

The hand-written signature discovered on a section of window molding in the Telephone Building tells two stories: one of the man who signed it, and the other of the woman who saved it.  

Deborah Bigelow was established in the business of conserving antique furniture and decorative arts when she purchased Beacon’s original Telephone Building in 1992. Historic building restoration calls upon the talents of many artisans. Deborah’s passion for fine craftsmanship, as well as her conservation skills, are on view in the impeccable adaptive reuse of this early 20th-century building.

The First Telephone Service in Beacon Conducted from The Telephone Building, 291 Main Street

 The Telephone Building, 291 Main Street, circa 2017.

The Telephone Building, 291 Main Street, circa 2017.

 An original telephone in the Hudson Valley with the familiar 914-831 digits.  Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

An original telephone in the Hudson Valley with the familiar 914-831 digits.
Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Travel back in time to 1880 when telephone service first arrived in the twin villages of Fishkill Landing and Matteawan (now Beacon). According to the Beacon Historical Society, telephone service started with 37 subscribers who had devices connected to an exchange. As the two villages grew, so did the need for additional access to telephone service. The Hudson River Telephone Company provided the technology, and moved into its new quarters at 291 Main Street in 1907. 

It had taken two years to modernize the lines, with over 15 miles of cable and a million feet of wire strung between Fishkill and Beacon. Newly designed phones replaced the old ones, and huge storage batteries, charged by an electric generator in the basement, powered the system. Telephone operators ran a switchboard, connecting calls when a subscriber lifted the receiver off the hook. The first floor of the building had special booths for transient users of the service – a precursor to the modern-day telephone booth.

 Beacon's Telephone Building, as replicated on a postcard, circa 1910.  Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Beacon's Telephone Building, as replicated on a postcard, circa 1910.
Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

  Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Not one Telephone Building, But three Sister Buildings

Completed at a cost of $18,000, the modified Italianate masonry structure - faced in brick and trimmed with limestone, bluestone, slate and tin - was considered an important civic building of its day. Campbell & Dempsey, and A. E. Dederick, contractors and builders from Kingston, built both the Beacon structure and a similar one on Brown Street in Peekskill, NY, in 1907. They knew what they were doing: Two years prior, the team had built a larger building on Broadway in Kingston, NY. 

All three buildings share common elements, but it was A. E. Dederick’s signature on a section of window molding, found while renovating the bathroom in the Beacon building’s basement, that linked together the construction of the three sister buildings. The Kingston Daily Freeman newspaper reported on the construction of these early communication exchanges by this crew.

Today, only the Beacon building is a thriving concern: The Peekskill office was demolished in 1952, while the Kingston office is used as a storage facility for Verizon.

While the Peekskill and Kingston offices featured the title “TELEPHONE BUILDING” engraved in limestone above the door, the Beacon office’s imposing Roman letters are today made of cast iron, assembled with pins on a 10-foot-long cast iron plaque set in the Main Street cornice. According to Beacon architect Aryeh Siegel, the brick and limestone columns are unique for a Main Street façade, signifying the importance of this civic building.  Siegel’s comment directs a passerby's attention to the limestone capitals atop the brick columns and the keystones above the windows and front door, along with the elaborate tin cornice featured along the roofline - all hallmarks of the building’s classical influences.  

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Ownership History of The Telephone Building

The Telephone Building served the Beacon community for almost 60 years before it was sold to James Letterio, CPA, who operated his accounting business from the location for decades. When Deborah Bigelow purchased it, the building had been in use for roughly 85 years. While the original front doors were gone, the rest of the original work remained intact, though buried under layers of flaking paint, a drop ceiling and linoleum flooring. Prior to renovation, the entire building was featured in a B-rated film called “Super Troopers.” With the building transformed into a police station, the film’s art director judged the old battery room’s flaking paint perfect for some of the scenes. He noted that the “look” of the room was almost impossible to fake.  

