The Highlands Current is a nonprofit weekly newspaper and daily website that covers Beacon, Cold Spring, Garrison, Nelsonville and Philipstown, New York, in the Hudson Highlands. This podcast includes select stories read aloud.
Just Like That. It's 50 Years Later
Members of Beacon Class of 1973 reflect on then and now
Today (Sept. 22) and tomorrow, about 50 members of the Beacon High School Class of 1973 are expected to gather at the Southern Dutchess Country Club and St. Rocco's to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
"We have classmates from Norway, Seattle and Texas coming," reported Geri Carola Arno, 68, a Hopewell Junction resident who led the reunion committee. She said she and others did an exhaustive search to find as many of the 259 members of the class as possible (at least 43 have died).
Reporters Mackenzie Boric and Erin-Leigh Hoffman spoke with seven members of the class, including Arno, about their recollections of Beacon 50 years ago and what they've accomplished in the five decades since high school graduation.
It was a challenging time to be a student. Besides the war in Vietnam and the Watergate hearings, the school year in Beacon began with a teachers' strike that lasted nearly three weeks and resulted in five union leaders being sentenced to jail. (Striking by public employees is illegal in New York.)
There was also tension among some students. The yearbook and local newspapers noted several fights, including one in December that resulted in 20 suspensions. Officials attributed the violence to the dimly lit, overcrowded high school, which would not be replaced for another three decades despite a proposal before the school board at the time for expansion. The principal suggested eliminating the lunch period, where trouble often seemed to start, and ending school at 1 p.m.
On the bright side, the football team won its second game in three years, while the basketball team was undefeated at 17-0 until it lost the final game of its season to Poughkeepsie.
Brynie Cooper has lived a lot of life since high school. "I had people say things to me like, 'I know you, and I know you're going to be able to get through this,' " says Cooper, who lives in Poughkeepsie. "And I did."
Cooper, who grew up on Red Schoolhouse Road, sums up life at Beacon High School in the early 1970s as "crazy and hectic."
"There was just a lot of confusion, a lot of different things were going on and just trying to figure out where you belonged," she says.
"Because the student body was diverse, that contributed to the confusion when you did have racial tension," she says. "It wasn't that you knew of people who were of a different race, or ethnicity or religion - you were raised with them, you were in classes with them. So how are you mad at somebody just because they've got that label?"
When she was 19, Cooper had a son, Josh. At the time, she worked at the Castle Point VA Medical Center in Wappingers Falls. While raising Josh as a single mother, she worked as a cleaner at summer camps and hotels.
"I was thinking about college but did not go back to school for a long, long time," she says. "It was in the back of my head. I was a good student in high school."
Eventually, Cooper earned a bachelor's degree, followed by master's degrees in community psychology and school psychology (at age 42) from Marist College. She worked for the Poughkeepsie school district and Dutchess County agencies until her retirement in 2016. Today, she is pursuing a doctorate and teaches part-time at Dutchess Community College.
Asked how she is doing, Cooper says, "We're doing OK."
When he wasn't in class, Christopher Sjoholm worked in the kitchen at Saint Francis Hospital, where he visited with an older gentleman to keep him company.
He says the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal had a profound effect on his view of the world. He opposed the war and participated in committees and marches calling for its end. By the time he received a draft notice, early in his senior year, it was winding down. The draft was suspended in January 1973.
After graduating, Sjoholm enrolled at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in part because he thought "it would be great to be dow
Leave Your Distractions at the Door
Haldane asks high schoolers to park their phones
As it turns out, algebra is easier when you're not scrolling the internet or texting friends during class.
That's the conclusion of teachers and students at Haldane High School this fall as they adjust to a new cellphone rule.
Under the policy, students must deposit their cellphones into a repurposed shoe organizer - the "No-Cell Motel" - when they enter a classroom. They can retrieve their phones after the bell.
"It's been wonderful," said Christian Hoolan, who teaches calculus and algebra. "When I'm modeling problems, the kids are engaged. I don't have to worry about kids looking at Snapchat or Instagram."
Students largely seem OK with the policy. "It's a big improvement," said senior Ruby Poses, the student body president. "Last year when we were talking about something that I wasn't really interested in, it was an opportunity to text my mom or friends. Now, when we're having class discussions, everyone's engaged."
Some students complained the first few days, said Gabe Lunin-Pack, the senior class president. But he said most adjusted quickly. "Once I got used to it, I realized that I'm doing a lot more work in class," Lunin-Pack said.
Haldane implemented the policy because teachers said they were having difficulty with students who refused to put away their cellphones during class, said Principal Julia Sniffen. The common response was that "it's my personal property," she said.
It became such a problem that the faculty read and discussed Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention - and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari. The book explores how technology has undermined the ability to concentrate.
