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Archive for the ‘Trivia’ Category

I decided to re-visit this post today when a few serendipitous events kept leading back to one of our most famous or infamous (depending on the source) late residents.  It was spurred by attending an open house of a gorgeous listing my colleague and friend Donna Cox was having in a home that was located on the grounds of the former Clarkstown Country Club, owned by the above mentioned fellow.  No matter whether you thought he was a saint or a swindler, NO ONE could deny that he was truly UNIQUE.  Thanks to some additional information from the very knowledgable Jim Leiner, I can flesh out the story here for a bit. 

Okay, so the rest of the county – in fact, the rest of the state – has always accused Nyack and Nyackers of being a little well… different.  We tend not to march to quite the same drummer as most of the rest of the area, which may be what has attracted the artists, writers, musicians and all the rest to Nyack for so many years.  It’s not that we in Nyack “draw outside the lines” – we draw within the lines, we just use brighter colors!  

Many may think that New Age philosophy first made its’ appearance in Nyack during the Nyack Renaissance of the late 1970s.  Au contraire, mon amis! Let’s turn back the clock a moment to one of the most successful and celebrated New Age entrepreneurs of all time – Pierre Arnold Bernard.  After having been a bit too extreme for San Francisco and Manhattan (let’s imagine “too extreme for San Francisco and Manhattan” for a moment, shall we…), Mr. Bernard moved to Nyack in 1918 and first established the “Braeburn Country Club” where the Nyack Field Club is now located.  The property also contained the area where the elementary school now sits, and emblazoned above the entrance gate was a sign reading: “Here Philosopher May Dance, and The Fool Wear a Thinking Cap”.

The property had been world-famous at the end of the 1800s and first two decades of the 1900s as the home of the Nyack Tennis Tournament, a World Cup level tournament held yearly just a few days after the annual Forrest Hills tournament so that international competitors would have another American Tourney after having to spend 5 days to get here by Ocean Liner. (I discuss the Club’s earlier incarnation in my post http://bit.ly/2arZWX4 about our own Nyack  International Tennis star and foundress of the National Tennis Association, Augusta Bradley Chapman).

 According to Mr. Leiner, it was not until the 1920s when the “upper campus” which would become the Clarkstown Country Club consisted of 78 acres where the Junior High School and much of Nyack College sit today was acquired. He started building immediately and many of the current college buildings were actually originally part of the resort – the facility was completed with the construction of a stadium in Central Nyack in 1934. Though known in the press of the time as “The Omnipotent Oom” it appears the man himself preferred to be called either “Doc” or by his initials “P.A.” just as I’m referred to as “J.P.”.  On a more serious note, he IS credited with the real beginning of the yoga movement in the United States.  

The Club was part yoga center, part Ashram, part spa, part entertainment venue… and by many accounts a haven of the “Free Love” movement (look it up if you must!) and high-end opium resort catering to the rich and famous.it abounded with oddities, not the least being that the vast majority of the “Clarkstown” Country Club was located in Orangetown.  There was also a yacht, airplanes on the grounds, minor league class A baseball games – including night games under the lights in 1934, a permanent circus, and elephants – a small herd of them.  In fact, when the matriarch elephant “Mom” died at age 93 her obituary ran in The New York Times. And no, I’m really not kidding.  The elephants became a beloved and welcome part of the Nyack community for decades. In fact the uncle of a very close friend was one of their caretakers, and by all reports, they were EXTREMELY happy here – well treated, well housed, well fed, free to walk the grounds, and never ever living alone or chained (perhaps Mr. Bernard should have taught some things to Ringling Brothers).

photo from Nyack Library Collection

On the whole, Mr. Bernard appears to have been (at a distance of many years and cultural changes) equal parts serious scholar and charletan; a man who did indeed help many desperate people find some peace, but managed to have a rollicking good time doing so.  His interest in the tantric studio – along with some prior “issues” with police in other city dealing with drugs, sex and kidnapping charges – led to his actually being used as the template for several Hollywood “Swami” type villains (one played by W.C. Fields) and having a newspaper comic strip done as a parody of him.  

And yet, his clients were the Vanderbilts and other members of “The 400”. Respected scholars lectured at the Club, authors and artists flocked to his retreat, and like it or not, he moved yoga into the American consciousness for good.  By the time he passed away in 1955 at age 79, he was a Bank President; officer of the Nyack Chamber of Commerce; was head of a very large real estate holding company; held membership in The Masons, of all things; and yeah, he had ELEPHANTS.  His wife, Blanche DiVries, would continue to faithfully teach yoga here in Nyack well into my life time – she taught until 1980 and died in 1984.  