Restoration of the Telephone Building Since 2003

Since 2003, Deborah has been on a mission to restore the architectural beauty of the building by recovering and saving original material wherever possible. For example, the original oak windows are preserved with their weights, pulleys, and slate sills intact. The building displays other beautiful features such as intricate iron grillwork, elegant cast-iron radiators and staircase, floating maple floors, and brick-lined arched doorways. When Deborah and her crew sandblasted the interior brick, she discovered that the brick came from Dutchess Junction’s own Budd Brick Company (1888-1910). Today, she replaces missing mortar with a version that has been color-matched by Package Pavement in Stormville, NY.

  Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

The cornice was painted with a sand-filled paint to look like the limestone foundation below and was constructed of galvanized tin fascia and dentils nailed into the brick wall. Paint samples analyzed by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center identified the original materials and colors used in 1907, and this information guided Deborah’s choices during restoration. The icing on the “cornice cake” came when she discovered fragments of original, 24-karat gold leaf on the TELEPHONE BUILDING letters that had eluded sample analysis. A master gilder, Deborah replaced the gold leaf last summer.

Beacon's Telephone Building Today, Circa 2017

Deborah enjoys sharing the beauty of the Telephone Building and its history with her tenants - many of whose 21st-century businesses fittingly involve communication and public service. Among her tenants, Beahive and A Little Beacon Blog occupy the first floor. The second floor includes individual Beahive office spaces, apportioned by shoji screens to provide privacy without loss of light. Deborah’s own business, Gilded Twig, shares the lower-level suite of offices with financial advisor Aaron Verdile.

Now that Beacon is fast-growing and changing, the Telephone Building stands like a stalwart sentinel guarding the past as well as embracing the future. Deborah’s notes and photographic documentation of the building before and after renovation inform its history. Her research will remain part of the building’s, as well as the city’s, historic record.

Live Presentation of the Telephone Building with the Beacon Historical Society

Deborah Bigelow, art conservator, master gilder, and owner of Beacon’s original Telephone Building will talk about her renovation of the building since purchasing it in 1992. Ms. Bigelow will show before and after photographs, artifacts found during its renovation, and offer a glimpse of preservation procedures and the art of gilding. BHS Trustee Diane Lapis will discuss the 1907 building’s architecture and its place in the city’s history. The presentation will take place on Tuesday, November 28, at 7 pm at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main St. in Beacon. 

 Deborah Bigelow up on the boom in 2017, completing her restoration of the cornice of the Telephone Building at 291 Main Street.  Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Deborah Bigelow up on the boom in 2017, completing her restoration of the cornice of the Telephone Building at 291 Main Street.
Photo Credit: Beacon Historical Society

Comment

Diane Lapis

Diane enjoys soaking up Beacon’s historical vibes and then sharing them with anyone who will listen.  She is a researcher and author of numerous articles and presentations about local and postcard history.  Her most recent publication was about Nitgedaiget, a vanished utopian camp in Beacon NY. When not actively fundraising or presenting programs for the Beacon Historical Society, Diane can be found working on two books: the history of post-Prohibition cocktails, and a biography about a founding member of the White House News Photographer’s Association, who was born in Beacon at the turn of the century. Diane enjoys collecting postcards, visiting presidential libraries and art museums.
Photo Credit: Peter Lapis

Marchers Go Postal - Local Printer Grey Printing Enables Snail Mail March

Grey Printing, based in Cold Spring, used the pre-designed postcard art provided by Women's March on Washington to print stacks of postcards for locals to order.
Photo Credit: Grey Printing

Days after and estimated 5 million women and men marched all over the world in the name of several causes and belief systems challenged by the new administration, several wondered, "What next?" The main organizers of the Women's March on Washington (WMW) kept going and designed more ways for people to stay involved to be heard, this time, taking it to the snail-mail. And who are experts in snail-mail? Local printers.

True to a well-branded campaign, the WMW designed postcards for anyone to print out and use in order to pen opinions and action items. Grey Printing, based in Cold Spring, fired up their printers and pre-printed stacks of postcards that can be individually purchased for $1.25 or 10 postcards for $10, which is basically the cost of printing the cards, says Kristy Carpenter, head of communications for Grey Printing. Hot off the presses and two days after the postcards came out, the postcards sold out. So Grey Printing printed more.