When she proposed the No-Cell Motel, "not one staff member said it was a bad idea," Sniffen said.
Nationally, more than 75 percent of schools ban cellphones except for academic work, according to a 2020 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. A 2017 study by researchers at Rutgers University concluded that non-academic cellphone use during class reduces long-term retention of the material being presented, which leads to lower exam scores.
Haldane isn't the only school with a new policy. The Garrison School this year began requiring middle-school students to leave phones in their lockers during class, said Carl Albano, the superintendent. Albano said that faculty decided to ban phones from classrooms because students were increasingly distracted. "It's hard for a child to resist not checking his phone," Albano said.
In Beacon, Superintendent Matt Landahl said this week that he intends to propose a more detailed cellphone policy for the 2024-25 school year. The current student code of conduct allows confiscation of phones when their use violates school policies.
At O'Neill High School, which many Garrison School graduates attend, students are allowed to use their cellphones in class only with the the teacher's permission.
Several local private schools have already banned cellphones during class. "Our cellphone policy is simple: Students are not allowed to use cellphones or other smart devices at school, including tablets and smartwatches," said Maria Stein-Marrison, director of the Manitou School in Philipstown, which runs through the eighth grade.
Similarly, Hudson Hills Academy in Beacon, which also runs through eighth grade, banned cellphones in class several years ago, said Asma Siddiqui, the director. Although middle-school students are allowed to use phones at recess, "we think kids these days spend too much time on devices," she said.
Beacon Church Seeks Home in Fishkill
Star of Bethlehem formed in city in 1900
One of Beacon's historic Black congregations is seeking to turn a former bar and restaurant near the Mount Gulian Historic Site into its permanent church, two years after selling its longtime home on Main Street because of parking limitations.
The Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, which is holding services at the former Tallix Foundry property on Hanna Lane, has applied to the Fishkill Planning Board for a special-use permit to resurrect 37 Lamplight St.
A plan to buy the site in 2020 was disrupted when the pandemic forced churches to close, said Rev. Daniel Blackburn, the church's pastor.
Now vacant and surrounded by overgrown vegetation, the two-story, 12,000-square-foot brick building formerly housed Mary Kelly's Irish Restaurant and an eatery and banquet hall called Chateau Beacon.
In recent years its owner, 37 Lamplight Street Associates, has marketed the building and its 2 acres as a prime location for a brewery, highlighting the site's capacity to cater events for up to 200 people on the second floor, a 140-seat bar and restaurant on the first floor and a full kitchen on the basement level.
For Star of Bethlehem, born in 1900 when its founders began worshiping in a private home on North Avenue, the property represents a new start.
The church held services for more than 60 years at the former Mechanics Savings Bank building at 139 Main St., until its leaders sold the building in 2021 to Hudson Todd LLC, one of Beacon's largest property holders, for about $1.25 million.
At the time of the sale, Blackburn, who was hired as pastor in 2019, estimated that half of the Star of Bethlehem's members lived outside of Beacon, some as far away as Sullivan County.
He said that older members increasingly struggled on Sunday mornings to find parking near 139 Main St., which sits among a cluster of shops and restaurants that draw residents and day-trippers. The Lamplight Street property has 79 parking spaces, according to a description at LoopNet.com.
"Having to walk a block, two blocks for parking on a Sunday in the 90-degree sun or the 9-degree cold just didn't work well for us," Blackburn told the Fishkill Planning Board on Sept. 14. "We believe that this building is the answer to our prayers."
In pursuit of a new home, Star of Bethlehem lost out on a bid for the Reformed Church of Beacon building on Wolcott Avenue, which the congregation sold to a company that is developing the property into Prophecy Hall, a hotel and event space projected to open as early as 2025. The congregation also looked at a property in Wappinger.
The site in Fishkill is in the town's Restricted Business zoning district, whose principal uses include hotels, professional offices and restaurants, but allows houses of worship with Planning Board approval of a special-use permit.
Blackburn and Barry Simmons, who chairs the church's Board of Trustees, said they would remove the bar to create space for Sunday services but otherwise leave the interior intact.
"We like the building but we hate the condition that it's currently in," Blackburn told the Planning Board. "We will make sure that it is representative of Fishkill - that it will be well-maintained and not be a continued blight on that area."
Where India Meets Jazz
Trio will blend traditions at Beacon's Towne Crier
Arun Ramamurthy has explained it all before but is always happy to talk tabla and mridangam.
As a composer, musician and educator, his enthusiasm is evident for the percussion instruments and the sounds they produce, part of a 1,000-year-old musical form known as Indian Classical.
Based in Brooklyn, the violinist and the other members of his trio - Sameer Gupta and Beacon resident Damon Banks - will make their Hudson Valley debut at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Sept. 28) at the Towne Crier in Beacon.
