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Posts Tagged ‘revolutionary war heroes’

This one from July 2013 bears re-posting. To the residents of Colonial Nyack, the Revolutionary War wasn’t some far away conflict, but part of their everyday lives. The first naval battle of the War and the first international salute to the new Country both took place right here in the Tappan Zee. See the struggle for freedom through THEIR eyes, and perhaps cherish “the great experiment” we call the United States a bit more. No human endeavor is ever perfect, and our Nation itself was born of compromise, for without it we would never have existed. We must still strive as our Nyack ancestors did to always make it better, to improve, to grow, and to continue striving in our national quest for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

I started this post having just returned home from watching the skies over Memorial Park light up with glorious fireworks celebrating America’s Independence Day; which as usual thrilled and excited the huge crowds who came to the village to watch.  That got me wondering how many people watching with me realized that in a way they were watching a re-enactment of similar events that occurred over two hundred years ago in the same location, events that with one special exception, brought dread and pain rather than joy and celebration…

P1010026

When people think of “The Revolution” and Rockland County’s place in it, if they are aware of any connection most would think of Stony Point and Tappan.  Stony Point was the location of the Battle of Stony Point, and Tappan of course hosted Washington’s Headquarters and the famous trial and execution of Major John Andre (the British Officer who was the other important figure in Benedict Arnold’s thwarted plan to give over the plans to West Point).  Both locations are proud of the roles they played in the American War for Independence – and rightly so – however the rest of the county did not just sit idly by and twiddle their thumbs or hum “Yankee Doodle” while history was made nearby.  The Nyacks for instance were attacked by the Redcoats several times – not by land, but from the British War Vessels in our own Tappan Zee – the bombs bursting in air would come from the guns of warships firing on the homes, farms and businesses of the Hudson Shoreline.  In fact, the very first Naval Battle of the Revolution would take place right off our shores in our own Tappan Zee.  Later, the first ever acknowledgement of the United States of America as a Sovereign Nation would come as a seventeen-gun salute to General Washington from the guns of the British Warship fired with honor in the very same location just off our shore.

How Nyack and the Riverfront became a wartime target…

A bit of background would probably help in understanding how Nyack and what would become the other River villages wound up on the receiving end of Musketshot and Cannonballs.  When Nieuw Netherland was handed over to the British by the Dutch without a shot fired in 1664, bloodshed was prevented by some shrewd bargaining on both sides.  The British very much wanted the finest deep water port on the North American continent, and control of Hudson’s River beyond which all acknowledged would be the key to opening the continent’s interior.  Nieuw Amsterdam and Pavonia (today’s lower Manhattan and Jersey City/Hoboken) were already a very busy FREE port with goods leaving the New World and heading to many European, Caribbean and African ports without the hinderance of the English King’s royal tariffs and restrictions of the New England ports to the north or the Virginia port to the south.  Nieuw Netherland’s polyglot population, not just Dutch, but Walloon, Prussian, French Huguenot, Free West Africans and Caribs, Jewish Refugees, Irish, Moorish, and yes, Englishmen and women fleeing New England’s puritan regime made the young city and the Valley of the Hudson to the north the finest mercantile trading post and port on the continent.  The Duke of York wanted our port and our river, but he also wanted to keep it profitable and running just the way it had been – only now paying taxes to the British Crown rather than as a state of the Dutch Republic.  A student of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” the Duke did not want to mess with a system – no matter how quirky – that worked and showed a profit.  Peter Stuyvesant, discovering his city and the other communities of Nieuw Netherland beyond under the guns of a number of English Warships while he had nothing but his trading fleet in port meant there could simply be a massacre or there could be a deal.

The deal between the Duke and the Dutchman was called the “Articles of Capitulation” and transferred the ownership of the colony to England – under the written and signed treaty that allowed the colony – now separated into New York and New Jersey – to keep their freedom of religion (unlike New England), their system of courts (innocent until proven guilty, not the opposite as in the other colonies – as well as the public defender which did exist in English jurisprudence), allowance of women to own property (two of the major colonies that were part of Nieuw Netherland had been founded by women), manumission of slaves (slaves – black, indian or white – could not be kept in that condition for life, and could work their way to freeman status in just a few years, earn money while doing so, and could own property afterwards) and their continued status as a free port dealing directly with both London and Amsterdam as well as the rest of the Atlantic world.  That meant that the two middle colonies wound up with a host of freedoms the other 11 did not have or would not have until significantly later.  Oddly, that left New York colonists a bit ambivalent when it came to independence from the Crown – the Crown, frankly had for almost 100 years left them to their own devices demanding only their taxes.  While New England chafed under more and more crippling taxes and infringement of civil rights, life was better and easier here. It was only when King George III and Parliament started chipping away at the Articles that the residents of Nyack and Tappan and the rest of Orangetown felt that perhaps something was amiss and they needed to take action.