Two large orders of 500 came in from people in Beacon, and several regular Cold Spring customers have been walking to buy 10 at a time. For those who don't live in Cold Spring for a quick pickup, the postcards can shipped to your home for your own postcard-writing campaign, or postcard party involvement. Grey is even pre-printing addresses on cards ordered in bulk, so all one needs to do is write their message and put a stamp on it. One customer, Kristy says, ordered some to send to Paul Ryan's home in Wisconsin.

 Grey Printing sold out of these postcards two days after announcing that they were available. Photo Credit: Grey Printing

Grey Printing sold out of these postcards two days after announcing that they were available.
Photo Credit: Grey Printing

What Is Anyone Writing About?

To help avoid writer's block, the organizers turned it into a Challenge, giving authors of postcards an assignment:

  • Write a postcard to your senators about what matters to you most.
  • How you are going to back that up with actions on your end (even if that action is just writing the postcard, but one could get creative).

Not limited to women's-only issues, the WMW guides people to write in about issues that are important to them, such as immigration, civil liberties, worker's rights, environmental issues, etc.  Included in the call-to-action to write in postcards is a list to find your senators by zip code, making names and addresses easy.

Can Trumpians Write In?

Yeah, sure. So maybe you voted for Trump, and participating in The Women's March on Washington, or getting even a little moved by it, feels disloyal to your vote and issues that mattered to you in the ballot box. Just like with any administration, there may be issues you agree with that come out of these fast-moving executive orders that are being signed at the speed of a tweet, but there are some that may not.

For instance, maybe you are uncomfortable with Trump ordering the EPA's social media account to go dark (read more about the White House ordered EPA media blackout in this Fox News article) and not get out information. Maybe you don't like the EPA and disagree with a lot of their policies and want to see some regulations lifted. But silencing a department is something you'd read about China doing when they block areas of the Internet from their citizens in order to control information.

Maybe you wanted immigration reform, but you're not comfortable with people being stranded in airports who are no longer allowed into this country courtesy of a quick-draw executive order barring them. Maybe, like Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) who represents a community of Syrian people in Allentown, PA, six of those stranded people are your neighbors who had secured visas and had just bought a house, but were turned back from their flight from Qatar within hours of landing in Philadelphia. As quoted in this CNN article: "This is ridiculous,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). “I guess I understand what his intention is, but unfortunately the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”

That's why the model of democracy works both ways. You can support one thing, but not like another. To keep it balanced, the public servants need to hear from the people in order to push for directions a majority of the people are favoring.

You could print these postcards online and figure that out with your own home printer, or you can support a local printer and buy them, doing two deeds at once: supporting local neighbors in business, and participating in democracy. Win win!

Postcards From Beacon: What's In A Name? Word Play - Origins and Meanings of Local Names in Beacon

 A vintage postcard from Beacon, illustrated with pictures of what made Beacon Beacon at the time of printing. Photo Credit: Published with permission from  The Beacon Historical Society.

A vintage postcard from Beacon, illustrated with pictures of what made Beacon Beacon at the time of printing.
Photo Credit: Published with permission from The Beacon Historical Society.

"Postcards From Beacon" is an original series on A Little Beacon Blog in partnership with the Beacon Historical Society to continue keep the history and stories of Beacon alive, known and talked about. Trustee Diane Lapis is the author of this series. This series is presented by our sponsor, Accuprint Pac 'N Ship, located at 242 Main Street near Homespun and Isamu, who can ship the smallest postcard or envelope to the largest box. They are happy to pack it for you, and even serve as a drop-off location for your pre-paid shipping, like returns from online ordering.

Melzingah, Fishkill, Matteawan, Tioronda, and Beacon are familiar names to Beaconites… but how did these names come to be?

Melzingah Was Almost the Original Name of Beacon

Prior to 1913, our city, before it was called Beacon, was comprised of two separate river village entities: Fishkill Landing, near the Hudson River and its busy ports, which incorporated as a village in 1864; and Matteawan, an industrial hub located near the Fishkill Creek, which incorporated in 1886.  These two villages shared common interests and a growing population: schools, police, fire companies, and Main Street. After nearly 25 years of operating independently, a formal Charter Committee met in 1910 to discuss joining forces. 