Now, how do I convince the Village Board to bring Elephants back to live in Nyack!

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So, the Sochi Games are up and running and athletes all over the world are sliding, flying, spiraling, slaloming and sweeping their way into the history books… does Nyack have a connection?

One of my favorite things to research is any connection Nyack or the surrounding area has with famous events, people or things – particularly if the aforementioned famous items also happen to coincide with other interests of mine.  I was thrilled when I found that Nyack had a Titanic survivor; let alone the World War I spy ring that connected Nyack to some of the most famous (and infamous) ocean liners of all time; or Marilyn Monroe’s visit – and I think by now most of my readers know that I just love the fact that Nyack was home to a small herd of elephants for decades!

So, I hoped to find some connection between our home and my favorite quadrennial sporting event, the Winter Olympics…

I must admit, that I scored neither a Gold nor a Silver in my search, but I do think I grabbed a Bronze.  I have yet to find a link between Nyack and Sochi – and considering the human rights atmosphere over there, that is just fine with me. However, there ARE some cool facts I can send sliding down the ice…

Bear Mountain Inn photo courtesy of the Nyack Library Collection

Bear Mountain Inn photo courtesy of the Nyack Library Collection

1. THE 1932 WINTER OLYMPICS WERE ALMOST HELD HERE.  Not kidding. Just like today, the IOC seriously considered several possible locations for the ’32 Winter Games which eventually wound up in Lake Placid, New York. Those locations included famous world locations like Oslo, Montreal, Denver and Bear Mountain. Yep, Bear Mountain, Rockland County, New York just up 9W.  See, at the time, Bear Mountain was the premier Ski Jumping site in the entire United States and with the world-famous (at the time) Bear Mountain Lodge, our own state park was almost given the nod for the Games, but lost in the final round to our upstate neighbors.  That Ski Jump would continue to be used (especially by the cadets at West Point) up until 1990 when it was finally retired.  As a consolation prize, Bear Mountain would wind up being the Spring Training location for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the World War II years.  And for a closer tie to Nyack, the then ultra-hip Bear Mountain Inn was managed by the father of our former mayor, Terri Hekker.

Bear Mtn Inn from the Ski Slope. Photo courtesy of Palisades Park Commission.

Bear Mtn Inn from the Ski Slope. Photo courtesy of Palisades Park Commission.

2. THE NBC OLYMPIC BROADCAST SET WAS DESIGNED HERE.
Black Walnut, a design company from Valley Cottage is responsible for the spectacular NBC broadcast sets.  Though one of the largest jobs they’ve ever done, they are not new to this kind of work.  They describe themselves as “fabricators of scenic environments for television, exhibits, live events and theatre” – and they do a superb job, made evident by their Emmy Award winning status.  Along with NBC’s Sochi studios, they’ve also designed and fabricated other NBC News sets here in New York, along with sets for Major League Baseball, Fox Sports, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Rock Center, The Weather Channel, and even our local Channel 12 News Studios.  Check out their work at their website http://blackwalnut.tv.

3. A US WOMEN’S CHAMPION IN SKELETON IS FROM HERE.
Katie Koczynski of Upper Nyack competed in three World Cup Championships for the United States in 3 years, 2003, 2004, and 2005 – with a Fourth Place finish at the Calgary World Cup in 2003, a very high placement for an American Slider. Though she did not compete in Turino in 2006, she did bring worldwide attention to the American Team and to our women sliders particularly.  All while maintaining a 3.8 GPA at Columbia University, remaining on the Dean’s List and graduating Cum Laude in Sociology in 2006.  At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, her then boyfriend Bill Demong – a Gold Medal winner in the 10 km large hill Nordic Combined, and a Silver Medal in the 4×5 km team Nordic Combined in Vancouver proposed to her in front of his teammates and coaches.  Bill Demong is in Sochi trying to do a repeat, and his now wife Katie is rooting him on…

The Proposal. Photo from skitrax.com.

The Proposal. Photo from skitrax.com.

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Nyack was in an uproar.  Residents reported their quality of life being severely affected by the latest lifestyle trends and changes in the business district.  Old respectable businesses were closing to be replaced by gathering places for the young and idle. Occupancy numbers in these dens of depravity frequently exceeded any safe number as more and more revelers flocked to Nyack.  Add to that the downtown streets made impassable by wheeled menaces in odd togs and footwear with little concern for those on foot or in respectable carriages and coaches, and the undercurrent of anxiety all of this brought to the local populace and Nyack had a “situation” on its hands.  Sound familiar?

Bars and Bicyclists, you might ask?

No. ROLLER SKATES… and Skating Rinks. Seriously.