Take action they did – as I’ve written elsewhere in this blog – the locals met at Jost Mabie’s Tavern (now the ’76 House Restaurant) and drafted the Orangetown Resolutions – ON JULY 4,1774. Two years to the day before the Declaration of Independence would be signed in Philadelphia! In it they addressed the King and Parliament stating: “We cannot see the late Acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the Act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorrence of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction… That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure, to obtain a repeal of Acts, not only destructive to us, but which of course must distress thousands in the mother country… That it is our unanimous opinion, that the stopping all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies, would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.” This was not a call for separation from England, but a reminder to her government that their recent behavior had been abusive and disruptive to the colonies.  Unfortunately, George and his Parliament did not care for criticism very much, and declared the document treasonous and the residents of Orangetown rebellious and inciting of sedition. THAT response would push most of the population of what would become Rockland County into the Patriots camp, though a few notable citizens such as ferry mistress Molly Sneden remained Tory throughout the coming conflict.

Once the hostilities began, the British realized that New York and the Hudson Valley were critical to their efforts to break the rebellion and re-exert their rule in the lower 13 colonies.  By holding the Hudson, the British commanders felt they would have effectively driven a wedge between New England and the Southern colonies, had they been completely successful with the strategy we might still be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of the “Star Spangled Banner”.  On August 3, 1776 the American Galleys Whiting, Lady Washington, Crown and Spitfire engaged the British ships Phoenix, Roebuck and Tartar in the Tappan Zee in the first naval skirmish of the Revolution. The Patriots succeeded in keeping the Redcoats from heading further up the Hudson, and they were assisted by the local Shore Patrol on land with shots fired from the gun emplacements in Piermont (then known as Tappan Slote), Nyack and Upper Nyack. Retaliation came in the form of cannon-shot targeting shore side residences – the Haring Estate (now called the Onderdonk House in Piermont), the Cornelison home (a large colonial home where Salisbury Point Co-ops now stand) and the Hazzard Home near Hook Mountain took damage, but the enemy ships could not proceed further north.

October 15, 1776, Captain A. Hawkes Hay commanding repulsed an attack by the British on Nyack.  By the fall of 1776, the British were not only in control of the City of New York, they had also gained control of Harlem, Bloomingdale and the other communities on Upper Manhattan and Fort Lee on the Jersey side.  The Patriots firmly controlled the Hudson above West Point, but there was a struggle to keep the lower Hudson from coming under British control. Hay reported that the ships attempting to land at Nyack were prevented by the men under his command, including the use of the Swivel Gun emplacement in Upper Nyack.  Severe damage was done to the house and barn of Philip Sarvent and though only a few men were injured in this encounter (no deaths) there were several other attacks on the area in 1777 and 1780.  Hay’s own home would be targeted by the British from the River and destroyed in one of these raids, Major John Smith’s house in Upper Nyack destroyed in another.  Land incursions came as well – and not only soldiers were injured or died.  Horrified Patriots discovered the body of Mrs. Garret Myers on her farm near Rockland Lake left to rot with her face smashed in from attempting to protect herself and her farm from British soldiers intent on food and perhaps something else, as a young and attractive woman named Mrs. Snyder was raped and left for dead on her nearby farm by the Hook.

Salisbury Manor, home of the Cornelisons (hence, Cornelison Avenue) because of its exposed location continue to attract enemy fire from the Hudson, and it seems holes from musket balls were still present in the door frames up until the Manor Home was raised in the 1950s to build the Salisbury Co-ops.  A Tory neighbor, reportedly jealous of the lovely home, would betray Michael Cornelison Sr and his wife to the British for their efforts to assist the Patriots, imprisoning them in New York City – Mrs Cornelison was allowed to return to Nyack 6 months later, her husband would remain in custody for 3 additional months. Oddly, the same quisling neighbor did not alert the Redcoats to the presence of Michael Cornelison Jr, even though he spotted the young man hiding in the house’s vast rafters during the raid. It appears young Michael was a Mason as was the tattler, and I suppose Masons just don’t DO that to each other… not that it did the young man much good, as he had to suffer through the local British Commander using his home as a headquarters for several months! All that’s left of that historic home now are some of the sandstone blocks of the walls used as stairs leading to Salisbury Point’s pool.

