One of my favorite movies, maybe my favorite movie, is “Nobody’s Fool.” There might be a few reasons why I like it so much, but the fact that it draws on familiar and interesting architecture and locations, right here in the Hudson Valley, as backdrop is an obvious reason. Most of the buildings in the movie have seen better days. Although some “doctoring” of building facades may have occurred in the movie (Beacon was said to be “made to look worse than it really was for the movie“, according to one message board post), Nobody’s Fool “gets it right” as a visual depiction of the Hudson Valley in the early-mid 1990s – an important time for Hudson Valley Ruins as Tom Rinaldi and I were inspired to begin our little hobby right around then. The Hudson Valley of Nobody’s Fool was the Hudson Valley that made us want to go out and take photographs of all these places, as were we both quite aware that many of them would not be long for this world, if not in outright demolition then in cosmetic (and often not sympathetic) reconstruction.
Tom and I have, for a long time, tossed about the idea of tracking down the locations used in the movie. Quite a few, such as the mills in Matteawan (the East Main Street section of Beacon) have long been familiar to us, as have Hattie’s Diner and the Iron Horse bar. Quite a few stumped us, including the boyhood home of the character portrayed by Paul Newman – one of the most important locations in the movie, and depicted as an abandoned house. Once we found Sully’s House this past winter, this project gained momentum, and I set out to find all of the other locations and to re-photograph those I had captured before. Some internet sleuthing and some bing-map flyovers helped me find the remainders. I realize I probably could have reached out to the Beacon Historical Society for help identifying some sites – indeed, while I was photographing by the old Matteawan Mills in February, a Beacon resident mentioned that the Historical Society led Nobody’s Fool walking tours – but half the fun of this hobby is doing the detective work and finding locations on one’s own.
That’s not to suggest that this was a solo project. Tom Rinaldi helped track down film sites and provided insights and observations, and my friend Marlowe Stern chauffeured me around Beacon one 20-degree day this past February, while I was otherwise tied-up (literally) with a broken collarbone. I wanted to shoot these scenes in the snow as the movie is set in winter, and waiting another weekend or two would mean having to wait a full year. Marlowe also helped as Director of Photography, making sure my shots lined up as close as possible, though discrepancies may exist depending on the focal length of the camera lens used, or whether the film shoot used a lift for elevated photography.
The day we ventured out in Beacon was a bright sunny day which matches some, but not most, scenes in the movie – filmed primarily on blustery gray days – but it sufficed in capturing the massive amounts of snow from the winter of 2015. When I was able to venture out again on my own in March to seek out a few last locations, most of the snow had disappeared.
Directed by Robert Benton, Nobody’s Fool was filmed in the Mid-Hudson Valley during the winter of 1993-1994 when the region was hit by “17 snowstorms and temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero“. Principal filming locations included Beacon, Fishkill, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson.
Nobody’s Fool is actually a book that preceded that movie. Published in 1993, it must have made quite an impression for being turned into film in quick order, with an all-star cast to boot. Author Richard Russo has made his mark writing about the characters and trials of post-industrial small-towns, inspired by his childhood in upstate New York. “Elsewhere” draws upon his mother’s feelings towards their hometown Gloversville, 50 miles northwest of Albany, when it was a rapidly-declining factory town. Fictional Gloversvilles appear in Russo’s other books, informing “Empire Falls,” “Mohawk” and “Nobody’s Fool.”
Set in late 1984 (updated to the 1990s for the movie), the town of “North Bath” in Nobody’s Fool is, geographically, probably best served by Ballston Spa, overshadowed by its more-glamorous and thriving neighbor “Schuyler Springs” (Saratoga Springs). But it was the Hudson Valley that was chosen for filming locations, and the story doesn’t miss a beat for it. Both areas of New York State were quite similar in their experience of industrial decline and in their social fabric that one area could easily have stood in for the other.