The more things change the more they stay the same. If Villagers aren’t complaining about Bars and Bicyclists, its Skating Rinks and Roller Skaters.  In the fall of 1884, roller skating fever hit this country and while rinks began popping up all over, Nyack was to have a good number of them populating the downtown area. First the Village Board was approached by an investor wanting to use Voorhis Hall – where Turiello’s Pizza is now on the corner of Broadway and Main – as a rink, but just a week or two before he opened, another entrepreneur opened HIS rink at the Nyack Opera House – that structure was on the corner of DePew and South Franklin until demolished by the “urban renewal” project of the 1960s that deprived the Village of half its’ downtown and its train stations.

Rear of Nyack Opera House, photo from Nyack Library Collection

As if two skating rinks downtown were not adequate enough for the platoons of skaters invading the village, arriving nightly by train and omnibus, a third emerged that fall of 1884 called “The Casino” located further north on Franklin Street.  By all accounts, “The Casino” was pretty darn large as it regularly recorded 700 – that’s right SEVEN HUNDRED skaters on many nights, and they were open seven nights a week.  The success of the first three ventures led to a fourth and fifth rink in the works when the New York Times wrote a feature article on “Skatertown” on December 22nd of that year with follow-up stories for several weeks afterwards.  Though the skating craze seemed to travel the length of the Hudson Valley and its industrial towns, cities and villages in no other place did it catch on quite so quickly and with so many rinks – let alone the sheer number of skaters coming to the village and partying late into the evening, frequently traumatizing those out on the sidewalks as they whizzed by intent on moving from one venue to the next.  One of the NY Times articles ends with the statement “People here are becoming alarmed, and every time a stranger alights from an incoming train, someone asks with a shudder: ‘Is that another skating rink man?’.”

Live music accompanied the skating in each venue on most evenings, giving Nyack a reputation for a good place for employment among professional musicians – a reputation that would last through the Edwardian Age and Jazz Age to follow and continued up into the 1980s, and which may be seeing a resurgence today, giving a positive side to what many perceive to be a negative late night problem in Nyack’s currently expanding cadre of drinking establishments.  Since there have been times when Nyack had even MORE bars, saloons and pubs than we do today – and one of those times was during the skating boom, perhaps our ‘ancestors’ here in Nyack had an even tougher time than we do today. While todays residents may complain about the cyclists and the bars, well, at least the cyclists aren’t drinking while cycling which was NOT true for many of those with wheels on their heels back in Nyack’s part of the Gilded Age!

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April 14-15 seem to be very bad days in History. We can start with the most obvious – April 15 is Income Tax Day in the United States, certainly no one’s favorite day! Additionally, the first shots on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War were fired on these days in 1861; in 1865 Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater on April 14, and died on April 15; and in 1912 on a calm moonless night on the North Atlantic’s Grand Banks, a titan met its’ destiny and a golden, corrupt era came to and end. In remembrance of the 104th Anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, I re-post my story of Nyack’s own Titanic survivor… 

We were standing in front of a strange miniature lighthouse located in the middle of lower Manhattan. The year was 1968 and I was 6 years old and still ship-infatuated from having visited my great-aunt the prior Fall aboard the  RMS Queen Mary as she was docked in New York harbor on its’ last round-the-world sailing. My Grampy, sensing the fascination I had for that huge ship, and the piers and everything associated with the port area took me down to Schermerhorn Row’s cobblestone streets, where the South Street Seaport Museum was beginning to grow. Standing in the middle of the street was this small lighthouse, and it was dedicated to the memory of a particular ship and her passengers and crew that never made it to New York Harbor.

 That was the first time my Grampy told me the story. It was April of 1912 and he was looking forward to his 12th birthday in June, when one rainy evening he accompanied his father and several of his older siblings down to what is now the Chelsea Piers to see a ship dock.  Down the gangway came hundreds of ragged looking people, many with blank glassy-eyed faces or eyes downcast and shuffling slowly. They were immediately surrounded by a howling mob of cameras and men and women with pads and pencils and badges that read “PRESS”.  For these were not your average arrivals to the First and Second Class docks of the Cunard Line; no, this docked ship was the RMS Carpathia, and these bedraggled souls the mere 700 who survived their date with destiny on the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic. Of course, that made these bedraggled souls those listed as “SAVED” from the wreck of the RMS Titanic in what would be the media world’s first “real time” disaster, thanks to the wireless wonder invented by Marconi.  In the weeks to come my Grampy and his brothers would return to see the silent lifeboats tied up at the White Star Line pier, their pathetic empty shells the only part of the grand ship that would ever reach the safety of New York Harbor.  His story of watching the pitiful parade of survivors attacked by a rabid media, and the empty lifeboats that bespoke such a tragic story struck a chord in me, young as I was, that has remained as clear today as it was over 40 years ago.  And, just like I did forty-four years ago, you can still see the little lighthouse that stands silently telling its’ story where Fulton Street enters the Seaport’s Schermerhorn Row, ironically almost in the shadow of another tower built-in remembrance of another more recent tragedy, that rises above the pit of my own generation’s doomed hopes. 

