Beacon (population 16,000) is situated on the east bank of the Hudson River at the foot of Mount Beacon, 60 miles north of New York City and 90 miles south of Albany. Beacon was originally settled as the Villages of Matteawan and Fishkill Landing in 1709, making them among the first communities in the state. The City of Beacon was incorporated as a city in 1913, annexing the two villages and a small portion of the Hamlet of Glenham from the Town of Fishkill.
The city served as a focal point during the Revolutionary War era. It was used for manufacturing of war supplies, as a fort, and as a signaling point. The city’s name was derived from the signal fires atop of the 1,540-foot mountain located in the city's backdrop. During the 1800s, the city became a factory town and was known as "The Hat Making Capital of the US," with nearly 50 hat factories in town at its peak. From 1902 to 1975, The Mount Beacon Incline Railway, the steepest incline railway in existence (a 65% grade), took an estimated 3 million people up to the 1,540-foot summit of Mount Beacon. This famous tourist attraction eventually succumbed to fire and vandalism, and there is currently an effort to restore it.
The city continued as a factory town until about 1970, when it experienced a sharp economic decline. In recent years, however, the city has seen a rebirth. Beginning with the growth of antique and art dealers in the historic downtown, and greenways and land preservation guided by Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit environmental organization, this renaissance has most recently been spearheaded by establishment of the museum housing the world's largest contemporary art collection, The Dia Center. Dia Beacon’s headquarters, originally built in 1929 by Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) and now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is an historic steel, concrete, and glass factory building. Its most recent owner, International Paper, donated the building to Dia in 1999. Historic industrial elements include broad spans between supporting columns and more than 34,000 square feet of skylights, which introduce exceptional amounts of reflected north light for viewing art. Beacon now thrives as an art center, and several large redevelopment projects include a waterfront hotel and conference center, numerous commercial business/art galleries, and residential developments. A coalition that includes Dia, the state of New York, the City of Beacon, Dutchess County, and Scenic Hudson are working on a master plan to connect Dia’s facility with ninety acres of adjacent riverfront land. The State of New York has also chosen Beacon as the home of the newly-named Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, which marks the culmination of a three-year process to locate and establish this new research center.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2005.