The original Charter Committee favored the name Melzingah, an old Native American name well known in the area. According to Double Dutched: The Puzzling State of New York’s Native American Place Names, by Evan Pritchard, the Wappinger Indians held council fires on the small island they named Maysingweh, or "tree-place spirit," in what is now Madam Brett Park.  “Tree-place spirit” is quite a perfect description of what is now that park, don’t you think? If you haven’t walked there, A Little Beacon Blog’s Historical Hiking contributor Dylan Price wrote you a guided tour, and the Highlands Current wrote an in depth description of why an island there was once called Fairy Island.

 This series is presented by our sponsor,  Accuprint Pac 'N Ship,  located at 242 Main Street near Homespun and Isamu, who can conveniently ship the smallest postcard or envelope to the largest box. They are happy to pack it for you, and even serve as a drop-off location for your pre-paid shipping, like returns from online ordering.

This series is presented by our sponsor, Accuprint Pac 'N Ship, located at 242 Main Street near Homespun and Isamu, who can conveniently ship the smallest postcard or envelope to the largest box. They are happy to pack it for you, and even serve as a drop-off location for your pre-paid shipping, like returns from online ordering.

Other members of the Committee suggested Mt. Beacon, Tioronda and Dutchess City.  When word of the name Melzingah leaked out, the press had a field day.  The committee decided to drop the “h” so that “any fool could spell it”.  Here is what the Wappingers Chronicle had to say about the name:  “Melzingah may sound well to the Fishkill-Matteawanite but to the outside world it has a flavor of the Arabian Nights mixed with a nightmare dream after a feast of welsh rarebit, mince pie, cream cake, and hard cider.  A brand new city, taking its first toddling steps among its sisters and neighbors in the race for preference should not have been compelled to carry a handicap like Melzinga”.

On May 15, 1913, nearly three years after the original meeting to join the two villages, legislation was passed to merge the two river villages into one city with the name of Beacon, a name that came from the signal fire built atop Mount Beacon during the American Revolution. If you are wondering where the dividing line between Matteawan and Fishkill Landing was, stand on the corner of North and South Chestnut Avenue and Main Street by Rite Aid, the old Schoonmaker’s Department Store.

 The old Schoonmaker’s Department Store on the corner of of North and South Chestnut Avenue and Main Street by Rite Aid.

The old Schoonmaker’s Department Store on the corner of of North and South Chestnut Avenue and Main Street by Rite Aid.

The Name Melzingah Lives On

The name Melzingah was not to be forgotten!  When a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) formed at the Madam Brett House in 1896, who immediately took measures to mark local historical sites, members choose the name Melzingah, as it was "the most pleasing to the ear and also associated with the old tradition of the place."  In Beacon, a road, a dam, and a reservoir still hold this name today.

 Madam Brett's house, the location for the meeting of a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when meeting to select their  chapter name.  Katherine Wolcott Verplanck was a founding member. Photo Credit: Published with permission from  The Beacon Historical Society.

Madam Brett's house, the location for the meeting of a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when meeting to select their chapter name. Katherine Wolcott Verplanck was a founding member.
Photo Credit: Published with permission from The Beacon Historical Society.

The Origins of the Name Matteawan

According to Mr. Pritchard, Matteawan is derived from a name given by the Munsee tribe who coexisted with the Wappinger Indians in what is now Beacon.  It’s original name Mettawan, meaning, “trout stream,” was changed to Matteawan or “humble little stream”.  The Munsee were poking fun of another tribe, the Kitchewank, located further south, who lived near a larger stream and called themselves “People of the Great River”.

The Origins of the Name Fishkill and Tioronda

Whether you pronounce it “crick” or “creek”, there are a few stories of how Fishkill Creek got its name.  The Dutch settlers called it “Vis Kill” or “fish creek” due to the abundant amount fish in the stream. “Vis” is the Dutch word for “fish,” and “kill” is the Dutch word for “creek”  So, when you say Fishkill Creek, the word Creek is essentially redundant: “Fish(creek) Creek”!  The creek was also known as Tioronda, named by the Iroquois tribes of the area, translating to "little stream that flows into big water".  

