Nyack Sketch Log: Creative Financial Planning

by Bill Batson

There is a fairy tale quality to the pyramid-shaped building on the east side of South Broadway near the corner of Cedar Hill Avenue. Baxter Hall is the first impression of Nyack for anyone disembarking from the bus line that originates in New York City. The Carpenter Gothic architecture announces a village that champions the arts, and the permanently placed water bowl on the curb celebrates our dog-friendly culture. This is the home of Creative Financial Planning, an enterprise started 32 years ago by Lisa Hayes and dedicated to making people’s financial dreams come true.

Hayes purchased and renovated the former church building in 2011. Erected in 1871, the address has sheltered two churches, the Universalist Church (1871-1904) and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1904 – 2010). The building is visible on the 1884 L.R. Burleigh map and listed in the legend. In order to preserve the history enshrined in the building, Hayes commissioned a report from architectural historian Hugh Goodman. 

Goodman’s excellently crafted account is equally divided between spiritual and structural considerations. Adding credence to the theory that Nyack was a stop on the Underground Railroad, Goodman reports that the Universalists “vigorously opposed slavery and favored post-bellum legislation such as the Fifteenth Amendment and the Freedman’s Act to enfranchise all American citizens.” Goodman also found a connection between the Christian Science Society in Nyack, that operated a reading room in that location until 2010 and their mother church in Boston, built by the faith’s founder Mary Baker Eddy.  “From October 1903 through June 1906, the local society gave their entire building fund on three occasions to assist in the building of the church in Boston,” Goodman reported.

As charming as its facade may be, ultimately, it was the ethereal quality of the interior  that attracted Hayes. “I was drawn to the idea of working in a space where the windows open and I can smell the fresh air and look out and see nature.”  This fondness of the outdoors was inspired by her grandparents who bought land in Hampton Bays and where her folks built a small, beautiful home on Shinicock Bay.”

Hayes’ entrepreneurial spirit emerged in that bucolic setting. “I started cleaning houses in the Hamptons to pay back student loans after I left law school. I started a business called “Helpful Hand.” My sister and her friends pitched in. It grew to 9 employees.”

As the enterprise became successful, Hayes became curious about investing. “Several self study books and exams later, I realized my calling. Financial Planning.” Now her team at Creative Financial Planning manages approximately $150 million in assets.

In most versions of the acronym CFP, the “C” means certified. For Hayes, creativity is the element that makes for successful financial planning and wealth management. “When I write financial plans and offer a blueprint of how the clients can achieve their goals, I incorporate creativity.” This predilection for imaginative thinking surely inspired her to acquire such an iconic building in our unique village. 

Hayes was also attracted to “a community that honors diversity and caring.”  Hayes has been on the board of Nyack Hospital for six years. “For 20 years plus, I have been on the board of the Center for Safety and Change. I support the Nyack Center and I’m helping to start a local nonprofit to help young people with financial literacy.” 

In a concrete example of her commitment to share her wisdom, one of her financial planners, Dan Gwizdak, joined CFP 15 years ago as a high school intern. After graduating SUNY Binghamton in 2007, Gwizdak worked side-by-side with Hayes, and under her guidance earned his CFP® certification in 2011 through Pace University.

“I would like to see more equality in our society,” Hayes said. She is also concerned about the environment and supports the Nature Conservancy as well as the Cornell Lab for Ornithology.

Hayes’ embrace of equity transcends species. Not only does Baxter, her rescued AKC-registered Havanese have a building named after him, (yes, he’s the Baxter in Baxter Hall) he is a valued member of the CFP team “managing the overall vibe of Baxter Hall, working hard each day to ensure an environment that is serene, comfortable, and, above all, productive,” proclaims their website. You can follow his travails on Instagram at @BaxterMeansBusiness.

If you are a person who desires a bright economic future and wants to take control of your financial life visit Creative Financial Planning. And if you want to see a beautiful building, walk past Baxter Hall. 

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Creative Financial Planning © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.



Nyack Sketch Log: National Student Walkout Tomorrow

by Bill Batson

The last time a wave of student protest reshaped the political landscape of a country, Nyack High School students attended  classes in a building with a clock tower. After the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, (17 dead, 14 injured) the nation has witnessed a cadre of student activists who are making progress where adults have failed for decades. In the wake of shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (15 dead, 24 injured) and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (28 dead), a Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired and no major gun control measures have passed.