At the time Nyack, though small, was the headquarters of the Whaling Fleet – all rugged ships and men who favored the Patriots and vigorously defended the Nyacks from attempted landing after attempted landing by the British. Between the Whaling Fleet, the very successful and accurate shore patrol and swivel guns, and a certain resident sea-captain named Henry Palmer (of the Old Palmer Burial Ground Palmers) the British fleet went from annoyance to absolute loathing of Nyack and fired at will at any visible structure whenever possible.

photo by J.P.Schutz

photo by J.P.Schutz

Captain Palmer owned a large vessel carrying goods for one of the largest mercantile firms in New York City prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  He was offered great monetary compensation for serving the King’s forces, but he adamantly refused – in fact, on his next sailings he transported two cargos of ammunition, arms and supplies “acquired” by the  Sons of Liberty from British supply depots in the city which he brought to the camp of the Continental Army. His activities made his family unsafe in Manhattan and he moved them to Broadway in Upper Nyack, near Old Mountain Road. From there he continued to harry the British and was responsible for repulsing attempted landings numerous times – with consistent fatal results for the British and naught but wounds for the Nyackers. In early July 1777 he and the Shore Guard fended off two boats killing 3 men; in late July they returned, both to attempt a landing and to destroy a sloop moored between the Palmer home and the Sarvent home. Palmer, Sarvent and the Shore Guard prevented three attempts at landing with the toll for the British this time at 9 men.   Later that year, the Upper Nyack swivel gun emplacement, close by his property, enabled the Nyackers to later capture two landing boats and send their crews over to Tappan as prisoners of war.  A warship becalmed off Nyack’s shore unable to reach land and floating with the tide saw the loss of 36 men to Palmer’s crew of fatally expert gunners.  The result of his actions was a constant barrage of enemy fire anytime a ship reached this far up the river. By 1781, Nyack’s defenders had in addition to the Shore Patrol and gun emplacements, six whaleboats and forty-two men led by Captain Palmer, Nyack’s own Bane of the British.  Major John L. Smith, Captain Aury Smith, and Corporal Philip Sarvent, three of our Revolutionary War heroes may be found resting beneath their headstones in the Old Palmer Burial Ground on Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack. 

The British finally surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1782, though due to distance, travel time and red tape the Peace Treaty would not be fully signed until the next year. In May of 1783, General Washington met with Sir Guy Carleton in Tappan to confer on the final evacuation of British Troops from New York – they would then ride back to the riverfront to Onderdonk House on May 7th.  At that time Onderdonk House was owned by John Haring, who was our own representative at the Continental Congress. Onderdonk House, too, had taken an extreme beating from British guns during the war (looking at it today, in the process of some kind of restoration – we hope – it might look like it did at its worst).  Carlton and Washington were feted and feasted at Onderdonk House, and then the H.M.S. Perseverance fired its seventeen gun salute to honor Washington and to acknowledge, for the first time, our new sovereign nation – these United States of America.  That’s right folks, it happened… right here.

photo by J.P.Schutz

photo by J.P.Schutz

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I started this post having just returned home from watching the skies over Memorial Park light up with glorious fireworks celebrating America’s Independence Day; which as usual thrilled and excited the huge crowds who came to the village to watch.  That got me wondering how many people watching with me realized that in a way they were watching a re-enactment of similar events that occurred over two hundred years ago in the same location, events that with one special exception, brought dread and pain rather than joy and celebration…

P1010026

When people think of “The Revolution” and Rockland County’s place in it, if they are aware of any connection most would think of Stony Point and Tappan.  Stony Point was the location of the Battle of Stony Point, and Tappan of course hosted Washington’s Headquarters and the famous trial and execution of Major John Andre (the British Officer who was the other important figure in Benedict Arnold’s thwarted plan to give over the plans to West Point).  Both locations are proud of the roles they played in the American War for Independence – and rightly so – however the rest of the county did not just sit idly by and twiddle their thumbs or hum “Yankee Doodle” while history was made nearby.  The Nyacks for instance were attacked by the Redcoats several times – not by land, but from the British War Vessels in our own Tappan Zee – the bombs bursting in air would come from the guns of warships firing on the homes, farms and businesses of the Hudson Shoreline.  In fact, the very first Naval Battle of the Revolution would take place right off our shores in our own Tappan Zee.  Later, the first ever acknowledgement of the United States of America as a Sovereign Nation would come as a seventeen-gun salute to General Washington from the guns of the British Warship fired with honor in the very same location just off our shore.

