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Posts Tagged ‘Grandview on Hudson’

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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Ever wonder why there’s a Nyack, Upper Nyack, South Nyack? Not to mention a Central Nyack and a West Nyack?

It can be confusing even to those of us who’ve lived here all of our lives. In a broad sense, we tend to think of “Nyack” as encompassing most of the above mentioned locations – along with Grandview-on-Hudson, Upper Grandview and parts of Valley Cottage and Blauvelt! To obfuscate matters further: the zip code “10960” encompasses the villages of Nyack, Upper Nyack, South Nyack and Grandview-on-Hudson along with the hamlets of Central Nyack and Upper Grandview and a tiny part of Blauvelt; Upper Nyack, Central Nyack and West Nyack are in Clarkstown Township while Nyack, South Nyack and the two Grandviews are in Orangetown Township – with the exception of a small corner of Nyack Village which somehow wound up in Clarkstown; and then Grandview-on-Hudson and Blauvelt are located in the South Orangetown School District, West Nyack and part of Central Nyack in the Clarkstown School District, while the rest of Central Nyack, Nyack, South Nyack and Upper Nyack and Valley Cottage are in the Nyack School District. Shall I get into which locations are served by Nyack Water and which by United Water? The number of cross-jurisdictions can be mind-boggling at times!  Many events led to the breaking up of what in the days of New Netherland were the Nyack Patent and the Vreisendael Patent into the villages and hamlets we currently know – and one of the defining moments of those divisions came in August of 1885 with the opening of the Upper Nyack Post Office.

Edward Hopper's Famous Painting

In 1870 the Legislature passed a general act for the incorporation of villages, and by 1872 local Nyack businessmen had devised a plan to incorporate the Nyack area into a large village that would include all of the present day villages of Nyack, South Nyack and Upper Nyack along with most of Upper Grandview and the Clausland Mountain section of Blauvelt.  By pulling in these outlying areas, the downtown could be improved and enhanced using the tax dollars of the property owners of the outlying areas (many of the residents of the downtown area were tenants and therefore did not pay property taxes).  Garrett Sarvent of Upper Nyack (whom I suspect is a descendent of Phillip Sarvent, the Revolutionary War hero buried in the old Palmer cemetery) got wind of these intentions, and upon gaining real proof that this was indeed the plan of the downtown business owners and planned a “counter-offensive”.  In what amounted to almost complete secrecy for a political manuever, the residents of Nyack north of the line between Clarkstown and Orangetown (near Sixth Avenue) plotted out their own village and incorporated as Upper Nyack in September of 1872, just 25 days before the original incorporation plans that included it in a future Nyack village came to fruition. So, when Nyack officially incorporated October 23, 1872, it was without its northern reaches.

To be fair, the residents of Upper Nyack had a point at the time. For instance, gas street lights and home gaslight service was available downtown starting in 1859 – but not in Upper Nyack (or anywhere else outside of downtown for that matter) and the taxes of the landowners in the outlying areas were paying for those amenities for non-property taxpayers while not getting those amenities themselves.  During the rest of the 1870s, the residents south of downtown were facing the problems the residents north of downtown had elected to flee prior to incorporation.  Finding all of their taxes going only to improve areas they did not live in, a movement to end incorporation was held, and on February 7, 1878 the original incorporated Village of Nyack ceased to exist.  On May 25 of that year, the Village of South Nyack came into existence followed by a newly restructured Village of Nyack on February 27, 1883 consisting of just the downtown area and its’ associated residential section on the hillside above.

The opening of the Upper Nyack Post Office in August of 1885 firmly established Upper Nyack’s presence as an entity in and of itself.  The streets of Upper Nyack had been “macadamized” (we’d say “paved”) and street lamps installed along Broadway. The lower taxes in Upper Nyack caught the attention of some businesses and first Post Master George C. Stevens could look out from the porch of the Post Office and see the offices of the Pacific Mail Company and the Main Offices of the Union Steamboat Company.  Just down Castle Heights Avenue was the Van Houten Boatyard (later Petersens) and Upper Nyack settled in for a period of quiet prosperity.

photo: J.P. Schutz

 
What started out as a good idea back then – when both Upper Nyack and South Nyack had business areas that helped pay for some of their individualized services may today by some be considered a liability. By the 20th Century, Upper Nyack had a thriving waterfront area that built, serviced, drydocked and docked boats, sloops, riverboats and ships along with a number of small business scattered mostly along the main north-south corridors of Broadway, Midland and Highland Avenues (Route 9W).  South Nyack had by mid-century its’ own downtown with shops, restaurants, taverns, churches, cemeteries and even a house or two of ill-repute!  The Nyack and Northern Railroad had a station in downtown South Nyack, along what is now the bike and jogging trail (a poor substitution, that).  Both villages had commercial tax payers as well as residential.  Unfortunately, the decline of the ice industry and the shipping industry would doom Upper Nyack’s shoreline businesses and a move toward “residential only” meant all of the old multiuse business/residential properties scattered around the Village were no more as soon as they sold to a new owner – even the original Post Office.
 
If Upper Nyack’s businesses succumbed to “old age”, South Nyack’s loss was more like losing a loved one to a sudden accident.  The New York State Thruway obliterated most of what was the business district of South Nyack when it and the Tappan Zee Bridge were constructed, severing the Village in two and leaving it without many opportunities for rateables and tax paying business.  What had been a tax benefit in the late nineteenth century may no longer be so in the early twenty-first.  With taxes rocketing up all over the country, but particularly here, the redundancy of village services that co-exist with or supersede township services add an additional burden on what are now primarily residential areas with no businesses to help share the tax burden.  Still, I have the feeling that sentiment (and an unbelievably labyrinthine incorporational dissolving process) will keep our villages unique and separate for the foreseeable future. 
 
So, that’s part of the story of how we got all of these crisscrossing jurisdictions – more to come in the future! 

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