Heyday

Long lines at the lower incline railway station on opening day, May 30, 1902. Over 1,600 people rode the incline that day. They would be followed by roughly 3.5 million more over the next 76 years. Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

Long lines at the lower incline railway station on opening day, May 30, 1902. Over 1,600 people rode the incline that day. They would be followed by roughly 3.5 million more over the next 76 years.

Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

The Mount Beacon Incline Railway was an unqualified success from its opening in 1902 until the late-1920s. This was due not just to the railway itself, but also to the history of the mountain and the entertainment that awaited visitors at its top. 
 
Mount Beacon had a basic appeal to many Americans because of its role in the Revolutionary War, when it served as part of the Continental Army's early warning and signalling system. In fact, the mountain takes its name from the beacon fires lit upon its summit during that conflict.


Period postcard showing the Beaconcrest Hotel (left), the Casino (center), and railway powerhouse and station (right). A private cottage community also sprang up on the mountain.

Period postcard showing the Beaconcrest Hotel (left), the Casino (center), and railway powerhouse and station (right). A private cottage community also sprang up on the mountain.

But the developers of the Incline knew that history and natural beauty alone would not entice a sufficient number of people to the mountain.  Therefore, as was the case with many American mountain railways, a casino and hotel were built on the summit.  Here visitors could enjoy the natural setting and incredible vistas without leaving the comforts of civilization behind. While people sweltered through summer days in the industrial centers of Beacon and Newburgh, below, visitors to the mountain enjoyed temperatures ten degrees cooler, refreshing breezes, spring water rising from mountain aquifers, as well as dancing and dining.


One of several Hudson River passenger steamships that made Mt. Beacon accessible to millions.

One of several Hudson River passenger steamships that made Mt. Beacon accessible to millions.

In 1926, the Mount Beacon Incline Railway and resort complex enjoyed a banner year. Over 110,000 passengers road the railway to the mountaintop, and there was every reason to believe that business would continue to grow with each successive season. Several railroads converged on the Beacon-Newburgh area; and the Hudson River, the super-highway of its day, made the mountain accessible to millions in New York City, who could take day excursions by steamship to reach the railway. From riverside, a short trolley ride brought visitors to the base of the mountain. The railway's continued success seemed inevitable.


Had the 1927 fire destroyed the powerhouse, the railway might have died that year. Luckily, it survived. Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

Had the 1927 fire destroyed the powerhouse, the railway might have died that year. Luckily, it survived.

Courtesy Beacon Historic Society

There was no indication that October 16, 1927 would mark a turning point in the life of the incline railway. While it was late in the summer season, several hundred people had enjoyed a day's pleasure at the summit. Shortly after midnight, however, a fire broke out in the Casino that quickly spread to the Beaconcrest Hotel, destroying both. Only the Incline's powerhouse survived. With the railway still in operation, rebuilding was able to commence, and a new Casino opened in 1928.  Before the hotel could be rebuilt, however, the nation entered the Great Depression. There would be future good days for the railway, but its highwater mark had been reached.