Nobody’s Fool was also filmed right at the time Tom Rinaldi and I began to venture out and photograph the kinds of old and abandoned places that fill the background of Nobody’s Fool. In fact, in Pleasant Valley (a few towns east of Poughkeepsie), Tom photographed the ruins of the Pleasant Valley Finishing Company, a stone Cotton Mill building identical to one of Beacon’s most significant ruins. My first visits to Beacon occurred in 2002 when the Roundhouse was still an empty shell (a decade away from reopening as a restaurant and hotel), when Dennings Point still had a half-dozen or so abandoned ruins and not yet the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, and Dia: Beacon was still a year away from opening in a formerly-vacant riverfront factory. Beacon was one of “the places” to go for exploring ruins in those days. Even with its abandoned factories and vacant storefronts, I wouldn’t say that I ever felt unsafe in Beacon, but it was definitely not the enticing destination/escape, replete with vintage clothing stores and novelty shops, that it is now.
During the much or all of the 2000s, many of Beacon’s major vacant properties were owned by William Ehrlich and his company Beacon Terminal Associates, who may or may not have promised redevelopment and revitalization to the city. Most of those properties – significant remnants of Beacon’s industrial era – remained abandoned as we conducted our documentation of Hudson Valley Ruins prior to the publication of our book of the same name. Redevelopment of some of these vacant buildings did not begin until Ehrlich sold to others who would proceed with revitalization projects.
Currently, renovation and reuse of formerly abandoned mills has been limited to the factory buildings north of East Main Street. Other mills have not been so fortunate. The nearby Matteawan Company Cotton Mill (c. 1811-1814) is perpetually threatened with demolition, the Tioronda Hat Works near the mouth of the Fishkill Creek is slowly crumbling away, the New York Rubber mill on Tioronda Avenue burned and was demolished in 2005, and now the Rothery File Works/Ellrodt & Lynch silk mill building is vacant after its most recent occupant, an auto salvage company, moved out. So it is still possible to get a few glimpses of “North Bath as it was” in Beacon today, but if you want to seek them out, hurry up! More renovation projects are on the horizon, in Beacon and elsewhere, as the Hudson Valley itself continues its post-industrial transformation.
If you have not seen Nobody’s Fool and plan to do so, you might want to come back to this blog post afterwards for a spoiler-free experience. The weather still feels wintery around the Hudson Valley so it’s not too late to get in the mood to watch this film, but one viewing need not suffice. I return to it each winter, usually waiting for a snow-day off from work to watch it again.
Characters shown here are:
Sully – Paul Newman
Miss Beryl – Jessica Tandy
Peter – Dylan Walsh
Rub – Pruitt Taylor Vince
Carl – Bruce Willis
Toby – Melanie Griffith
Officer Raymer – Philip Seymour Hoffman
Hattie – Alice Drummond
The official summary: “Sully is a rascally ne’er-do-well approaching retirement age. While he is pressing a worker’s compensation suit for a bad knee, he secretly works for his nemesis, Carl, and flirts with Carl’s young wife Toby. Sully’s long- forgotten son and family have moved back to town, so Sully faces unfamiliar family responsibilities. Meanwhile, Sully’s landlady’s banker son plots to push through a new development and evict Sully from his mother’s life. ”
Part Two of this post will conclude with links to reviews and newspaper articles about the time of the film’s production in the Hudson Valley.
1-8: OPENING MONTAGE SCENES
1. Matteawan Falls on the Fishkill Creek at East Main Street, Beacon.
The building at left, indeed abandoned and a ruin during the early years of Hudson Valley Ruins, was renovated c. 2010-2012. Previously home to numerous companies, including Horatio Swift’s Machine Shop, the building is now known as the Roundhouse and includes a restaurant and a hotel. The small ruin at right, perhaps one of the earliest mills built at the falls, was demolished during the renovation process. Tom Rinaldi and I popped in there, precariously, and Tom captured some ancient workers’ graffiti chronicling annual inaugural snowfalls.
2. Sully’s Childhood Home, Cliff Street and Beacon Street, Beacon.
Hidden in plain sight, this building took the longest time to present itself to us. We “discovered” it by chance in December 2014, a few minutes after talking about it. I wonder if it really was abandoned and boarded up, as it appeared in the movie, or whether it was “dressed for the part” by the film crew. We knocked on the door to speak with the owner, but no one answered that day. I wished I had taken a photograph of this house on a gloomy day for a more appropriate comparison. Sunny day or not, the house looks beautiful now.
