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Jewish Enterprise In Beacon

01/05/2022 09:54:32 AM

Jan5

Anna Marcus & Diane Lapis

 A very old black and white photo that was cut along the right side and has been pieced together. The image depicts a street with trolley tracks, and a row of wooden buildings. The middle building has a large sign at the top of its edifice that says “The Clothing House, Samuel Beskin, proprietor.” A young man, who is Samuel Beskin, stands in front of his store’s front door in a dark suit with a newsboy cap and a mustache. The building to the right of this has a smaller sign directly over the door and extending the length of the building that says “Tailor: S. Snidaman.” The owner, Samuel Snidaman, stands in the lower right hand corner in front of his front door, wearing a black tuxedo, black silk top hat and a mustache.
A photo of two early Jewish businesses in what was then Ferry Street at Bank Square in Fishkill Landing: Samuel Beskin’s Clothing Store (left) and Samuel Snidaman’s Tailor Shop (right), the proprietors of both stores are standing in front of their buildings, c. 1906, photo courtesy of the Beacon Historical Society

 

When the BHA Centennial Committee started researching the history of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance and Jews in Beacon five years ago, one of the first things that amazed us was how many Jewish businesses existed here in the early and mid-20th century. From the 1920s-1960s, almost every other store on Main Street was Jewish, and most of the dentists and doctors were Jewish too! This surprised us, because today there are almost no Jewish businesses left. What happened to all of these businesses? Why don’t we have even a single Jewish deli where one can get a decent kosher pickle in Beacon today?

Another question central to the centennial committee’s research was, what brought Jews to Beacon in the first place? By delving into the stories behind the Jewish businesses, we discovered the many interrelationships between the early Jewish families that settled in Beacon and formed the Beacon Hebrew Alliance. For reasons we’ll examine further in this article, as well as in our exhibition and walking tour this spring, the conditions in Beacon in the early 20th Century were well suited for Jewish immigrants to come, set up shop, and bring their families here.

 

The first Jewish Business-owners in Beacon

The business card depicts a pastoral landscape with a green hill and dirt path leading down to a river or lake. A small figure in a red top and blue pants stands by the water’s edge. Framing this picture is a spray of flowers, blue, purple and gold. The words “JACKSON, THE CLOTHIER, AND GENERAL OUTFITTER/MATTEAWAN, NY” are on the bottom of the card in all caps.
A rare color business card of Gustavus “Jew” Jackson the Clothier of Matteawan, c. 1882, courtesy of the Beacon Historical Society

The earliest known Jewish settler in Matteawan (which merged with the village of Fishkill Landing in 1913 to form the city of Beacon) was Gustavus Jackson. He was referred to as the “Hebrew” or “ Jew” Jackson to distinguish him from the Jacksons that ran the carriage manufacturers in Fishkill Landing. The census lists him as residing here in 1849. Jackson was the first director of the Matteawan National Bank in 1893 and owned a clothing store with his son Willie. The Beacon Historical Society has in its collection a rare color business card from Jackson, the Clothier, an example of the pride and craftsmanship of his trade. Jackson was certainly an early Jewish pioneer to the Hudson Valley. We don’t see evidence of another Jew moving to Beacon until the late 1800s, at the beginning of the great wave of immigration to the U.S. from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The first known Jewish resident of Fishkill Landing was Samuel Snidaman, a tailor who immigrated from Russia in 1886 when he was 18 years old. Snidaman had a tailor shop on the West end of Main Street in the area of Bank Square, next to the department store of the second mayor of Beacon, Samuel Beskin, who was also Jewish (see the picture above). We don’t know how involved Snidaman may of been in the wave of Jewish immigrants that soon followed him to Beacon, but we do know that in his lifetime, he associated with many Jewish business-owners, and he was one of the founding directors of BHA, serving as a trustee in 1922 and listed as a member when the synagogue was built in 1929.

 

 A sepia toned black and white portrait of a large man, standing next to a small table with books under it. He is wearing a long dark, double breasted suit jacket over dark trousers, and a white collared shirt with a black bow tie. His brown hair is parted down the middle and he has a thick dark mustache. He is looking over the camera into the distance with a serious expression.
A portrait of Samuel Beskin, second mayor of Beacon, c. 1917, photo courtesy of the Beacon Historical Society

Mayor Samuel Beskin and Early Jewish Civic and Business Leaders

Samuel Beskin was a founding member of BHA and a leading member of the community.  He arrived in Fishkill Landing about 1894 from Russia as a poor street  peddler who spoke little English. Within 20 years he established himself as a successful businessman, operating a hotel, a bottling works, an apartment house, and two department stores (the second one with Beacon’s first elevator) and bought the bankrupt Overland Headwear Company. He held an important position as the State Road contractor under Governor Al Smith helping to build the Ashokan Dam among other projects. He was Beacon’s second mayor from 1917-1921.