My grandfather is somewhere among the crowd awaiting the Titanic Surviors on the Carpathia. Photo from the New York Times archives.

She was born Margaret Welles Barron in New York in 1865 and received Bachelor AND Master of Law Degrees from New York University (in the 1800s!) and taught Law, but had never practiced as an attorney. She married Frederic J. Swift, who in 1891 authored  “Honest Lawyers and Capable Juries” (he was a fiction novelist?), who died in Nyack in 1907 leaving her a widow.

In 1912 she was in Europe with New York friends Marion and Fred Kenyon and Dr. Alice Leader.  They booked their First Class return passage on the Maiden Voyage of the White Star Line’s new RMS Titanic, sister ship to 1911’s astonishingly opulent RMS Olympic.  They boarded in Southampton on April 10th, 1912.  Margaret would share First Class cabin D17 with her physician friend, while the Kenyon’s were just down the corridor in D21.

Late in the evening on April 14th, as most know, RMS Titanic had its’ date with destiny in the form of a late season iceberg. Ripping a narrow gash along 6 watertight compartments, the ship would have fared better in a head-on collision with the berg. As it was the seemingly glancing blow doomed the great liner. Margaret Swift, Dr Alice Leader and the Kenyon’s were at Boat 8 on the Port Side.  Unfortunately, this was the side under the control of Second Officer Lightoller who interpreted Captain Smith’s orders of “Women and Children First” to mean “No Men Ever” and launched boats half empty rather than allow male passengers or male crew to board them unless they were the crew assigned to the boat.  Mr. Kenyon was turned away and he and his wife suffered a painful goodbye while Margaret and Alice watched horrified. Also seated with them was 61 year old Ida Strauss of Department Store fame, who got back OUT of the lifeboat when told her 67 year old husband Isadore could not join her. Famously quoting the Book of Ruth (“Wherever you die so shall I die too…”) she would not be parted from her dearest love and they returned to their cabin and their fate together.  Major Archibald Butt, advisor to presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft assisted a number of ladies gallantly into the boat, making sure they were seated comfortably and telling them to remember him to Washington before stepping aside and walking away – it was only recently revealed that he turned away to spend the end with the man who accompanied him on the voyage, his long term partner of many years.  Boat 8 was the first launched from the port side at 1:00 AM exactly on April 15.  Aboard were just 25 people – 40 less than it was designed to hold – 22 First Class women and 3 crewmen assigned to the boat. Despite being incredibly underloaded, the Second Officer turned many of the women’s husbands or brothers away to their doom.  Captain Smith personally ordered Lifeboat 8 to row for the steamer they saw on the horizon – presumed to be the S.S. Californian only 5 miles distant but not answering their wireless or responding to the distress rockets.  The women rowed for a good period of time and so were the boat furthest away when the Carpathia steamed into the neighborhood after her all-engines over-capacity run through the darkness to  aid the stricken liner at around 4:30 AM.  When the women watched the Titanic go down just after 2:20 AM the crewman in charge wanted to turn around and try to rescue some of the men.  Only our plucky New Yorkers and Noel Leslie (who was the Countess of Rothes) voted to turn around and try to assist those in the water. The other 18 women insisted they would be swamped and continued rowing away.  The Countess would remain at the tiller of the boat all night from 1AM to 7:30AM when they finally reached the Carpathia having had to turn around at 4:30 AM.  The Countess of Rothes would come to be considered one of the heroes of the evening, though she was eclipsed of course by American millionaire Molly Brown in boat 6 – who despite the incredible insult done to her in Cameron’s movie version – wound up taking control of the boat from a crewman who had obviously come unglued by it all, though by the time she wrested control it was too late to assist as she had wished.

After the tragedy, Margaret Welles Smith would return to New York and Nyack – and a staggering number of accomplishments.  She became one-time president-general of the Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century and a member of the Thursday Class of Nyack and Sorosis, a women’s club in New York. She had been prominent also in the State Federation of Women’s Clubs.  She would pass away in Nyack in May of 1948, aged 86.  Oddly, the New York Times did not mention her Titanic experience in her obituary.