How Nyack and the Riverfront became a wartime target…

A bit of background would probably help in understanding how Nyack and what would become the other River villages wound up on the receiving end of Musketshot and Cannonballs.  When Nieuw Netherland was handed over to the British by the Dutch without a shot fired in 1664, bloodshed was prevented by some shrewd bargaining on both sides.  The British very much wanted the finest deep water port on the North American continent, and control of Hudson’s River beyond which all acknowledged would be the key to opening the continent’s interior.  Nieuw Amsterdam and Pavonia (today’s lower Manhattan and Jersey City/Hoboken) were already a very busy FREE port with goods leaving the New World and heading to many European, Caribbean and African ports without the hinderance of the English King’s royal tariffs and restrictions of the New England ports to the north or the Virginia port to the south.  Nieuw Netherland’s polyglot population, not just Dutch, but Walloon, Prussian, French Huguenot, Free West Africans and Caribs, Jewish Refugees, Irish, Moorish, and yes, Englishmen and women fleeing New England’s puritan regime made the young city and the Valley of the Hudson to the north the finest mercantile trading post and port on the continent.  The Duke of York wanted our port and our river, but he also wanted to keep it profitable and running just the way it had been – only now paying taxes to the British Crown rather than as a state of the Dutch Republic.  A student of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” the Duke did not want to mess with a system – no matter how quirky – that worked and showed a profit.  Peter Stuyvesant, discovering his city and the other communities of Nieuw Netherland beyond under the guns of a number of English Warships while he had nothing but his trading fleet in port meant there could simply be a massacre or there could be a deal.

The deal between the Duke and the Dutchman was called the “Articles of Capitulation” and transferred the ownership of the colony to England – under the written and signed treaty that allowed the colony – now separated into New York and New Jersey – to keep their freedom of religion (unlike New England), their system of courts (innocent until proven guilty, not the opposite as in the other colonies – as well as the public defender which did exist in English jurisprudence), allowance of women to own property (two of the major colonies that were part of Nieuw Netherland had been founded by women), manumission of slaves (slaves – black, indian or white – could not be kept in that condition for life, and could work their way to freeman status in just a few years, earn money while doing so, and could own property afterwards) and their continued status as a free port dealing directly with both London and Amsterdam as well as the rest of the Atlantic world.  That meant that the two middle colonies wound up with a host of freedoms the other 11 did not have or would not have until significantly later.  Oddly, that left New York colonists a bit ambivalent when it came to independence from the Crown – the Crown, frankly had for almost 100 years left them to their own devices demanding only their taxes.  While New England chafed under more and more crippling taxes and infringement of civil rights, life was better and easier here. It was only when King George III and Parliament started chipping away at the Articles that the residents of Nyack and Tappan and the rest of Orangetown felt that perhaps something was amiss and they needed to take action.

Take action they did – as I’ve written elsewhere in this blog – the locals met at Jost Mabie’s Tavern (now the ’76 House Restaurant) and drafted the Orangetown Resolutions – ON JULY 4,1774. Two years to the day before the Declaration of Independence would be signed in Philadelphia! In it they addressed the King and Parliament stating: “We cannot see the late Acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the Act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorrence of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction… That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure, to obtain a repeal of Acts, not only destructive to us, but which of course must distress thousands in the mother country… That it is our unanimous opinion, that the stopping all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies, would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.” This was not a call for separation from England, but a reminder to her government that their recent behavior had been abusive and disruptive to the colonies.  Unfortunately, George and his Parliament did not care for criticism very much, and declared the document treasonous and the residents of Orangetown rebellious and inciting of sedition. THAT response would push most of the population of what would become Rockland County into the Patriots camp, though a few notable citizens such as ferry mistress Molly Sneden remained Tory throughout the coming conflict.

Once the hostilities began, the British realized that New York and the Hudson Valley were critical to their efforts to break the rebellion and re-exert their rule in the lower 13 colonies.  By holding the Hudson, the British commanders felt they would have effectively driven a wedge between New England and the Southern colonies, had they been completely successful with the strategy we might still be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of the “Star Spangled Banner”.  On August 3, 1776 the American Galleys Whiting, Lady Washington, Crown and Spitfire engaged the British ships Phoenix, Roebuck and Tartar in the Tappan Zee in the first naval skirmish of the Revolution. The Patriots succeeded in keeping the Redcoats from heading further up the Hudson, and they were assisted by the local Shore Patrol on land with shots fired from the gun emplacements in Piermont (then known as Tappan Slote), Nyack and Upper Nyack. Retaliation came in the form of cannon-shot targeting shore side residences – the Haring Estate (now called the Onderdonk House in Piermont), the Cornelison home (a large colonial home where Salisbury Point Co-ops now stand) and the Hazzard Home near Hook Mountain took damage, but the enemy ships could not proceed further north.

