This post covers the third day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 16.
Today was a slow day. I didn’t get up until 12:30pm; guess I was tired! I spent a few hours searching online for historic or interesting sites to visit and eating a sandwich and some blueberries. Finally at around 3 I decided to head out.
My first stop was the ATM in Fishkill to grab some cash, because I don’t want to run into the cash-only entrance fee problem unprepared again. Then I headed back up the road to the Van Wyck Homestead, which is right at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Highway 9. It was 3:50 when I arrived…and the house closed at 4!
I managed to catch the tail end of a tour. The house isn’t that big, and it hasn’t been perfectly restored, so really the main interesting things were who had stayed at the house and how people had lived there. I saw the kitchen and heard how people cooked, and the guide talked about how people made soap from animal fat and had to import sugar in cones from the Caribbean Islands–where Alexander Hamilton was born, something I had never heard before. Hamilton, along with Lafayette, von Steubing, and Washington himself are said to have stayed at the Van Wyck house when it was used as a headquarters during the Revolutionary War.
After a quick look through the gift shop–which included a cabinet said to have originally housed a Murphy-style fold-down bed used by Gen. Washington–I headed outside to allow the poor proprietors to close the house up. I didn’t leave right away, though; instead I circled the home taking pictures, getting some decent shots of the building as well as some interesting stone structures, a garden, and a well. There’s more information about the house here.
Also on the property is a historic marker for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path. I was excited to see this since there is also a marker for for path at Riverwalk in Augusta! (Click here for more information about the Path.) Needless to say, I got a few pictures.
When I was done poking around the Van Wyck Homestead property, I went back to the car and wondered what to do next. The obvious option was to head up the street into Fishkill and walk around, but I’d already sort of done that, so the idea didn’t excite me. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and searched Maps for “historic”. Many of the sites that came up were some distance away. I avoided those because I’d noticed many of the smaller historic sites had early closing times, like Van Wyck. But I did see a point nearby: the Madam Brett Homestead on Teller Street in Beacon, Fishkill’s neighbor to the immediate southwest. (Interestingly, the Van Wyck house was built on land purchased from Catheryna Rombout Brett, the lady who lived there. I didn’t discover that fact until I started writing this post.)
I put the address into the Garmin and headed off to Beacon. It was a short and simple drive. When I got to the house, there was a big sign for it, but no parking area other than a normal-looking half-circle driveway, and no one was parked there. I saw a bunch of people walking around, and I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable getting out there. So I drove past and parked along the water on Main Street, where I saw some shops and cool murals.
As I walked back up I took pictures of a neat church, and I saw a building just beyond it that looked really awesome, but I figured I’d come back around in a loop and get pictures of that one later. I saw plenty of other interesting things on my way back to the Madam Brett house, and I took pictures all along the way.
The house sits on a wide lot behind a firehouse. The land and home are well-maintained. I walked up to the front door and created the spot on Gowalla and checked in, then got plenty of pictures around the site. I saw no information for visitors, so I’m not sure the house is actually open to the public, but it was still neat to see. I finished up by photographing the big sign at the corner, then walked back up to Main Street.
At that point I could have walked back to the car and left, but I saw that I had come out on a lively shopping and restaurant district. I turned left instead and headed further up Main, taking pictures of all the cool signage and architecture. I walked and walked until I got to the end of the street and saw signs for the Beacon/Newburgh Bridge. Then I crossed and headed back down the other side of Main Street. I got photos of an awesome church with a “fallout shelter” sign, the fire station in front of the Madam Brett house which was built in 1901 and is still in operation, and many small shops and restaurants with cool signs, including an authentic old-school diner called Yankee Clipper. I passed a place that made real fruit popsicles on my way up the street, and I so meant to stop and get one on my way back, but somehow I missed the place and didn’t want to try to go back up and find it.
On my way down, I gave $1 to a guy who said, “Could you spare a dollar?” Normally I don’t give to panhandlers, but this is because normally I feel accosted by them. I found the honest, direct question refreshing compared to Augusta panhandlers, who tell you their entire life story and how they believe in Jesus and whatnot before they get down to implying you should give them money. I also chipped in to a couple of guys playing a guitar and a banjo on the street outside a restaurant.
The cool-looking building next to the church did not disappoint when I finally worked my way back to it. I wish I knew more about architectural styles so I could describe it properly, but to do it justice, you have to see it. It’s dark brick with wooden features, including two small panels with cutout shapes. The place turned out to be the Howland Cultural Center. It didn’t appear to be open at the time, but I was happy enough taking photos of its dramatic, gorgeous exterior. Go here for information about the building, including its history and architecture.
I stayed at the center for a long time, then started walking back down where Main Street curves along the river, toward the car. I was fully prepared to leave at this point–it had been a good walk, and I was thirsty–but I decided to meander a little further down Main to see if there was anything of interest. Almost immediately I came upon some wonderful street art (starting here) along a windowless wall–I’m not sure if it was graffiti or “authorized”, but it was very striking.
Going further, I suddenly realized I was hearing rushing water. I looked across the street and saw a waterfall. It was Beacon Falls: a man-made lock, like Savannah Rapids in Columbia County, Georgia, though not nearly as wide. Water gushed down into a beautiful shallow river charging across an endless field of jutting rock.
Coming at it from this angle, I saw a lot of “NO TRESPASSING” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs, but as I approached the lock itself I realized the waterfall was at the end of a public trail, and it was the waterway and land beyond the trail that were private. My guess is they belong to whoever’s restoring the large round building overlooking the churning water.
I took many pictures, probably too many, of the waterfall, then walked down the path a bit. It’s very short, leading through some trees to a small parking lot. I thought about going to the end, but even that seemed a bit much with how thirsty I’d become, so I turned around and went straight back to the car.
GPS led me back to the hotel a different way, through Beacon and downtown Fishkill, and I enjoyed the scenery and the views of local businesses as I swallowed against my dry throat and pondered stopping for a drink. But it wasn’t long before I got back to the room. I immediately downed about four glasses of water :)
Day three: Success!