Another local legend attributes the naming of the creek by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, a Native American historian, and expert on Indian languages and customs.  According to this story, Henry was walking along the creek in 1845 with Charles Fenno Hoffman, author, poet and editor.  Henry suggested an Indian name “Tioronda” meaning “meeting of the waters."

 The Mill Bridge Dam, Fishkill Creek in Beacon, NY. Photo Credit: Published with permission from  The Beacon Historical Society.

The Mill Bridge Dam, Fishkill Creek in Beacon, NY.
Photo Credit: Published with permission from The Beacon Historical Society.

 

The ancient lands comprising our community, named by the Native Americans centuries ago, still maintains its tree-spirit and scenic meeting of the waters, while paying homage to our western history and culture.

Glossary Recap

Tioronda:

"little stream that flows into big water": named by Iroquois tribes of the area
“meeting of the waters": named by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft

Fishkill

“Vis Kill” or “fish creek”: named by the Dutch due to the abundant amount fish in the stream

Matteawan

Originally called Mettawan, meaning, “trout stream.”
Changed to Matteawan or “humble little stream.”

Melzingah

Inspired by the name Maysingweh for an island at Madam Brett Park where the Wappinger Indians held council fires and felt the spirits of little people, fairies, or "tree-place spirit."

Beacon

Named for signal fire built atop Mount Beacon during the American Revolution. The town was named for the mountain beneath which it sits.
 

About the Beacon Historical Society

To learn more about the history of Beacon, please visit the Beacon Historical Society at the Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street in Beacon, NY on Thursdays from 10-12 pm and Saturdays 1-3 pm.  For more information, check out www.beaconhistorical.org, on Facebook, or email us at beaconhistorical@gmail.com. Join us at 7pm on the fourth Tuesday of each month for interesting presentations about Beacon’s history.

 

2 Comments

Diane Lapis

Diane enjoys soaking up Beacon’s historical vibes and then sharing them with anyone who will listen.  She is a researcher and author of numerous articles and presentations about local and postcard history.  Her most recent publication was about Nitgedaiget, a vanished utopian camp in Beacon NY. When not actively fundraising or presenting programs for the Beacon Historical Society, Diane can be found working on two books: the history of post-Prohibition cocktails, and a biography about a founding member of the White House News Photographer’s Association, who was born in Beacon at the turn of the century. Diane enjoys collecting postcards, visiting presidential libraries and art museums.
Photo Credit: Peter Lapis

New Series, "Postcards from Beacon" Gets First Headline Sponsor: Accuprint Pack 'N Ship

 Signing with Accuprint's New Tablet/Flashlight Pen.

Signing with Accuprint's New Tablet/Flashlight Pen.

We are so pleased to announce that the local printing and shipping company on Main Street, Accuprint Pack 'N Ship, has signed on to be the first Headline Sponsor of our new series, "Postcards from Beacon," in partnership with the Beacon Historical Society. This monthly series will be penned by Diane Lapis, a trustee of the Beacon Historical Society. Diane is bursting at the seams, ready to write several! Though this series will start as once a month, we may not be able to contain her, or you, as we all soak up more history about Beacon and the surrounding Hudson Valley area.

Diane Lapis brings her book of preserved postcards, bits of inspiration for our new "Postcards from Beacon" series.

Accuprint is a great partner for this series because... drumroll, please... You can mail postcards, letters and packages from the shop! Or buy a book of stamps! People also love the ability to drop off packages from Amazon or Zappos with pre-paid return postage. It's just so easy. The mother/daughter duo, Denise and Byrdie, will gladly take your packages. But that's not all... Ask about their laminator services, or as my daughter calls it, "The Lamilator." Several of your business friends do a lot of color printing and faxing at Accuprint, 242 Main St., as well.

Does your business love the history of Beacon, and is sharing it in this way important to your clients and customers? Your business can also be a Sponsor of this Postcards from Beacon Series at one of two levels. Click here for details!

It is because of businesses who sponsor any media - print, radio, TV, digital - that we can produce the news and entertainment you like. Advertisers do not influence our content, and each sponsor is approved by us to have placement. Thank you for your support! And thank you for supporting businesses who support us!