Is Parkland the fulcrum of our frustration with rampant gun violence?  Do these student protestors, booked on every news program for the last month, have their hand on the lever that moves public policy?  The proof arrives in Nyack tomorrow. On Wednesday, March 14, High School and Middle School students will participate in a planned national walk out called by these courageous children.

Since the mass killing in Parkland, a group of student survivors have successfully lobbied for enhanced gun control in Florida.  The new law, signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott on March 7, raises the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21, extends the waiting period to three days, funds more school police officers and mental health services, broadens powers to seize weapons, and allows certain staff members to carry guns in schools.

Political pundits where shocked by what the students had achieved in the “gunshine state.”  Progressive organizations have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours failing to move the dial an inch on gun control.  Predictably, the National Rifle Association is already seeking injunctive relief against the Florida law, but has public sentiment on gun control finally shifted? Opinion polls show an overwhelming 97% supporting gun control measures. Will the nation follow suit?

Thanks to the organizing of Parkland students Cameron Kasky, Alex WindEmma Gonzalez and David Hogg, parents across America are receiving a letter like the one Nyack’s Superintendent of Schools James J. Montesano sent on March 1.  Superintendent Montesano outlined a protocol “allowing for a brief educational walkout event with a return thereafter to classrooms” on Wednesday, March 14. The carefully crafted letter cites Nyack’s district mission and “our goal to promote and maintain a safe and secure environment”  to allow students who want to protest for 17 minutes in commemoration of those who lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas. Students that do not wish to participate will be “respected and supervised inside the school.”

Suddenly, America has a national students movement with recognized leaders who get split screen direct debates with the President.  The closest parallel that comes to mind is the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976, when African students withdrew from school to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the compulsory language in the classroom.  You can draw a direct line from Soweto in 1976 to the collapse of Apartheid in 1994.

Our country’s slow descent into a culture that condones gun violence stands in stark contrast to the swiftness of the student victory in Florida. The tragic timeline plays out on the Wikipedia page List of School Shootings in the United States. The first recorded shooting takes place in the 18th century. There is almost a hundred years until the next one, but that is where the tender mercies cease. By the mid-20th century, technology and distemper take over. There has been a school shooting every year in America since 1972.  Since, 2014, virtually every month and in every state that a school is open, someone has stepped into a hallway and discharged a weapon.  In 2018, there have been ten shooting, almost one a week. This  a slow boil of butchery that has captured us unaware, like the proverbial frog who doesn’t know he’s stew meat until it’s too late.

Speaking in Fort Lauderdale on February 17, three days after the shooting, Emma Gonzalez spoke with the spirit that would have made any member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) proud. SNCC was the student group that faced down the violence of armed supporters of segregation in the American south in the 1960s with their bodies during the Freedom Rides and sit-ins. “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence,” Gonzalez called out. “We call BS,” the crowd responded.

After Wednesday’s walkout, a March for Our Lives is being planned for Washington, DC on March 24.  Over a quarter million have signed the March for our Lives petition.  Another walkout of a more indefinite duration is being called for April 20th. One student, Alex Wind, says he will not return to school until meaning gun reform has been enacted. Shades of Soweto.

One of our countries greatest political thinkers, Thomas Paine once said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  Let’s follow the lead of these students, or get out of their way.  Or we follow the current trend and find ourselves living in a country where not a day goes by without a school shooting.  Join the growing choir, led by young voices, and shout #neveragain.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Pie Lady & Son © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Nyack Sketch Log: 3.14159265358 Lady & Son

by Bill Batson

Thirty one years ago, physicist Larry Shaw rebranded March 14 as Pi Day to celebrate the infinite number 3.14159265359. In an example of coincidence that must annoy scientists, March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday.  Locally, Pi Day is not just about bringing math education to the masses, it’s also all about adding an “e” to the equation and ordering up some pie.