Beskin married Anna Glick, the sister of Max Glick, another founder of BHA who worked in a saloon in Beacon. Max may have helped Beskin start up his first dry goods store in Beacon. While Beskin was unable to see a completed synagogue built in Beacon in his lifetime, he was not only a founding member of BHA but also served on its board in 1923 until his untimely death in 1924.

Early services and meetings for Beacon Hebrew Alliance were often held above Schuman’s Army & Navy Store, owned and operated by Sidney Schuman, near where the DMV building is now on Main Street. BHA met there, at Forresters Hall, and other locations for years before the present sanctuary was built. Sid and his wife Rose had two daughters, Elinor Harrison and Sydell Ligotino. Later Sydell and her husband ran Schuman’s Army & Navy store in its second location further east on Main Street.

Fundraising for the new BHA building was chaired by Sid Schuman and Mrs. Fannie Miller.  Fannie was the President of the Ladies Aid Society of BHA, and owned Miller clothing store at 342 Main Street, on the corner of Teller Ave. Together, Fannie and Sid successfully raised $6000 in 1929 for the building, and according to the Beacon News, the local paper at that time, $1,700 for the building was  raised by nonmembers, local residents and businesses.

 A black and white photo of a large brick store front with many signs and three big picture windows on the ground floor. The largest sign over the entryway says “Schuman’s Army & Navy Stores”, and their are advertisements for Lee shirts and overalls to either side of the store name. Two men stand on either side of the doorway. The one on the left is Mr. Schuman, he is older looking and wearing a black button down sweater and a white shirt. The man on the right is younger with dark hair and a goatee beard. He is wearing a dark zippered sweater and dark trousers.
Schuman’s Army & Navy Stores with Mr. Sidney Schuman (left) and a shopkeeper standing in the doorway, photo c. 1940, courtesy of the Beacon Historical Society

 

An elderly man is sitting in a car with a seat belt on. He is smiling and looking at the camera. He is wearing a white collared polo shirt, a lavalier microphone clipped to his collar, and tinted glasses.
A still from a video of Dr. Harold Ginsberg giving a tour of Main Street to the author, Aug. 9, 2017, video still by Michael Gersh

1920s-60s The Height of Jewish Main Street

In 2017, Anna had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Harold Ginsberg, a retired dentist in Beacon whose grandparents established the Beacon Theater in 1934. He was born in Beacon in 1930, and has wonderful memories of what Main Street looked like in his childhood. To give you a feel for the breadth of Jewish enterprise that thrived during Beacon’s heyday, below are Dr. Ginsberg’s recollections of Main Street, starting at Bank Square and going east. This is only a partial account of all of the Jewish businesses and doctors that were in Beacon in the mid-20th century, but it gives a nice illustration of the ways these businesses were interconnected.

“There were many Jewish businesses and shops in Beacon when I was young. Starting at the ferry, walking up the hill and coming up to Main Street, you first came to an area called Bank Square, a triangular property bordered by Beekman Street, Main Street, and Ferry Street. On that triangle was Max Vogel’s original drugstore.

The Cahns lived on North Avenue, just down from Bank Square. My Aunt Goldie [Cahn] went to school with my mother. When Goldie and my Uncle Julius [Ginsberg] married, they lived with her mother and father, Samuel Cahn, for a while, and I used to go down to their house all the time to visit my cousin Bobby. The house and the street they lived on is not there anymore, but I think it was called Conway Place. [editor's note: Samuel Cahn owned a dry goods store at 172 Main Street, and was married to Minnie Beskin, Samuel Beskin’s sister. His son Dr. Simon Cahn ran his dental practice from that building for many years.]

From Bank Square, as you continued on Main Street, there was a furniture store run by the Isaacs family. Further up, there was a dress shop owned by Mr. Nathan Bernstein. Farther up Main Street, two doors down from where the Department of Motor Vehicles is today, was the site of Sid Schuman’s first Army-Navy Store, which opened in the late 1920s. When I came back to Beacon with Phyllis, his daughter Sydell became Phyllis’s closest friend here. When you walked into Sid’s store it was loaded with merchandise. He also owned part of a store next door. There was a little alleyway and another area with seats where you could try on shoes and so on. Sid ran it until he retired in Florida.

Today there’s a store on Main Street called Scarborough Fare that sells olive oil and gourmet groceries. My great-uncle, Nathan Rotner, ran his tailor shop there … Continuing on Main Street, the restaurant now called Max’s was originally a bar owned by a Jewish fellow named Hyman Pomeranz. The present Howland Library stands on the former site of Fishman’s Five and Ten, which was in a building built by Jacob Ritter. His wife was Sarah Ritter, a lovely woman. They had three boys: Lou was the oldest, Leo the middle, and Milton the youngest. Their father built quite a few buildings on Main Street.