As Ramamurthy explains, there are two main forms of Indian Classical. "Hindustani originated in the north and Carnatic in the south, although they came from the same place musically," he says. "There was one root, from which branches grew. They differ in the approach to improvisation: Hindustani has much shorter compositions that have been improvised on, while Carnatic is more composition-based.
"One difference you'll notice right away is the percussion. The tabla is northern, while the mridangam is southern and the primary rhythmic accompaniment in a Carnatic music ensemble."
Ramamurthy learned all of this as a child while growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, with much of the instruction coming from his maternal grandmother. "She's the reason I play the violin," he says. "She was a super-progressive woman and had so much power - she thought big and taught me to be unique, never forget who I am and make sure my music reflects my truest self."
There was other music played in the house. "I got interested in hip-hop as a 10-year-old," Ramamurthy says. "I listened to Radiohead, the blues and Coltrane, which I was hooked on. My older brother played drums, heavy metal and hard rock, so there was a lot going on."
He began lessons in Carnatic music at age 6 or 7. "My mother was a singer and she started me on Carnatic music," he says. "It's always taught vocally, as a way of internalizing the music. My dad was a lover of music and into organizing; both parents would set up tours for musicians from India. I focused on Western classical music, studying violin from 10 to 16, then shifted my focus to Carnatic, connecting with the improvisational aspects."
While working at a day job in New York City, Ramamurthy connected with other Indian American musicians who had an interest in the form. "We're the first generation of musicians that was born here, which gives us the authenticity to bridge these cultures musically."
Twelve years ago, he founded a nonprofit collective, Brooklyn Raga Massive. "We're focused on finding ways to take care of the musicians and locating sources of revenue that don't rely on money coming from the venues," he says.
Ramamurthy also began his own project. "I heard different grooves in the Carnatic music that I didn't feel I could fully express with traditional instrumentation," he explains. "Sameer and I always had chemistry, pulling ourselves in different directions and loving it." In performance, Gupta will "represent the traditions of American jazz on drum set and Indian classical music on tabla, combining traditional and modern improvisational styles." (The original trio included Perry Wortman on bass, but he moved out of the area.)
"In rehearsals, I would pick a raga," Ramamurthy recalls. "I understand the raga, but Perry didn't know it, so he interpreted it harmonically. We would improvise, and certain ideas would gel. Compositional elements were structured by letting go and putting the music in the middle and all of us looking at the middle together."
Banks came on board two years ago. "Damon has been a blessing - he's playing electric bass, which was an intentional thing to bring in pedals," Ramamurthy says. "It was my original take on Carnatic music. It was inspired by the energy and spirit of jazz. The three people are doing different things and are aware of each other, in an open circuit. Expect music that is heartfelt, soulful, spiritual and fun. The music make
Looking Back in Beacon
Editor's note: Beacon was created in 1913 from Matteawan and Fishkill Landing.
150 Years Ago (September 1873)
The trustees of the Fishkill Landing schools debated whether to keep segregated classes for Black students up to a certain grade, but Black parents protested their children should not have to attend a separate school at any grade. (At the same time, the Board of Education in Poughkeepsie voted to close its Black school and integrate, noting that only 20 of 74 Black students attended.)
When a man named Latermore drove his horse and wagon across a damaged bridge that crossed the Hudson River Railroad at Fishkill Landing, the horse became frightened and slipped through an opening in the wood. Suspended by the harness, it dangled above a train that passed underneath, then was carefully lowered by ropes. However, the animal was so badly injured it had to be shot.
A boy named James Burks was seriously injured at the Wiccopee Rubber Works at Matteawan when he caught his hand in a grinder.
The Dutchess County sheriff and four officers came to Fishkill Landing in search of a suspected burglar named Rowland. When he escaped, the officers arrested John Faulkner of Newburgh, accusing him of aiding the fugitive. Faulkner said he witnessed the attempted arrest but was too busy delivering ale for a brewery to lend a hand.
The Seamless Clothing Manufacturing Co. leased a building opposite its factory at Matteawan to begin making piano felt.
According to the Fishkill Journal, the Millerton sheriff was taking a prisoner by train to the Poughkeepsie jail when it backed up over the Connecticut line to switch tracks. At that moment, the prisoner stood up and stepped off. Realizing his prisoner was now outside his jurisdiction, the sheriff pleaded with him to return.
The Rev. Duncan of St. John's Church at Matteawan officiated at the 89th annual convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of New York. Among the guests at the convention, held at St. John's Church in New York City, were the U.S. secretary of state, Hamilton Fish (a resident of Garrison), and the Right Rev. John Barrett Kerfoot, the bishop of Pittsburgh.