Wil Tyler, the owner of Pie Lady & Son, has been observing Pi Day for last 7 years.  A Pi painting by Peter Cheney, which includes 11 digits after the decimal, hangs in his 9w flagship store year round. “When you have all of these delicious pies, you need to bake a few more pie eating holidays into the calendar,” said Pie Lady owner Wil Tyler.

Deborah Tyler, Wil’s mother, had 300 pie orders to fill in the Fall of 2001. The single mother of three had converted her one floor rental into a Department of Health approved commercial kitchen.  A New York Times review and a Good Morning America segment were bringing in business from both sides of the Hudson River. It was at the height of her notoriety that Deborah sold her equipment and moved to Cooperstown. Here is the story of how the popularity of their pies once imperiled the Pie Lady and now propels the Pie Lady & Son.

From 1995 until 2001, if you were in the know, or you stumbled upon the hand painted sign that said “Pie” on Piermont Avenue in Nyack, New York and followed the arrow, you would arrive at Tyler’s back porch.  If it was a busy day, she might have her youngest daughter Carly under her arm as she took your order. If apple pie is the closest thing we have to a national dish, serving the iconic desert from a kitchen door is pure Americana.  The scene on the corner of Spear and Burd Street, where Tyler sold her pies, was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tyler calls her style of baking vintage.  When it comes to cookbooks, she prefers the Betty Crocker era. She cuts butter with her hands and uses as few ingredients as possible. Her approach to cooking comes from her family, who emigrated from Europe in the early 20th century and settled in Montana. Baking was practiced as an essential prairie craft: Mondays were for washing, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for mending and Saturday was for baking.  Tyler learned to bake from her mother, Maybelle, who was one of 11 children.

The Pie Family: Briana, Deborah, Carly and Wil

When she moved to Burd Street she was on her own with three young children. Baking was a way to earn Tyler some extra money. But as soon as the sign went up on the corner of Piermont and Burd, word of mouth drove business in her direction faster than Deborah could manage.  Her brother helped her convert her son Wil’s bedroom into an extra kitchen.  Her upstairs neighbor offered additional space.

The renovations and kitchen sharing were all done with the blessing of her landlord, Joe Lagana. Deborah acknowledges without the people of Nyack she would have never found success. The village even gave Tyler her name.  She tried in vain to get people to call her business “the pie kitchen.” But from the moment she started selling baked goods from her back porch she would be affectionately known as the “Pie Lady.”

The Pie Lady would eventually become a victim of her own rapid growth.  As the orders poured in, she wanted a business partner to appear: someone to handle the administration, leaving her to the baking.  But a culinary comrade never emerged.  The only thing that arrived was more business.  By 2001, exhausted and unable to keep up with the demand, Tyler closed shop and moved to Cooperstown.

The Pie Son, Wil Tyler

Her son Wil, who gave up his bedroom for years to allow for kitchen expansion, immediately wanted his mother to reconsider. He took a job in marketing out of high school but his heart was with the family business. Wil converted his mother’s recipes from index card to computer files and traveled to Cooperstown for baking lessons. He also convinced his sister Brianna to help obtain a home food-processing certificate from the Dept. of Agriculture for his apartment in Upper Nyack.

Wil and Briana’s efforts were enthusiastically welcomed when baked goods labeled “Pie Lady” were spotted at The St. Ann’s Holiday Bazaar in 2009. Their next step in the rebirth of their brand was a booth at the Nyack Chamber of Commerce’s Farmer’s Market in 2010. Together the siblings were making 30 pies a week and were feeling quite proud of the results. They outgrew Wil’s apartment and were working out of rented kitchen space at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, when Deborah came to check on their progress. She was impressed by their zeal, but not as pleased with the product. Since that visit, Deborah has made a weekly trip back to Nyack to oversee production.

Pie Lady & Son is located on 9W adjacent to Nyack High School at 366 N Highland Ave in Upper Nyack.After a second successful season at the Farmer’s Market, Wil followed a tip from ACADA‘s Jack Dunnigan and found a rental space on North Highland near Nyack High School. The Pie Lady & Son now has a staff of five, operates a retail facility and sells their goods at several markets throughout the region.

The legacy of neighborhood support is baked into their menu. One item “Mrs. Cooke’s Sweet Potato Pie” is named after Burd Street neighbor Elizabeth Cooke. The wife of the late Commissioner of the Nyack Water Department Leonard Cooke, Mrs. Cooke lent the recipe for her namesake pie and helped look after Deborah’s daughter when the line at the back porch kitchen door got too long.