October 15, 1776, Captain A. Hawkes Hay commanding repulsed an attack by the British on Nyack.  By the fall of 1776, the British were not only in control of the City of New York, they had also gained control of Harlem, Bloomingdale and the other communities on Upper Manhattan and Fort Lee on the Jersey side.  The Patriots firmly controlled the Hudson above West Point, but there was a struggle to keep the lower Hudson from coming under British control. Hay reported that the ships attempting to land at Nyack were prevented by the men under his command, including the use of the Swivel Gun emplacement in Upper Nyack.  Severe damage was done to the house and barn of Philip Sarvent and though only a few men were injured in this encounter (no deaths) there were several other attacks on the area in 1777 and 1780.  Hay’s own home would be targeted by the British from the River and destroyed in one of these raids, Major John Smith’s house in Upper Nyack destroyed in another.  Land incursions came as well – and not only soldiers were injured or died.  Horrified Patriots discovered the body of Mrs. Garret Myers on her farm near Rockland Lake left to rot with her face smashed in from attempting to protect herself and her farm from British soldiers intent on food and perhaps something else, as a young and attractive woman named Mrs. Snyder was raped and left for dead on her nearby farm by the Hook.

Salisbury Manor, home of the Cornelisons (hence, Cornelison Avenue) because of its exposed location continue to attract enemy fire from the Hudson, and it seems holes from musket balls were still present in the door frames up until the Manor Home was raised in the 1950s to build the Salisbury Co-ops.  A Tory neighbor, reportedly jealous of the lovely home, would betray Michael Cornelison Sr and his wife to the British for their efforts to assist the Patriots, imprisoning them in New York City – Mrs Cornelison was allowed to return to Nyack 6 months later, her husband would remain in custody for 3 additional months. Oddly, the same quisling neighbor did not alert the Redcoats to the presence of Michael Cornelison Jr, even though he spotted the young man hiding in the house’s vast rafters during the raid. It appears young Michael was a Mason as was the tattler, and I suppose Masons just don’t DO that to each other… not that it did the young man much good, as he had to suffer through the local British Commander using his home as a headquarters for several months! All that’s left of that historic home now are some of the sandstone blocks of the walls used as stairs leading to Salisbury Point’s pool.

At the time Nyack, though small, was the headquarters of the Whaling Fleet – all rugged ships and men who favored the Patriots and vigorously defended the Nyacks from attempted landing after attempted landing by the British. Between the Whaling Fleet, the very successful and accurate shore patrol and swivel guns, and a certain resident sea-captain named Henry Palmer (of the Old Palmer Burial Ground Palmers) the British fleet went from annoyance to absolute loathing of Nyack and fired at will at any visible structure whenever possible.

photo by J.P.Schutz

photo by J.P.Schutz

Captain Palmer owned a large vessel carrying goods for one of the largest mercantile firms in New York City prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  He was offered great monetary compensation for serving the King’s forces, but he adamantly refused – in fact, on his next sailings he transported two cargos of ammunition, arms and supplies “acquired” by the  Sons of Liberty from British supply depots in the city which he brought to the camp of the Continental Army. His activities made his family unsafe in Manhattan and he moved them to Broadway in Upper Nyack, near Old Mountain Road. From there he continued to harry the British and was responsible for repulsing attempted landings numerous times – with consistent fatal results for the British and naught but wounds for the Nyackers. In early July 1777 he and the Shore Guard fended off two boats killing 3 men; in late July they returned, both to attempt a landing and to destroy a sloop moored between the Palmer home and the Sarvent home. Palmer, Sarvent and the Shore Guard prevented three attempts at landing with the toll for the British this time at 9 men.   Later that year, the Upper Nyack swivel gun emplacement, close by his property, enabled the Nyackers to later capture two landing boats and send their crews over to Tappan as prisoners of war.  A warship becalmed off Nyack’s shore unable to reach land and floating with the tide saw the loss of 36 men to Palmer’s crew of fatally expert gunners.  The result of his actions was a constant barrage of enemy fire anytime a ship reached this far up the river. By 1781, Nyack’s defenders had in addition to the Shore Patrol and gun emplacements, six whaleboats and forty-two men led by Captain Palmer, Nyack’s own Bane of the British.  Major John L. Smith, Captain Aury Smith, and Corporal Philip Sarvent, three of our Revolutionary War heroes may be found resting beneath their headstones in the Old Palmer Burial Ground on Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack. 