3. East Main Street, Beacon
This location counts as a classic Hudson Valley scene having been featured, not only in Nobody’s Fool but also in National Geographic’s March 1996 article on the Hudson Valley.
4. Main Street, Beacon
The banner across the street in the movie advertises the proposed Great Escape Theme Park that the town of North Bath is betting its future on.
All of the Main Street locations filmed for Nobody’s Fool are located at the east end of Main Street, in the old Matteawan section of the city. Beacon incorporated as a city in 1913 joining the riverfront village of Fishkill Landing and the inland village of Matteawan into one municipality. The church at center is the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Matteawan, built in 1869. The building at left is the former Matteawan station of the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad, whose tracks are still extant. Owned now by The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the tracks are rarely used and only for non-commercial purposes, but they are vital for possible future use being the only east-west track system that connects the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven lines.
5. Rub’s House, North Street, Beacon. Rub’s House was the first “secondary” location that I discovered on my own, and finding it sparked my interest in seeking out other locations. When I first saw the house, it had not changed one iota since the movie. Even the plastic number sticker on the mailbox was the same. Well, as things get better around Beacon, things get “better.” The house has been renovated, or really, essentially demolished and rebuilt – maybe some or all of the original framing is in there still, but otherwise there is a brand new house. I’ve already documented the beginning of that transformation on the blog, and now you can see the finished result below.
6. The Iron Horse Bar, South 7th Street, Hudson
I admit, I did not know that the Iron Horse was a relic of the movie. Sure, a bar existed here before, but it was called the State Grill. The Iron Horse name was concocted for the movie, but it fit – train tracks pass within just a few feet of the bar’s front door – and stuck. So authentic, it had me fooled. It was definitely Hudson Valley working class authentic on the inside, and was a favorite stopping place after a good day of exploring upriver. In fact, Tom and I were really looking forward to some dollar ponies after a day spent on the frozen Hudson River in March 2014 when, in one of our greatest disappointments, we found that the Iron Horse bar had recently closed. It remains shut and tied up in estate proceedings. And – as things change – a cigar store bearing the name Iron Horse has opened up two doors down.
In the book, the bar is known as the White Horse Tavern. Almost ironically, there is in Fishkill a “White House Restaurant” with an authentic neon sign to boot, that could have been doctored to be the “White Horse,” right around the corner from two filming locations.
7. Hattie’s Diner, Warren Street, Hudson
Hattie’s Diner looks much the same on the outside – it’s neon fascia sign is still there and still lights up, thankfully, but a new sign projecting off the building announces the current name of this establishment: “Grazin'” which bills itself as a “farm to table” restaurant. I couldn’t find a menu on their website to see if they serve Rub’s Jelly Donuts.
8. Miss Beryl’s House, Garfield Place, Poughkeepsie
Sully rents a room from his landlord Miss Beryl in this house. Its monochrome appearance has been updated – not quite a rainbow-esque painted lady, but a bit brighter.
9. Miss Beryl’s House, Garfield Place, Poughkeepsie
Rub and Sully check out the porch rail that Miss Beryl is constantly asking Sully to fix – Sully always says he’ll do it, but he never does. The house might have been an apt metaphor for the Hudson Valley in 1994 – still in decent shape, still a grand old place, but in need of a paint job and a front railing, or it might be at risk of declining into irreversible repair.
10. Tip Top Construction, Tioronda Avenue, Beacon
Here Sully drives down Tioronda Avenue in his trusty red Ford pickup truck. Sully frequently pesters Tip Top owner Carl Roebuck for disability payments, which Carl claims he doesn’t owe. Yet, Sully keeps showing up at Carl’s office begging for work.
The intricate-designed brick building at left-center is the Howland Cultural Center.
11. Tip Top Construction, Tioronda Avenue, Beacon
The building is now the office of Miller’s Minutemen Construction Company.
12. Tip Top Construction, Tioronda Avenue, Beacon
Carl won’t give Sully any big jobs, but odds-and-ends are available. Early in the film Sully is sent over to Carl’s housing development where he is seen tossing cinder blocks into the back of his truck, all the while imagining he is actually tossing Carl out of a second-story window. Not only has this brick building been repainted, but it has lost its bracketed cornice.