There is nothing secret about the Tyler recipe for baking or success.  Community support is like yeast, the love of family is the filling and the crust is just the right proportion of flour, water, salt and fat.  The reign of the Pie Lady is over:  long live The Pie Lady & Son.

The Pie Lady & Son is located at 366 North Highland (9W) in Upper Nyack, near Nyack High School.  For more information contact the Tylers at (845) 535-3290 or info@pielady.com.

The Pi painting is by Peter Cheney

This Nyack Sketch Log was originally posted May 22, 2012.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Pie Lady & Son © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Nyack Sketch Log: First Church

by Bill Batson

“This church is a miracle.”  That is how the wife of the pastor of First Church, Evangelist Myrtle Jones, has described this brick and steel structure.  The evidence to support her comment is extensive.  From 1990 until 1995 the spiritual home of this congregation was condemned, demolished, rebuilt, demolished,  and finally rededicated. In a community with many storied houses of worship, the journey that this flock endured through the wilderness of real estate limbo might make you say: Amen.

The man who led this congregation through a harrowing interval of uncertainty to the stability of a new sanctuary was its pastor, Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr.

The story of this church is a study in tenacity and perseverance that must make every anniversary and milestone they observe all the more poignant.

The Church Of God in Christ denomination came to Nyack in the 1930s through the determination of Pastors Hawkins and Parsons.  Early services were held in the homes of members and eventually in a storefront at 104 Depew Avenue.

In 1941, Elder Walter Hollingsworth was installed as pastor and began to raise the funds to purchase a proper place of prayer.  In 1964, after years of thrift and a profitable barbecue pit, the congregation purchased a church at 187 Main Street from the parishioners of Pilgrim Baptist who were moving to High Avenue.  The new church would soon be named Hollingsworth Temple.

According to village records, the property had been converted by the officers of Pilgrim Baptist Church from a carpentry shop and stable into a church in 1903.  When Elder Jones was installed as the fifth pastor of the parish in 1983, renovations to the one hundred year old building that he was inheriting were certainly high on his agenda. But he could not have imagined that the walls of the temple were soon to come tumbling down.

Seven years after assuming leadership, Rev. Jones was pictured in a Journal News article standing next to a roofless church. Major renovations would not remedy the structural flaws found by building inspectors.  The reverend had become a construction manager, overseeing the demolition and reconstruction of his church.  In the same article, Jones expressed appreciation to the First Presbyterian Church, now Nyack Center, for hosting his members during construction, which he expected to take six months.

The congregation was without a church for close to six years.  Two years into their wanderings, a contractor reported to Rev. Jones that the four walls and foundation of the new temple had been completed but had inadvertently encroached over their neighbors’ property line.  This three foot error would cost Hollingsworth two years in court and almost $100,000 in legal and construction expenses.

Thus began an agonizing period of homelessness that would have taxed the proverbial patience of Job.  When the media reported that the real estate investor who demanded that the church demolish their errantly constructed foundation was also the owner of a property that included an all-nude bar, Rev. Jones wondered whether a Satanic force “was trying to keep us from building on this hill.”

The New Senior Pastor of First Church, Rev. Paul Jones

Because of the support of many including, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Simpson Memorial (now the Living Christ Church), St. John’s Deliverance Tabernacle, Rockland Minister’s Alliance, the Church of God in Christ regional headquarters in Brooklyn, the administration of Nyack Mayor Terry Hekker and countless individuals and families, a dedication ceremony for a new brick church was held in June, 1995. Harold Owens’ design for this building makes it seem like its clinging to the curve of the hill, refusing to surrender its hard-won foothold.  The modern metal steeple that pierces the sky above Main Street announces, as it reflects the morning light, that in the battle for Hollingsworth Memorial,  good has prevailed.

On January 7, 2017, Rev. Paul Jones, the son of Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr. and Evangelist Myrtle Jones became the Senior Pastor of what is now known as First Church. A gifted singer, songwriter and musician, Pastor Jones can still draw on the inspiration of his father, who continues on as Executive Pastor.