The British finally surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1782, though due to distance, travel time and red tape the Peace Treaty would not be fully signed until the next year. In May of 1783, General Washington met with Sir Guy Carleton in Tappan to confer on the final evacuation of British Troops from New York – they would then ride back to the riverfront to Onderdonk House on May 7th.  At that time Onderdonk House was owned by John Haring, who was our own representative at the Continental Congress. Onderdonk House, too, had taken an extreme beating from British guns during the war (looking at it today, in the process of some kind of restoration – we hope – it might look like it did at its worst).  Carlton and Washington were feted and feasted at Onderdonk House, and then the H.M.S. Perseverance fired its seventeen gun salute to honor Washington and to acknowledge, for the first time, our new sovereign nation – these United States of America.  That’s right folks, it happened… right here.

photo by J.P.Schutz

photo by J.P.Schutz

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I’ve been on hiatus since Christmas while attending to my wedding and my honeymoon. Having just returned from our celebratory Cruise, I can get back to regular posting…

The Great Blizzard of 1888 – Nyack’s A-drift

This year’s “Winter That Never Was” is the – pardon the pun – polar opposite of 1888, which brought the worst winter snow disaster the United States had ever seen.  Beginning on March 11 and stretching through March 14, this monster storm would dump 50 inches of snow on Connecticut and Massachusetts and 40 inches on New York and New Jersey, with sustained winds of 45 miles an hour. Entire homes were literally drifted over; a drift in Gravesend, Brooklyn was measured at 52 feet high.  Railroad lines were blocked taking days to clear; telegraph and telephony lines snapped or exploded isolating the metropolises of Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC for days. Electrical lines dropped all over New York City adding electrocution deaths to deaths from exposure and building collapse.  Over 400 people would lose their lives on land – more than 200 in New York City alone – and 100 more lives would be lost at sea in coastal vessels sunk from wave battering or by the enormous weight of ice that formed on superstructures.  This storm would prompt New York City to bury its electrical lines and its train stations and push harder for a subway.

In Nyack, snow accumulations were less than in Brooklyn though well into the two foot range,  while drifts engulfed entire houses and blocked streets and docks.  Nyack was isolated from the rest of the Metropolitan Area  with both ferry service stopped and trains unable to get through the drift.  Daily commuters who had left Nyack on the train that morning were unable to return for days (Fancy that, train service right from Nyack… hey Albany!! ).

The archives of the Erie Railroad show a report from Harry Lewis Sarvent engineman from Nyack and at that time foreman of the Nyack Engine Yard.  (Sarvent is a descendent of Phillip Sarvent, mentioned in several of my blog posts as a hero of the British Attack on Nyack and is a possible candidate for the identity of the legendary ghost in the Old Palmer cemetery – see October 2010 posts). Harry Sarvent reports to his superiors that: “On March 12th, 1888, the time of the blizzard, I was called to ‘fire’ locomotive engine 327 for engineer Benjamin Scribner at 4:30 a.m., Monday, and left Nyack about 7:30 a.m. We got back to Nyack the following Thursday afternoon.”  This for what was normally a one-hour or less return trip.

Many Nyackers and other Rockland Residents were trapped at various workplaces – several Macy’s Saleswomen from Nyack were permitted to sleep in the store for the duration, in – where else – the mattress department.  Nyack’s pioneering woman physician Dr. Virginia Davies (yep, Dr. Davies Farm on 9W in Congers was hers) was in March of 1888 in the middle of her four-year stint as Head of the New York Infant Asylum and had arrived in the city quite early that day.  Like so many others she became trapped at her workplace, fortunately for the infants and children there, for after over two full days of her snowy imprisonment she led a party who TUNNELED through 18 foots drifts to get milk since there had been no supplies that entire time. This act of heroism was braver than you might first think – the majority of deaths from the blizzard were those who had attempted to bludgeon their way or tunnel their way through enormous drifts – and women pedestrians had a significantly higher rate of mortality because their heavy petticoats dragged them down, and frequently prevented their desperate attempts to extricate themselves from their snowy entombment.  An odd quirk of history shows that as a direct result, petticoats became far less massive and calf-length skirts made their first appearance in modern fashion.

Nyackers and City Folks had all adapted to “modern conveniences” such as electricity, gas stoves, telephones and easy access to fresh milk, groceries, heating fuel, transportation and newspapers. The papers published at least two additions a day back then, and people read them as avidly as we watch the news twice or more times a day in 2012.  At first, just as would be likely today, people griped about not having anything to read, or being able to go to the theater, or not having their lights or telephone work. That was “at first”. As the isolation stretched to days and no supplies could get anywhere on the East Coast, lack of food and heat switched from frustrating to fatal.  Urbanite and Villager alike were used to picking up fresh food daily (home refrigeration not being widespread) and having the coal man deliver regularly. Trapped in their homes and offices and shops and tenements and hotels, millions in the New York metro area were threatened with death from exposure or from hunger.