A fervent suffragette, she served at one time as a Village Trustee in Grand View. Margaret Welles Swift was a member of the Women’s Republican
Club of Nyack, and the Women’s National Republican Club in New York.  In 1920 she was chairman of the New York State Women’s Wood Committee, trying to obtain the Republican nomination for President for Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood. She was an important campaigner for Herbert Hoover in 1932.

She founded and was former president of the Federated Garden Clubs of New York State and the Garden Club of Nyack. In 1940 she received a silver medal from the state group.  She was president from 1933 to 1936 of the National Council of State Garden Clubs, and editor of the council’s bulletin.  Interestingly the Nyack Garden Club is using the Titanic Centennial as a theme this year – I wonder if they realize they were founded by a Titanic survivor?

Those of my readers who know me personally or have seen me perform, know that “I have this intense, if somewhat morbid, fascination with the Titanic disaster” and will continue to remark that “I knew all the facts and figures about it before Leonardo DiCaprio was even born.” Yes, it is the introduction to a musical parody routine that has gotten me nominated for several awards, however it also happens to be true. I have a great interest in all things related to the Ocean Liners of the 20th Century and though I prefer the ships that DIDN’T sink, naturally so much information is out there about the ill-fated RMS Titanic that inevitably my fascination would be drawn to it. What continues to amaze is that I am still discovering new details and stories, and the story of Nyack’s own Titanic Survivor is one of those recent “Eureka!” moments.

Many of the details on Nyack’s Titanic survivor Margaret Welles Swift were found through the incredibly informative Encyclopedia Titanica which has an incredibly fascinating website that draws from the Titanic Society; the major news services of both New York and London; White Star Line and Cunard Line records; International Maritime Records; the Library of Congress and the Congressional Record and many other sources. You can find them here: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/  Also helpful was titanicresearch.com and the New York Times archives and Nyack Library archives. Coincidentally, I learned that there is a Kindle E-Book single written specifically about Lifeboat 8, which I plan to download and read now that I know it exists: “Lifeboat No. 8: An Untold Tale of Love, Loss, and Surviving the Titanic” (Kindle Single) by Elizabeth Kaye.

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It’s after midnight, and one hour into December 24, 2011. For me, Christmas Eve has begun and I’ll be singing my heart out at two concerts and two masses later today at St. Ann’s on Jefferson, culminating in Midnight Mass 23 hours from now. Other local friends have been steeped in Latkes and Apple Sauce (even a bit of Sour Cream now and then – which is sacrilege I know, but some just don’t know what’s right and proper!) while lighting candles and spinning dredles for a few evenings now. A Pagan friend seriously lucked out this year as her annual sprint below the solstice moon with ‘nothin’ but the radio on’ had to have been relatively balmy this year compared to last, and I’m sure the Yule Log is now merrily crackling in her hearth. All over the village and the companion areas, old traditions are celebrated and new ones born… because it’s Nyack, and so we somehow manage to be over-the-top traditional and cutting-edgy all at the same time!  Though our individual traditions can occasionally bruise the toes of another’s traditions, for the most part they co-exist side-by-side relatively well and even find new and innovative ways to celebrate together or even combined… and always in our own unique, and frankly, quirky ways.

I’ve tried to explain to friends and colleagues who’ve never been here, that even in the worst of times, Nyack at Christmastide through the Nights of Chanukah and the Festivities of the Yule and the Principle Seeking of Kwanzaa still has a *suspicion*, a little frosting as it were, of pure unadulterated magic. All through the Season we light our homes and even the sky on New Year’s Eve with joy, with fellowship and with fun. Give Nyackers yet another reason to celebrate through the dark days and they’ll take it. Which is why you’ll find Haitians celebrating Sint Niklaus Day and Irishmen munching Latkes while a Russian Jewish lady puts ornaments on her friends’ Christmas Tree and an Italian Teen hangs with his bros at the Nyack Center listening to the Principals and a Catholic Nun joins her friend at a Sacred Oak.  Cause it’s Nyack. And we truly LIKE to share some of our fun with our neighbors who celebrate something else… and because we’ve never EVER done things the way any other place does. And that’s why only Nyack could have had these folks pictured below come by to help us celebrate the Winter Holydays for so many years… who knows, maybe some future December, Santa’s sleigh will once again be drawn by Elephants in the Snow…

Photo from the Bernard Collection, Hudson River Valley Heritage

Mom, Juno and Babe out for a frolic in the snow!

photo from Bernard Collection; Hudson River Valley Heritage

Back home for some Cocoa… by the gallon!
 
And so to all of you – in my tradition – a Very Merry, Very Nyack Christmas! May you have a Bright and Blessed Season no matter what you celebrate! Hold close to your friends and your family and remember THEY are the true gifts of the season… cherish them and it, and may all your holidays be Nyack-y! 