In 2008, North Mill Street from Main to Burd was designated to be known each August as Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr. Boulevard. The renaming of part of our community for this member of the clergy is only fitting because the numerous churches that grace our village shape more than just our landscape.  We all benefit from the spirit of interdenominational fellowship and community cooperation that was exemplified in the struggle that secured this church’s place on this hill.

Special thanks to Carol Weiss, Former Nyack Village Clerk and First Church member Mary White for their assistance in gathering research materials.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Hollingsworth Memorial“ © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.



Nyack Sketch Log: Preston Powell’s Teagevity

NSL_Powell Teagevity_featured Imageby Bill Batson

During his journey from Harlem to Martha’s Vineyard to Nyack, Preston Powell has melded a teacup, Karate and a tradition of the African American church from his childhood into his holistic and locally based business, Teagevity.

Tell me about this teacup?

When I was about 19 or 20, I walked into a martial arts dojo on Lexington Ave in New York City and saw a man, who turned out to be the Sensei, holding a cup of tea. The way he held that teacup struck me. It reminded me of my childhood, when women would sit for tea after services at Abyssinian Baptist Church. When I started my martial arts training everything was about holding a cup of tea; your posture, your movement, you had to defend a teacup. Eventually, I was given this teacup. For over twenty years, I have protected this cup. It has been my introduction to Asian and other tea drinking cultures. It is a connection to the fellowship of drinking tea after church.

Family photo courtesy Preston Powell © 2014, all rights reserved.

Family photo courtesy Preston Powell © 2014, all rights reserved.

What is your connection to Abyssinian Baptist Church?

My grandfather was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. He was pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and in 1945, he was the first African American from New York State elected to Congress. My grandmother, Isabel Washington Powell, was a dancer at the Cotton Club when she met and married Adam Clayton Powell. I am in the process of donating some items from my family to The Smithsonian Institute in Washington for their new African American wing. One of the exhibits is going to be about early black residents on Martha’s Vineyard. My grandparents summered and owned a cottage there.

How did you come to Nyack?

NSL_Preston Powell_Miri Ben-Ari

Powell Managed Jazz Violinist Miri Ben-Ari

As a child, I spent my summers by the water in Martha’s Vineyard. I also spent a lot of time in Sag Harbor. When I came across the Tappan Zee Bridge one day around 1999, and I saw the Village of Nyack and the Hudson River, I instantly knew this would be a home for my family. It helped that it was only 20 minutes from New York City, where I had a music business. My company, Jazzateria, managed jazz and reggae artists including Reuben Wilson, Bernard  “Pretty” Purdie, Jimmy McGriff, Miri Ben-Ari and Midnite, a reggae band from St. Croix.

When did you open your dojo?

NSL_Preston Powell_To-te Ueshiro Karate Club

Students under Sensei Powell’s watchful gaze

To-te Ueshiro Karate Club opened in 2006. It is organized as a club more than a business. We don’t advertise, we don’t have a neon sign. The focus is on training for personal growth, not for competition or trophies. In our Shorin-Ryu tradition, skills are handed down through the family. We try to prepare the father to train the daughter and the grandfather to train with the grandson. It’s an activity for the whole family. Our style of Karate was brought to Okinawa, Japan by men who were taught by Shaolin monks in China. They were in Okinawa as traders and taught their trading partners martial arts to protect themselves from the mainland Japanese. My teacup came from Japan.

When did you launch Teagevity?


Teagevity’s booth at the Nyack Indoor Farmers’ Market

I was frustrated with the business of music, and I wanted to create something new and local that my family could be a part of. Tea had been on my mind. I loved the substance of it and the rituals around it. In the dojo, students would ask what to do when they didn’t feel well. I had become an elder dispensing wisdom about medicinal properties of different teas and herbs.

An Adam Experiment


An Adam Experiment” is a one-man play, written by and also starring New York -based actor Michael Chenevert, (“The Following”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “Ugly Betty”) which explores a day in the life of Preston Powell’s grandfather, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a pioneering crusader for justice and equality during the Civil Rights movement.

Produced by L.A.I. Communications, “An Adam Experiment” traces Powell’s career from his tenure as Baptist Minister at the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City to becoming the first African American to be elected to the New York City Council and also the first African American from New York to be elected to Congress.