Many were forced to improvise, and that improvisation would result in one of the Nyack areas longest lived legends.  On the border of Blauvelt and Nyack, near Buttermilk Falls a family on Greenbush Road living in one of the old Dutch Sandstone Colonials was literally trapped in their home by drifts as high as the roofline.  The quickly ran out of firewood and could not get out their doors to get more – so they began to burn anything in the house that they could – newspapers, artwork, beds, tables, chairs, and finally only one thing was left.  The family patriarch had passed away at an advanced age just prior to the blizzard and his coffin was in the parlour waiting for a now postponed funeral. With no other options, the family was forced to do the unthinkable — burn the old man’s coffin, and keep granddad’s body in deep freeze just outside the door.  Apparently, the old man (or his shade) was not amused. By all accounts, no one has ever been able to satisfactorily heat that parlour since; and it remains chill even in the hottest dog days of August.

photo: Henry Insley, Nyack Library Historical Collection

  

photo: Nyack Library Historical Collection

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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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On July 4th, 1774 – two years to the DAY when Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” would be signed by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia – the local residents of Nyack, Blauveltville, Snedens’ Landing, Tappan and Tappan Slote (Piermont) got together to sign a remarkable document that would come to be called “The Orangetown Resolutions”.

They met at Jost Mabie’s Tavern (now known to us as the Old ’76 House Restaurant, having served food since 1686 making it America’s Oldest Dining Room) a location that would later frequently feed Washington and his officers and be the prison for English Spy John Andre. In response to the positively reckless way in which the current monarch (George III) and his parliament were using and abusing their American Colonies, and particularly in regards to the closing of the port of Boston, they wrote:

“We cannot see the late Acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the Act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorrence of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction… That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure, to obtain a repeal of Acts, not only destructive to us, but which of course must distress thousands in the mother country… That it is our unanimous opinion, that the stopping all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies, would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.”

Not exactly a cry for out-and-out war, but the threat of a total embargo of goods from England was a serious one, branding the group with accusations of treason and sedition.  A similar closing of the port of New York would destroy any exportation of foodstuffs and iron goods from Orangetown and violate the terms of the English takeover of New Netherland from the Dutch which guaranteed that the port of New York would always be an open port and allowed to trade freely with all nationalities and countries. Our locals saw their own futures in the ruinous blocking of the port of Boston – the results of the Boston Tea Party, which in itself was only the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s reaction to the “Intolerable Acts” passed by Parliament and King George III which seemed determined to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

One of the signers of the Orangetown Resolutions – John Haring – would in turn be our local representative to the First Continental Congress.

photo from Old 76 House website

The Old 76 House Restaurant is located at 110 Main Street in Tappan, and is open year round for Lunch and Dinner with Brunch on Weekends with Candlelit and Fireside Dining in Autumn, Winter and Spring.

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On October 15, 1776, Captain A. Hawkes Hay commanding repulsed an attack by the British on Nyack.  By the fall of 1776, the British were not only in control of the City of New York, they had also gained control of Harlem, Bloomingdale and the other communities on Upper Manhattan and Fort Lee on the Jersey side.  The Patriots firmly controlled the Hudson above West Point, but there was a struggle to keep the lower Hudson from coming under British control.  

Hay reported that the ships attempting to land at Nyack were prevented by the men under his command, including the use of the Swivel Gun emplacement in Upper Nyack.  Severe damage was done to the house and barn of PHILIP SARVENT (see yesterday’s post about the Old Palmer Burial Ground) showing us that Sarvent was indeed working the emplacement in Upper Nyack – and though only a few men were injured in this encounter (no deaths) there were several other attacks on the area in 1777 and 1780.  Hay’s own home would be targeted by the British from the River and destroyed in one of these raids, Major John Smith’s house in Upper Nyack destroyed in another.  So it is entirely possible that Sarvent IS the reputed ghost of the Old Palmer Burial Ground as his gun emplacement was there and several of the attacks came in the form of raids – stealthy enough to sneak up behind an exhausted sentry and do him in before he could respond?  Who knows?

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In keeping with the “spirit” of October, All Hallows Eve or Samhain (take your pick) I’ll continue with two of our local cemeteries reputed to come with a “little something extra”. For each, I’ll give the alleged haunting first with history second.

OAK HILL CEMETERY

HAUNTING:  Since I was a kid, I’ve heard stories of people who SWORE they saw someone pass them as they were reading the stones, only to look up as they passed and find no one within hundreds of yards of their location.  A former resident of the caretaker’s house reports playing hide-and-seek type games when he was very little with children he only later realized could NOT have been there (no wonder they were so hard to catch!).  The caretaker’s home itself has had a certain number of reports of footsteps, doors opening and other haunting type phenomenon all around the structure – not a surprise perhaps as two different former caretakers suicided there.  One extensive reporting of “Phantom Walkers” regards a young woman in jeans who walks vacantly past in broad daylight.  This apparition began shortly after the burial of a young lady who’d been killed in a car accident, and her boyfriend told me the outfit that witness claimed the spectre was wearing sounded exactly like her favorite.