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I thought I’d return to discussing some of the previous “incarnations” of some of our most recognizable Nyack area buildings.

THE VANILLA FACTORY:  This quirky building on the corner of Piermont Avenue and Main Street is the oldest brick commercial building in the village, having been constructed in 1836. It originated as Ross’s General Store on the main floor with various manufacturing businesses occupying the upper floors. For many years all of the space above was a shoe factory (Nyack was for a time known as “Shoe Town”). A hoist still present in the building was installed during the tenancy of a furniture moving and storage company. In 1924, Seeley & Company began manufacturing of extracts and flavorings here, and the pleasant aromas would lead to the building being known forever after as “The Vanilla Factory”. One of the most interesting incarnations was from the early 1970s to the 1990s – “The Elizabeth Seeger School” an alternative High School founded by 5 breakaway teachers from the Dalton School in NYC. Currently the building houses offices and residential space, but the old hoist and other mercantile details can still be seen around this fascinating building that has changed so little on the outside!

photo by J.P. Schutz
CASCADIAN BOTTLING COMPANY: Ever been driving or cycling on River Road in Grandview and wonder what in the world that long low Grecian Temple was on the west side of the road approaching the bridge? That building and the large mostly unseen warehouse behind it were for years Grandview’s only industry.

photo courtesy of Rich Ellis

 
The first business there was the Onderdonk Stone Quarry, where brownstone for New York City’s luxury brownstones were mined going back to the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s. There had been a hat factory there in the 1800s that failed in the Depression of 1893. The old building was raised and the property purchased by none other than D.W. Griffith, my grandmother’s old boss, and one of the most important director/producers of the silent age. Think “Birth of a Nation”… yeah, THAT D.W. Griffith.  The city’s water was not in the best shape at the time there being a switchover from the old aqueducts to the new water tunnels, so spring water was bottled here and shipped from Nyack down to NYC under the name of Crandel Spring Water. Griffiths would bring his friends including the Gish Sisters up to Grandview for both relaxation and shooting of scenes in his films. My grandmother, Irene Lane Dunn, was Miss Lillian Gish’s stand-in for scene set-ups and also did what few “stunts” would be called on for Gish’s character; she would also play small or medium roles in the films as well. (I would later meet Lillian Gish several times when I would sing Christmas Parties at Helen Hayes MacArthur’s house, and she would always refer to me as “Little Irene’s Grandson”.) My Nana fondly remembered shooting several films in Grandview and Piermont and South Nyack and found them a nice change from Fort Lee and Brooklyn which were where the studios were mostly housed at the time. (If anyone is interested, the last film my Nana appeared in was “Bathing Beauties of 1922” – not kidding!) My grandmother would never leave New York and continued on the stage here, but Griffiths and the Gishes and the Studios all moved west, and the bottling company was sold in 1920 to become the Cascadian Products Company bottling carbonated water and later sodas.  From around 1930 to the mid-1960s their premier product would be ‘Cliquot Club Soda’. By 1960, the plant and spring were purchased by the Raso family and the name changed to Spring Water Beverage Company; and in 1968 another name change and a return to just bottling spring water, under the name Canaday Eagle Spring Water.  Operations ceased in 1975. The front building was converted to a unique residence and the rear warehouse in to a recording studio. Those remain the uses to this day, although one can still see the fountain on the lawn and a number of other remnants of the bottling and spring water days. The property consisting of house, recording studio and warehouse, spring, waterfall is currently listed for sale with Rich Ellis of Ellis Southeby’s Realty.
photo by J.P. Schutz
 

COUCH COURT: The building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Depew has been many things in past years, including the Orangetown Town Hall and the location where the New York State Supreme Court met several times when needing to do “downstate” business.

photo by Barbara Gill Porta

Built in 1854 for A.J. Storms of the Storms Tub and Pail Company, it would then pass into the hands of Captain Edwin Stillwell of the Nyack Ferry until 1882. In 1885 it was purchased by the Couch Family and gained its current name.  Dr. Louis Couch would use the building to house his Homeopathic Practice and his family, including his ground breaking daughter, Natalie. I’ve mentioned the formidable Ms. Couch in a number of prior postings – she was a suffragette and great proponent of women’s rights and she was in charge of the ambulance crew that were first on the scene of the Analine Dye Factory explosion.  Natalie Couch Williams was born in Nyack and graduated Wellsley College in 1907 and continued onto Fordham Law School where she graduated first in the class and became Rockland County’s first woman attorney. In Nyack, she organized the first women’s Republican Club in New York State immediately following passage of women’s suffrage in 1920. While maintaining a law office in Nyack, she would also go on to become Journal Clerk to the New York Assembly (another ‘first woman” achievement for her) and be legal secretary to NYS Supreme Court Justice Arthur S. Tompkins. She was nominated by the Republican Party and ran for the State Assembly as early as 1934 (and was defeated by another woman, Democrat Caroline O’Day who had the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, in the first woman vs. woman US election).  She was married to State Senator Lawrence G. Williams.