The play in on a national tour being hosted by Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is a national membership organization of mothers with children, ages 2-19, that is dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.

The only local performance will be held on Sun, February 25, 2018
3:00 PM – 5:30 PM EST
Rockland Community College
Cultural Arts Center Theater
145 College Road
Suffern, New York

Click here for tickets

Then one day, when I was driving with my wife and saying how much I loved life, she said the word longevity, and then added the word tea. When I heard “Teagevity,” that was it. I got the domain name that day. That was two years ago.

How many varieties of teas do you offer?

I have 54 teas that I carry at any time.  With blends it can be 75 or more.

What is your most popular item?

Our most popular item is Organic Assam, which is also known as Irish Breakfast. And a South African tea called Rooibos,  with blue mallow flowers is also very popular.

Is there one tea in particular that people should know more about?

That would be Pu-erh, from the Yunnan province, China. It has beneficial properties that many in the world have known about forever. Dr Oz talks about it and all the fashion models in Europe drink it. The tea breaks down cholesterol. It’s good for your blood pressure too. It works as a detoxifier, helping with the liver,  because it helps you flush water. And if you are looking to cut weight, this is your tea.

What’s the best way to make a cup of tea?

Water :

The water you use is very important. The number one beverage in the world is water. The number two is tea.  Since a good tea is rich in anti-oxidants and minerals, the water should be pure as well. If you had a free flowing spring, that would be best. If not, use bottled or filtered water. Try not to use water from the tap.


The temperature depends on the tea; for a green tea, pre-boiling or about 170-175; for black tea, herbal and botanicals bring your water to a 210 – 212 degree full boil.

Steep time:

  • Black teas should steep no longer than five minutes. At six minutes, it gets bitter, however, people may like the taste.
  • Green tea, after three minutes, it will get bitter.
  • White tea is the rarest of teas, picked before the bud comes at the beginning of spring. It should be steeped for one or two minutes.

You can peruse Teagevity’s selection of loose tea and tea gear online at teagevity.com or every Thursday from 8a-2p at the Indoor Farmers’ Market at the Nyack Center, Depew Avenue and South Broadway.

Visit to-te.com for information about martial arts classes. To-te Ueshiro Karate Club is located at 85 South Broadway, Nyack, NY

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Preston Powell’s Teagevity” © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more. Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

Nyack Sketch Log: St. Charles AME Zion Church

NSL_130_St Charles_Featured Image_revisedby Bill Batson

Men and women who survived American slavery built St. Charles African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Sparkill in 1865. If your eyes haven’t set sight on St. Charles, you’re missing out. It is situated besides a creek and below a tresle bridge on Valentine Ave. The building, with tasteful renovations designed by Nyack Historical Society President Winston Perry, is a living monument to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and the AME Zion church that they founded.


Bishop James Varick

When Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning,” he was reflecting on the racial dynamic that led to the creation of Zion Methodism. Sadly, King was describing the state of race relations in the mid-20th century. The legal and cultural customs that discouraged mixed-race religious observance have been a constant feature in American history.

In her exhaustive and exquisite 1983 history of her church and denomination, Jacqueline L. Holland wrote about the conditions facing black Christians in 18th century New York. “There were spots of negro membership in white churches, but it was fashion to segregate them. Negroes were seated in the back of the church, or in the balcony.”

Holland notes that after a slave revolt in New York City in 1712 “whites exhibited a common fear of slave organizations of any kind.” When black congregations sought to hold their own services on Sunday evenings after their European breathren were done worshiping, a motion was adopted at a Methodist congress that said “we don’t want negroes meeting alone together in our church at night.”

In order to have unfettered rights of religious expression, an African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in New York City in 1796. In 1822, James Varick, who was born in Newburgh, NY, was ordained as the first Bishop of the AME Zion Church.

NSL_130_Abraham Sisco_revised

Abraham Sisco, a member of the largest and oldest black family in Rockland County, lived in Skunk Hollow. The Siscos continue to worship at St. Charles AME Zion Church.

From its inception, the AME Zion Church was an active participant in the struggle to abolish slavery. According to Holland’s account, “The Underground Railroad was practically a church movement.” The Underground Railroad was a euphemism for a clandestine network of individuals and institutions that helped slaves escape from legalized bondage in the American south.