13. High Street, Beacon
Returning home to visit his mom (Sully’s ex-wife) for Thanksgiving, Peter stops to pick up his dad Sully, who is hitchhiking after having popped a tire on his truck. Not having seen his son for a few years, Sully is introduced to his grandchildren, including Wacker, who promptly lives up to his name and whacks Sully on his bad knee. Sully gets out and walks the rest of the way to Carl Roebuck’s house.
The mailbox is gone today, as the neighborhood mail drop box is now almost entirely non-existent anywhere.
14. Tompkins Avenue, Beacon
With his own marriage breaking-down, Peter starts the process of reconnecting with Sully, inviting Sully to Thanksgiving Dinner as Sully walks away. The Tompkins Avenue and High Street houses look more-or-less similar today. (The 2015 photograph replaces an image from around the corner taken earlier in the year that I misidentified.
15. High Street, Beacon
That’s the spire of the Reformed Church of Beacon at left. What happened to all those grand old trees?!
16. Carl Roebuck’s House, High Street, Beacon
Sully shows up at Carl’s House only to find Carl’s wife Toby tossing Carl’s clothes out the door – Carl’s been caught cheating and Toby is having the locks changed. The house is now Botsford Briar Bed and Breakfast.
17. “Mohawk Valley Country Club,” (Powelton Club), Newburgh
Here Miss Beryl and her son Clive Jr. entertain potential investors in the Great Escape Theme Park and its associated redevelopment projects that will save North Bath. Being that the author of Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo, is from upstate Gloversville he admittedly drew from the Mohawk Valley, not the Hudson Valley, for inspiration in setting the story. Hence, we have here the Mohawk Valley Country Club (there is a real club of that name in Little Falls, NY).
I missed that piece of information about the movie also being filmed in Newburgh. I bing-mapped all the country clubs between Beacon and Poughkeepsie and did not see anything that matched the Mohawk club. I then reached out to my dad, former golf coach at Westchester Community College. He didn’t recognize it right away, but forwarded the photo on to his upstate colleagues, who let me know right away that it was the Powelton Club.
18. Main Street, Beacon
North Bath’s finest, Officer Raymer, pulls over Sully a short distance west of the Howland Cultural Center.
19. Main Street, Beacon
This scene is the first run-in that Sully has with Raymer.
20. Cozy Corner Diner, Elm Street, Fishkill
After being pulled over by Office Raymer, Sully finds his grandson Will in the bed of his pickup truck. They stop at this truck-stop/diner to place a call to Will’s dad Peter. The building at center today houses a pizza shop and a bar known as Fast Eddie’s. Sully actually pulls his truck into a parking spot at right where the diner was located. The building at right (off-camera) is now the Liberty Baptist Church. The pastor showed me inside and said how it was completely renovated but that there had been a diner counter and seating inside previously, and that scenes for the movie were filmed inside.
21. Garfield Place, Poughkeepsie
Sully plays the hero when he shows up Clive Jr. and rushes out to the snow-covered street to rescue Hattie, senile after suffering a stroke some years prior, as she imagines she is running away to her sister’s place in Albany. Sully smooth-talks her back around.
22. Main Street, Beacon
In this sequence, Sully sets Will on his lap and allows him to steer the “nice truck.” They are shown cruising past Beacon’s old textile mills and a row of boarded-up buildings, and one of perhaps only three dummy-lights in the entire United States.
23. Main Street, Beacon
This scene is actually behind where Sully was just shown driving, but appears next in the movie. Ackerman Street was the real name – the street sign was left intact for the movie, but now the street sign stands on the opposite corner.
24. Main Street, Beacon
The factory at left is the site of the original Matteawan Company textile mill. The larger of the two buildings was constructed in 1912 by the Carroll Hat Company. It remained in use much longer than Beacon’s other factories – possibly through the time of filming Nobody’s Fool – Three Star Anodizing was the last active owner, and the Dorel Hat Company rented space here through the mid-1980s.
(EDIT: This post was updated on April 2 with new photographs for #14 and #20.)