In her 66 years, she would become the first woman elected President of the Rockland County Bar Association, the first woman to be Vice-Chair of the Rockland County Republican Committee, and the Police Justice for Grandview-on-Hudson. She was considered a key member of the election committees of Governor Thomas E. Dewey and the failed Presidential bid of Wendell Wilkie. She was hosting a “Citizens for Eisenhower” rally in Nanuet when she was stricken with a fatal heart attack in 1956. In a story about her death, The New York Times would call her “New York State Republican Leader”.  Her law offices at Couch Court would become from 1942 to 1951 the Town Hall for all of Orangetown, and the Supreme Court of New York met there several times. During the time that she was the only female lawyer in Rockland, she had two male lawyers as employees of her practice. 

After her death, Couch Court would house a Medical Supply outlet and other healthcare related businesses. Later renovated and refurbished, the gracious building now serves as home to my own office – Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty of Nyack; along with the real estate investment company Rock-n-Real Estate; K.A. Consulting; internet designers Center Line Design; and a residential unit on the top floor.

photo by J.P. Schutz

 

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Well, it’s October again, and time for some more local ghost stories – this one is perhaps among the saddest of them all, a whole village that became a wraith of its former existence. The recent fast-tracking of the new Tappan Zee Bridge has brought back fears – well-founded – of homeowners forced to move because of state and federal projects. In Nyack, we mostly discuss the bi-section and gutting of the Village of South Nyack but South Nyack amazingly survived that amputation, other communities in the same time period did not do nearly so well. Not only did the New York State Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge project cut a wide swath across the middle portion of the county, but the state conservation movement decided, in the name of “open space” to condemn and forcibly move a good number of Rockland’s villages and hamlets. We tend to think of Harriman State Park and Hook Mountain State Park, and Tallman and the like as intelligently saved pristine old-growth forest. They are not.  Most of the area now in our State Parks was taken from Rockland residents whose families had lived there for centuries. At the bottom of Lake Welch resides the former village of Sandyfield, settled in 1760, condemned in 1928 with the last residents REMOVED from their homes in 1939. Or how about Doodletown? Settled by French Huguenots in 1762, their descendents would be the last to leave more than 200 years later when the state used the power of eminent domain  to seize their homes, church, school, business district and two cemeteries. The remains of the late 1790’s village of Johnsontown – still occupied when Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks were created, lies beneath Lake Sebego and Lake Kanawauke.  The hamlet founded in 1724 by the Conklin family on Pine Meadow Lake was bulldozed in the 1960s for a series of 35 camps for urban children that have yet to be built in 2011. Sterlington was also wiped from the maps, St. John’s in the Wilderness no longer has a village around it and caters to a congregation of memories and regrets. In all cases, despite some propaganda from the state, the residents did NOT want to go, and were certainly not compensated properly for loss of property.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about Rockland Lake and the Nyack area?

Yes, it was – I was just filling in a bit about the approximately 13 villages and hamlets Rockland surrendered to the State.  One of the most egregious cases was that of Rockland Lake.  John Slaughter settled the area on the Hudson below Rockland Lake in 1711 (the piers and docking area were called “Slaughter’s Landing”).  Harvesting of ice for storage purposes and meal enhancement at restaurants began commercially in the USA in 1805 and demand skyrocketed as “modern” convenience and the middle class both expanded to become part of the everyday life of the young USA.  The Knickerbocker Ice Company incorporated at Rockland Lake in 1831 (changing the name officially from Quaspeck Lake). Rockland Lake was known to have had the cleanest and purest ice in the area. The stored ice was placed on inclined railroad cars, transported down the mountainside, placed on barges on the Hudson River, and shipped to New York City. So much ice was shipped that Rockland Lake became known as the “Icehouse of New York City”. The nearby Knickerbocker Fire House was established 1862. The Knickerbocker Ice Company closed in 1924 as commercial refrigeration and freezers took the place of Ice Harvesting.

photo: J.P. Schutz

 
Wikipedia would have us believe that Rockland Lake Village as it was then called, died by 1926 when it claims that while demolishing one of the old ice houses, the residents themselves caused a fire that “destroyed the majority of the Village of Rockland Lake” effectively ending its’ existence.  Really? In reality, less than a dozen buildings caught fire in a village of well over a thousand people.  Though the glory days of fast clipper ships and later crack steamers carrying Rockland Lake Ice literally all over the world had ended, Rockland Lake Village survived the change. There was still work in the trap rock quarries and also in the hospitality industry.
 