After hearing testimony in a lawsuit filed by a Fishkill resident who said he had been slandered as a thief, a jury found for the plaintiff. Asked for their verdict on damages, the eight jurors suggested amounts ranging from 6 cents to $100 and settled on $12.50 [$320 today].
Charles Winter of Matteawan displayed a 5-pound cluster of Syrian grapes at a Newburgh Bay Horticultural Society exhibit.
Despite an initial report that Mrs. Bellow's son had been shot to death in Texas, she later learned he had only been stabbed, and survived.
The clerks of Matteawan challenged the clerks of Fishkill Landing to a game of baseball at Prospect Park in Matteawan.
The barn and haystack of Mr. Lester, who was leasing the Knapp farm on Dates Lane between Matteawan and Low Point [Chelsea], was destroyed in a 4 a.m. fire. Gypsies were blamed.
125 Years Ago (September 1898)
The Odd Fellows of Fishkill Landing hosted a Labor Day excursion to Coney Island aboard the Sirius. The iron steamer made a stop at Cold Spring but was so crowded only 16 of the 100 people waiting could board.
The Lewis Tompkins Hose Co. sent a Fishkill Landing undertaker to Cuba to retrieve the body of a member, Sidney Scofield, of the 71st Regiment, who had been killed by a sharpshooter during the Spanish-American War.
Frank McLaughlin Sr., who delivered cigars and tobacco for his brother, David, died after falling from the terrace of his home in Matteawan while tending to his chickens.
A 30-year-old Poughkeepsie man went to the river to gather driftwood; the next his family heard, he was in the Highland Hospital at Matteawan with one leg amputated at the hip and the other at the ankle. For reasons unknown, he had ridden the bumper of a southbound freight train to New Hamburg, where he fell off and was run over. A conductor lifted the injured man back ont
Beacon School Board Will Wait for Voters
Also changes name of Columbus Day on calendar
A vacant seat on the Beacon school board will remain unfilled until the next election in May, following a vote by the board on Monday (Sept. 18).
Two other seats, currently held by Yunice Heath and Flora Stadler, will also be on the ballot. The candidate with the most votes will join the board immediately to fill a seat vacated by John Galloway Jr. and serve a three-year term. The other two winners will begin their terms on July 1.
It took the board three votes to break a 4-4 tie on whether to appoint a new member to replace Galloway, who resigned in June, or wait until the May 21 election, when voters will also be asked to approve the district's 2024-25 budget.
Since Galloway left, the board has debated the merits of filling the seat immediately - which would restore the board to nine members, eliminating the possibility of tie votes - or waiting until May, when voters could decide. It was the fifth vacancy the board has addressed in the past three years because of resignations.
The board said at least two people have expressed interest in being appointed but it did not release their names. On Monday, Board Member Alena Kush said that "if people are interested, we should move to fill the vacancy. Let's not say: 'You're going to have to wait.'"
But doing that would force the board to choose between candidates and, historically, appointment candidates who are not chosen do not run for the office, said Board Member Kristan Flynn, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2016. "You have to look at the other people - who you're proud of for stepping up - and say: 'Not you,' " she said.
"That's life," Kush responded. "That's why we're here as leaders, to be able to make that decision. I haven't been in that position on the board, but I've been in that position when I'm hiring someone. Someone has to be told: 'Unfortunately, not this go-round.' "
Because state law requires appointees to run in the next election to keep their seat, Board Member Eric Schetter said he didn't see an appointment as snubbing voters. After an appointee fills out the board until May, then voters will have "their right to vote on that person," he said.
On the third vote, Flynn, Heath, Stadler, Semra Ercin and Board President Meredith Heuer voted to leave the seat open until May.
The federal holiday on the second Monday in October will now be known on the Beacon school district calendar as Indigenous Peoples' Day/Italian Heritage Day.
After months of debate, including the creation of a committee that was unable to reach a consensus, the school board voted Monday to drop the name of the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus from the holiday. The move follows the lead of New York City's public schools, which adopted the dual designation in 2021.
Nationally, school districts on both coasts, as well as many municipalities, have begun recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day as a way of honoring the Native American culture that predated Columbus, as well as highlighting the impact of European colonialism on those tribes.
The change in Beacon does not apply to private schools or city government, and it does not signal a change in curriculum. The catalyst for the move was a district resident who last year asked the board to drop Columbus Day, which was declared a federal holiday in 1971, and rename it Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Flynn made the first motion on Monday to adopt the Indigenous Peoples' Day/Italian Heritage Day designation. She acknowledged the contributions of Italian Americans but said she disagreed with crediting Columbus with the discovery of the "New World."
"America was not 'discovered,' " she said. "It was taken from the people who had been living here before."
That led Board Member Anthony White to suggest amending Flynn's motion to remove the names of all holidays from the district calendar, instead referring to each of them as a "day off" - a move made by Randolph Township in New Jersey i