St. Charles was built in 1865 by Rev. William Thompson, an itinerant minister who came from New York City. Holland reports that “St. Charles AME Zion Church families can trace some of the family names” from the First AME Zion church in New York City.

Rev. Brandon McLauchlin


In September 2017, Rev Bradon McLauchlin  stepped into the pulpit of St. Charles when the Rev. Louis E. Sanders retired after 36 years leading the congregation.

Rev. McLauchlin  graduated from Fayetteville State University with a degree in general music. He went on to earn a Masters of Divinity from Campbell University Divinity School in St. Buies Creek, North Carolina.

The new pastor is married to Nicole McLauchlin, a music teacher at Pomona Middle School.

Before assuming responsibilities at St. Charles, Rev. McLauchlin  was a pastor of Chapel Grove AME Zion Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina. and a former assistant pastor of New Bethel AME Zion Church, Fayetteville


Original members of St. Charles were also drawn from a community of free black settlers who lived in an area known as Skunk Hollow. Skunk Hollow encompassed land that includes the Palisades, Piermont, Sparkill and Closter.

St. Charles faces Ferdon Pond, where a black man named John Moore built and operated a mill in the early 1800s. According to historian Dr. Lori Martin, Moore also constructed mill wheels that were said to have produced blankets for soldiers fighting in the Civil War and were used widely throughout Rockland County. Moore’s daughter, Cynthia Hesdra, became a successful businesswoman in her own right, owning property in New York City and Nyack.

Hesdra was also rumored to have used her properties as stations in the Underground Railroad. Piermont Avenue between Hudson and Depew Avenue in Nyack is named for Hesdra, who owned a parcel of land near what is now Memorial Park.

Laurence H. Holland, the brother-in-law of the author of the history of St. Charles, made a material contribution to the church of historic proportions. A chemist at Lederle Labs in Pearl River from 1941-1991 and NAACP leader, Holland won a large lottery prize in the late 1980’s. His generous donations helped finance efforts to renovate and add to the original structure. A fellowship hall was named in honor of Laurence’s brother, Albert Jr., an attorney, who was a respected civil rights leader.

“I was privileged to work as the architect for the addition and restoration with a building committee of outstanding individuals including Rev. Sanders, Leonard Cooke, Albert Holland, Clarence Branch and others,” said President of the Historical Society of the Nyacks, Winston Perry. “Wherever possible, we preserved and restored the architectural features of the historic church building,” Perry said.

NSL_130_Leonard Cooke Library and Museum

Leonard Cooke Library and African American Museum

Inside St. Charles is a library and museum that contains the history of the men and women who not only survived the most outrageous aspects of American racism, but managed to build an institution that continues to seek to reverse the most pernicious effects of slavery and discrimination.

As historians, builders, advocates, and philanthropists , generations of St. Charles members have constructed a secure vessel to pursue freedom and justice for themselves and others. To paraphrase the inscription at the base of Dr. King’s monument in Washington: with their faith, the members of St. Charles hewed out of the mountain of despair, a stone church of hope.

A copy of Jacqueline L. Holland’s “The History of St. Charles African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: A Manifestation of the Black Church in America” is available in the local history room of the Nyack Library.

You can purchase copies of Martin’s book, The Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra on line here or you can also find it on the shelf at the Nyack Library

 See also:

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: St. Charles AME Zion Church“ © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Nyack Sketch Log: Write Your Truth

by Bill Batson

My first Nyack Sketch Log, published on August 23, 2011, was an early exercise in truth telling. Liberty Street is Aptly named tells the story of how my African American family achieved middle class status in Nyack in the 1880s, a stunning accomplishment when you consider that slavery was only 17 years dead, and racial discrimination in American was in its infancy. As a memoir, the column gave me a way to explore my personal history, conducting research I might not have ordinarily embarked on, and it let me shine a light on the history of thousands of other black families who live outside of the comprehension of strangers and neighbors not shackled by the stigma of bondage.