After the Ice, Rockland Lake became known as a resort area for folks from New York City and the rest of the metropolitan area. I owe my own residency in Rockland County to that time period. My grandparents, lifelong New York City residents, maintained a summer and weekend bungalow cottage at Rockland Lake from pre-WWII until they were forced to leave it in the 1960s. My grandma and my mom and uncle would spend most of the summer weeks up here while my grampy joined them on weekends. At the end of the summer, my grandma would return to her manager position at Lord & Taylor and they’d come for weekends whenever possible except for the coldest weeks of January and February.  My Mom learned to drive here and took her drivers test in Nyack. The family would attend church at St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Rockland Lake on Sundays, bringing 4 welcome musical voices to the congregation. They saw movies in Nyack, had sodas at Woolworth’s, got prescriptions at Koblins and shoes at Glynns. And fell in love with the area – when my Mom and my Uncle married, each brought their family here to the area around Rockland Lake. In the early 1950s when they were looking, they realized that Nyack and even Rockland Lake were too much for their newlywed finances, taking my Mom and Dad just next door in Blauvelt, and my Uncle and Aunt to the edge of the area in West Nyack.  My grandparents would continue to come weekends and summers to their Rockland Lake bungalow and considered Rockland County their second home.  Through the 1950s and into the early 1960s the area of Rockland Lake Village still had many thriving vacation cottage and bungalow communities, local shops, a number of restaurants, cafes and lunch counters, tradespeople’s businesses, along with Gethsemane cemetery, the Rockland Lake Post Office, and the church, along with over a thousand year-round residents and several thousand seasonal residents.  By 1965, it was almost all gone. The beautiful mission church St. Michael’s established in 1901, would be demolished by the state in 1963 – 6 years before any serious park service work was done in its area.  The post office closed its doors in 1965, effectively ending Rockland Lake’s existence as a “place”.
The firehouse still bravely struggles on, even to this day, and a few homes remain.  As for the rest, taking a walk from the Firehouse over the ridge and down to the Hudson along what was the main road of the old village brought me to a ghost town where I found ruins, lots of ruins: of houses, of the old inclined railway, of the shipping piers, and even of the grand hotel that used to be right on the Hudson shore.

photo: JP Schutz

I found myself very sad, and oddly, a bit angry. Why destroy a living, breathing village, or 13 of them in the case of Rockland County’s full total? Greenspace is a wonderful thing, but at such a price? And sadly, so much of what had been inhabited is almost unreachable anyway – it’s never been utilized or even properly cleaned and returned to wilderness. It was just taken away. Some will say for the benefit of all, and they may very well be correct – on the great ledger of society, it may be that Rockland County’s loss of the Mountain Hamlets for Harriman State Park, the heart of the Village of South Nyack for the Thruway and the Bridge, and the Village of Rockland Lake for Rockland Lake State Park is a “net gain”.  But I must submit that the gain does not come without sorrow or bitterness… after all these years, my mother has NEVER returned to the spot that was the source of so much of her early happiness – despite having lived just a few miles away in the ensuing 45 years. (She has promised she will come – with me – so I can give a more first hand tale from one of the old “summer people”).  Before the park, Rockland Lake was a beautiful lake that was frequently used by “city people” and other non-residents who would come and rent here, or buy here, and shop the local stores and businesses during their summer stay. Now, busloads are shipped in from the city to use a man-made pool and then head back to the city just hours later without ever becoming involved in the local communities or adding to their economies while utilizing their resources – resources that were taken AWAY from the locals. Is this progress? Was this what was intended? Again, in light of the beauty that is Harriman State Park, the peace of Rockland Lake State Park, and the needed interstate and river crossing we have now – perhaps it has been for the best common good.  But Rockland has given and given and given for the common good and too infrequently receives back.  The mountain villages and Rockland Lake Village are no more… I hope that those in charge take serious consideration of just how much this area has sacrificed to the common good before they plunge into the sadly necessary need to rebuild the Bridge. Before anymore homes, dreams, communities, memories and history get trampled in the mad rush of expediency and “for the common good” may those in power take some time to consider treading as lightly as is humanly possible in a place that has already sacrificed so much of itself. Karma is supposed to come around, isn’t it? Hey Albany, are you listening?

photo: JP Schutz

 

photo: JP Schutz

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