HISTORYFounded June 27, 1848 this large, beautiful, hillside cemetery winds up the side of the mountain ridge affording spectacular views of the Hudson from the upper sections.  A walk through this spectacular graveyard (still expanding, which cause a bit of controversy a few weeks back!) reveals elaborate tombstones, monuments, pillars, obelisks, weeping angels, and a large number of elegant mausoleums.  Most touching, perhaps, is the “Children’s Area” an area very close to the top of the ridge that for a time was limited to the graves of the very young. Recognizable permanent residents of Oak Hill include actress Helen Hayes and her playwright husband Charles MacArthur as well as his writing partner, Ben Hecht the screenwriter of “Gone With the Wind” and many other film classics; Americas’ greatest realist painter and Nyack native, artist Edward Hopper; Author Carson McCullers of “Member of the Wedding Fame”; Filmmaker and artist, Joseph Cornell; Nyack’s homegrown Civil War heroes Col. Edward Pye who commanded the New York 95th regiment at Gettysburg, Grant’s Overland Campaign and was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor in 1864 AND Brigadier General Daniel Ullman who was commanding general of the first black troops raised by the Union.  Also scattered among the well-tended rows are many other famous artists, designers, musicians, and several congressmen.  A free walking tour of Oak Hill is coming up on Sunday, October 24 from 2 to 4 pm sponsored by the Friends of the Nyacks – for info: http://friendsofthenyacks.org/2010/10/17/oak-hill-cemetery-tour-sundays-200-p-m-may-2-and-october-17/

OLD PALMER BURIAL GROUND

HAUNTINGThe legend has remained the same for a long, long, LONG time.  I can find references to it in Nyack histories going back as far as the late 1800s.  A Revolutionary War era soldier sits his lonely sentry post atop one of the stones, musket forlornly held across his lap, awaiting a relief guard who will never come. I always thought it far more tragic than scary, and as a teenager we used to walk by on autumn evenings hoping to catch a glimpse of him… but we were perhaps too noisy, too intrusive, and perhaps too much WANTING to see something that a whole gaggle of us might have simply been too much, if indeed it is even possible that a solitary disincarnate guard WAS still protecting Nyack from the Redcoats.  I will say that it is a mournful, melancholy place at night – less frightening, more sorrowful. It was not until many years later when I was 40, riding by on my bicycle at dusk on my way from Marydell that something odd occurred. Braking hard to keep control on my way down Old Mountain Road, I noticed somebody leaning on one of the stones downhill from me in the old cemetery, looking like he was smoking or something.  Immediately I thought the police were going to be annoyed that someone was in there after dark, but wasn’t going to bother him.  That’s when I saw the sign – I had not seen the new historical marker they had erected and skidded to a halt to read it.  And noticed I was alone. No one was in the Burial Ground, nor was there a deer or a bush or anything that might have fooled me. Either I had been mistaken in the gloom of twilight and my subconscious mind chose the shape from my teenage love of the legend of the cemetery, or… well… or I finally saw him. The soldier. If he’d waited, I’d have relieved him for a while… it’s the least I could do for one of our original veterans.  You can check out the investigation of the Old Palmer Burial Ground by NPI –  Nyack’s own Father/Son team of Paranormal Investigators – that was performed in 2009 by linking over to their site (on another tab, of course!) at: http://64nywf65.20m.com/uncem/uncem.htm.

HISTORYThe Burial Ground began operation in the 1730s, on the land of Corneilius Kuyper who was the original settler of this area of Upper Nyack in 1686.  Kuyper himself was the first burial in 1731 and his wife Aeltje followed him 4 years later.  There are 66 graves, including 3 Revolutionary War soldiers. I do not know if “our” soldier is BURIED there, or was supposedly KILLED there… (which is entirely possible, if you read my “Today in Nyack History” post that will appear tomorrow, October 15). If he is buried there, then he is likely to be Corporal Philip Sarvent as neither a Captain nor a Major would have been on sentry duty along the only road from Rockland Lake to the Hudson during the Revolution.  The Old Palmer Burial Ground is on the north side of Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack between Midland and Broadway.  It is easily accessible from the road, but remember that cemeteries are generally off-limits at night (I stood at the gate to take my pics) and somewhat dangerous – not from spooks mind you, but from uneven ground, sinkholes, knocked over tombstones, exposed roots and sadly, deer ticks.  The Burial Ground is administered by the Town of Clarkstown so get permission if you want to do any kind of research there.  The nifty historical marker was a gift from another Nyack realtor, Russ Wooley.

All photos, J.P. Schutz

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