Up the next street there was an A&P in a building that extended around the corner of S. Chestnut Street. Jacob Ritter built that building and after his passing, his son, Lou Ritter, became a real estate agent and had his office around the corner. Right next to the A&P was an odds and ends store that was run by Richard Weshner.

In the area where Rite Aid is today, there was a delicatessen run by [Dr.] Si Lewis’s father, Abe Lewis, and next to that was a dry goods store, owned by a family from Newburgh called Branfield. There also was a shoe store nearby run by Sam Rosenbloom.

Close to Teller Avenue, where the American Legion Memorial building is, there is the firehouse, and a building that used to house the city offices. Right in that area there was a liquor store run by Mr. [David] Alper. His son was Morris Alper, a Metropolitan Life Insurance agent.

Continuing farther up the street was the Beacon Theater, which my grandparents owned. The theater had stores on each side of it, one of which was a place called Pappy’s, which was a luncheonette. The original tenants were Jewish. Later on, in the late ‘40s, Dr. Robert Frankel, an optometrist, opened his practice in one of the stores in the Beacon Theater building.

Down the street from the theater was Abe Kaplan’s jewelry store, and farther on there was a tailor shop, originally owned by Mr. Hyman Siegel. Later on, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Gene Glouberman ran a tailor shop there. Then, across from the old library, there was Fenster’s kosher butcher shop, and a toy store run by Max Bernstein, the brother of the other Bernstein on Main Street, who ran the dress shop. There was also a drugstore there called Moore Brothers, run and owned by Paul Wolkoff.”

 

1970s-80s The Decline of Jewish Main Street

The demise of Jewish businesses on Main Street follows the story of Beacon’s decline in general. With the rise of shopping malls and big box stores pulling business away from Main Street, and then the closing of many of Beacon’s factories, Beacon’s economy went downhill fast. The situation was exacerbated by Urban Renewal policies in the 1960s which razed entire neighborhoods from the riverfront up to Main Street, and relocated most of the poorer residents to housing projects. Landlords stopped maintaining buildings, and Main Street became mostly boarded up.

This isn’t the only story of what happened to the Jewish businesses though. In fact, during the hardest years of Beacon’s history, Jewish businesses still were around, serving the community with their urgent needs, such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Another explanation might have to do with the success of these first Jewish families. As they worked very hard to send their children to college, combined with the reduced opportunities in Beacon, the next generations didn’t have many reasons to stay in Beacon and take over the family business, or raise their children here. This started to turn around in the 1990s, when a new crop of families moved to Beacon and joined BHA. However, the Jewish business community in Beacon never rebounded. That’s not to say there are zero Jewish-owned businesses in Beacon today, but the community spirit around Jewish enterprise is not what it was, and with all the changes in the economy, it may never be again.

 

A screenshot of a sample business card for the Jewish Beacon Walking Tour phone app. There is sky blue text on a white background. A black and white photo of Schuman’s store is on the screen on top, and an audio player is seen underneath it. The title reads “Schuman’s Army & Navy Stores” and the text underneath gives information about the business.
An early prototype of the Jewish Beacon Walking Tour App, Dec 2021, design by Banu Akman, photo courtesy of Beacon Historical Society

Walking Tour Through History

As part of our major programming to celebrate BHA’s centennial this spring, we are producing a virtual guided walking tour in the form of an app and website. This free app will be able to be downloaded to your mobile phone and it will provide an interactive map and individual “business cards” that you can click on to learn more about the Jewish businesses that once were located along Main Street. It is being designed to work while you walk, drive or bike on Main Street, but for people who can’t get to Beacon, it will also be usable as a fun tool to browse Beacon’s Jewish past.

We can’t wait to unveil the Jewish Beacon Walking Tour app in the spring, and we’re very grateful to the volunteers of the Beacon Historical Society who are helping with research; the participation of Dr. Harold Ginsberg, Albert Green and many others who allowed us to interview them; our friend Banu Akman who is designing and building the app for us; and the Sadie Jane Effron Cahn Beacon Hebrew Alliance Endowment of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley for funding the project.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have photos or other memorabilia that relate to BHA’s story? If so, please fill out this quick google form to let us know what you have. We will reach out to you to arrange to scan your photos or collect your artifacts.

BHA’s Centennial programs are made possible, in part, with funding from the Sadie Jane Effron Cahn Beacon Hebrew Alliance Endowment of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

Fri, January 21 2022 19 Shevat 5782