On February 22, I will begin teaching a memoir writing class at the Nyack Center that encourages others to write their truths. During the six week course, I will help students use words and images to tell their stories. Scholarships are available. Contact me at wrbatson@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

When I began this column seven years ago, I had the hubristic goal of telling every story behind every address in our one-square mile village. That conceit quickly collapsed. I realized that there are too many stories and not enough story tellers. After a few years, and hundreds of posts I’ve barely scratched the surface of untold stories. The only way to manage the storyteller shortage is to crowd source the problem, to enlist a murmuration of memoirists.  I quickly found a bird of that feather. One afternoon, when I was giving a talk for my first Nyack Sketch Log book at Valley Cottage Library, I met an 88 year-old, aspiring author named June Sundvik

I helped June publish her memoir Life on Old Mill Road from 1750 t0 1950  in October. I was elated to be able to help a local author add a volume to the library.  I next set out to unleash an entire class room of autobiographers. The work of my Sketch Logging class at the Learning Collaborative is published every Sunday on NyackNewsAndViews in a column called Words & Images. Not only do my students produce a document that their progeny will treasure, there is an opportunity be published online.

Last month, I directed the Nyack Record Shop Project, that will submit three dozen oral histories from the African American community to the Nyack Library.  When scholars sit down to research this period of Rockland County history, they will find an abundant supply of first person material.  This history will not be shaped solely a few elite voices, but a chorus of common people, whom history often forgets or misconstrues.

Join me to develop a short essay, illustrated by a photo or drawing that tells your story. Make a permanent mark on the narrative of our time. Help a family member or neighbor tell their truth.

The impulse to leave a legacy of words behind that chronicle our experience is powerful, but often unrequited. Don’t let your story go silent, or get told by someone else. Join me every Thursday at the Nyack Farmers at the Nyack Center starting on February 22 and tell your truth. I’m listening.

Liberty Street is Aptly Named

August 23, 2011

This house and this street are the remnants of Nyack’s oldest middle class black neighborhood. In the early twentieth century, when Edward Hopper was a teenager, a group of African American families bought homes in Nyack. Homeownership by blacks in Nyack was a stunning achievement when you consider the fact that merely fifty years earlier blacks owned nothing: blacks were owned.

The speed of this reversal in fortune is hard to comprehend. In historic terms, fifty years is a tiny interval. Fifty years ago was 1961.  Imagine a family advancing from slavery to home ownership in the time span that America went from black and white TV to digital cable.  My 60’s reference is purposeful irony.  It was urban renewal; a phenomenon of that era that destroyed the middle class black community that many refer to as Jackson Avenue.  Almost obliterated, that is, except for this house on Liberty Street.

NSL_Liberty St._revised

My great grand parents, George T. and Sarah Avery (center)

My great grandparents purchased the house on Jackson Avenue.  My grandmother used the meager sum that she got through the condemnation process of the eminent domain debacle to buy another home. The only saving grace is that this site now holds much needed affordable housing and a senior citizen development.

As I sat on the ground in front of this modest structure and drew, a parking enforcement officer walked toward me. I asked him if he was going to ticket me for squatting in a parking space. He laughed and said if that was the case, he would have written me up weeks ago; having seen me numerous times perched on the curb side drawing. I think he chose this moment to say hello because he approved of my subject matter. It turns out that he knew my aunt, who was once the Deputy Village Clerk and who grew up on Jackson Avenue.

I was then approached by a local artist who told me she admires, but avoids representational drawings. She is an abstract painter, which I told her I envy. She lamented the demands of linear perspective, telling me how she would throw in the towel after the first line went astray.  Watching my imprecise and quivering depiction, she thought aloud that if she could have forgiven herself  the occasional errant mark, she would have seen that the whole is greater than the sum of its imperfect parts.

Because I draw free hand with black ink on white paper, I confront the fear of failure with every pen stroke. Yet I persist and complete each drawing, motivated by my attachment to the village and enriched by my random interactions with the villagers. That someone who loves Nyack and making art would consider drawing from life after meeting me on this special site was invigorating.  During this encounter, I could feel the freedom that my ancestors must have felt on this spot.  As modest as this home appears, its very existence and hidden history is profound and I am pleased to have archived it.  The cartographers got this one right. Liberty Street is aptly named.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Write Your Truth” © 2018 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored each week by Weld Realty.