Nyack Sketch Log: Flash Sketch Mob Is Back!

SketchMob_Flyer_2015by Bill Batson

Flash Sketch Mob returns to Nyack for ART WALK 2015!

The Flash Sketch Mob returns on June 20th, adding Main Street to a growing visual arts atlas of Nyack. The first sketch mob, composed of over 100 artists, was held in June 2012. Creatives of all ages and skill levels stood 12 paces apart along both sides of Broadway from Cedar Hill to 2nd Avenue. This year, the sketch mob will continue our composite landscape portrait of the village by lining both sides of Main Street from Gedney Street to Franklin Avenue. The art works will be scanned and projected on a large screen at Nyack Center that night. Free early-bird registration ends June 1st. Sign-up today.

The goal of the Flash Sketch Mob is to produce a self portrait of the entire village of Nyack created by artists and non-artists alike. People of all skill levels and ages as well as non-traditional and traditional materials are welcome. Yes, your Etch-a-Sketch, lip liner, digital devices and tablets are acceptable.

The Flash Sketch Mob concept came from a boast I made in a column posted in October, 2011.

Like John Henry, I am at war with a machine. My antagonist is not a steam powered drill, but Google Maps. What my nemesis accomplishes through satellite surveillance and cars equipped with periscope cameras, I endeavor to create with my humble sketch pad and pen. Just like the hero of legend Henry, I will never, ultimately, outlast the machine. What I hope to do is to complete a visual record of every inch, object, vista and structure in my village that will remind us that handmade, no matter how much slower, shakier or flawed, has a greater intrinsic value than the synthetic alternative.

Once I got that hubristic rant out of my system, I realized that I needed one hundred John Henrys to create a representation of our one-square mile village that would rival Google streetviews.

TBT_Flash Sketch Man

Flash Sketch Mob 2012

The last Flash Sketch Mob included seasoned artists and the entirely unschooled. Many lapsed artists were encouraged to pick up their implements again. Taking the solitary practice of art making on to the sidewalk inspired many to keep creating. For weeks after the first Flash Sketch Mob, people were seen throughout Nyack engaging in landscape portraiture.

This second Flash Sketch Mob is part of ART WALK 2015, a three-day arts festival organized by Paulette Ross, owner of p.ross boutique. This will be the 10th anniversary of the village-wide cultural event. “This year’s theme, “10 to the 10th power…a decade of art,” can take you back in time or to the future,” said Ross.

Flash Sketch Mob_2b

Flash Sketch Mobber Dan White

Flash Sketch Mob schedule: Saturday, June 20, 2015

  • 10:00a: mob at Weld Realty, 4 Park St. to receive grid assignments. Surprise aspects will announced in the coming days
  • 11:00a: flash to assigned locations along Main St. and sketch
  • 1:00p: return to 4 Park St. so that art works can be labeled and digitally scanned
  • 9:15p: view a slide-projection of art work created by the Flash Sketch Mob at Nyack Center, 58 Depew Avenue.

In large part, the Flash Sketch Mob is an homage to the Hopper Happens festivals organized by Kris Burns. These public art events celebrated the legacy of Edward Hopper on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Edward Hopper House Arts Center.  Hopper Happens included flash mobs, pop-up projections and readings.

Flash Sketch Mob_2015_Logo_NSLThe premise behind the Flash Sketch Mob is that the unexamined place is not worth inhabiting.  Our careful examination and hand made reproduction of our built and natural environment will create a unique human record.  As we sharpen our powers of observation, by joining the Flash Sketch Mob, or examining the perspective that dozens of artists will present of our village, we might become more aware of her needs and more zealous in her defense.


Please register today.  For more information visit billbatson.com.

The Flash Sketch Mob is sponsored by Weld Realty, NyackNewsAndViews and CustomShirtplace.com. This project is made possible in part with funds from the Community Arts Grants program of the Arts Council of Rockland and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Flash Sketch Mob Gallery 2012


The Flash Sketch Mob members that created this poster are: Barbara Caress (collage), Joseph Giannella (pen and ink), Sue Barrasi (acrylic on board), John Papas (digital art), Tracy Kachtick-Anders (acrylic on poster), Loraine Machlin (pastel on paper), Kris Burns (pastel on paper), Jack White (pen and ink) and Bill Batson (pen and ink).

The Flash Sketch Mob poster and logo was created by Loraine Machlin. The Flash Sketch Mob digital map was created by Ben Falchuk. The Flash Sketch Mob slide show was created by Kris Burns with a soundtrack by John Gromada. Photos by Ray Wright. Special thanks to Marisol Diaz.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Flash Sketch Mob is Back” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.



Nyack Sketch Log: Last Call at O’Donoghue’s

O'Donoghue's_Featured_Revisedby Bill Batson

After operating under the ownership of an O’Donoghue for 63 of the last 65 years, the pub near the corner of Main Street and Broadway in Nyack served their last call on April 23. There has been an O’Donoghue behind the bar since 1949, when Paul O’Donoghue Sr. started working as a night barman for what was then called Charlie’s Bar & Grill.

After Charlie Lindell’s death in 1960, his wife, Hilda, sold the bar to Paul. O’Donoghue’s Tavern is where many had their first drink or first date. For generations, 66 Main Street has been the venue for formal and informal bachelor and bachelorette parties, high school reunions and anniversaries. For over a century there has been an adult community center on this site serving liquid recreation and comfort food. If you wanted to go where everybody knew your name in Nyack, you went to O’D’s.

NSL147_Paul Sr.

Paul O’Donoghue, Sr.

“I’ve been going to O’D’s since I was in high school,” Pickwick Bookshop owner Jack Dunnigan reminisced. Dunnigan is well acquainted with the tavern business. His family operated the beloved Dunnigan’s Bar & Grill in West Haverstraw for decades.

NSL147_Drew Eastwick

Kevin O’Donoghue (r.) with Drew Eastwick

“I wanted to branch out from Haverstraw, so I came to Nyack” Dunnigan said. “Mr. and Mrs. O’Donoghue would treat you like family. There was a certain degree of decorum that was expected and if you went beyond that point, they would let you know. They never had to remind me, of course. And when you left, Paul Sr. would always say ‘G’night, G’night’ or ‘next time bring money,'” Dunnigan fondly recalled.

A more solemn example of the family feeling that many associate with O’Donoghue’s  is from the aftermath of the Brinks robbery in 1980, when Nyack Police Officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly “Chip” Brown were shot down.

“Everything was closed in town the day after the shooting, but there were hundreds NSL147Shieldof firefighters and cops who came to Nyack and had no where to go, so my father opened the bar. He served them, but he wouldn’t take any money. When they left that first night, the bar was covered in cash, so he gathered it up, and brought it to the police station and told them to give it to the widows and orphans fund,” remembered Kevin O’Donoghue.

“A few weeks later, the Emerald Society Marching Band walked through our doors circling around my mother and father as they sat in the back.  I remember my mother crying. Phil Caruso, the Police Benevolent Association President, gave my father an honorary shield,” O’Donoghue continued.

Times may change, but a neighbor and a number stay the same.

O’D’s neighbor, Mazeppa Engine Co., No.2,  was established in 1852.

In the 19th century, alarms were raised by ringing a massive bell that once stood in front of the fire house.  When the bell was finally retired, it was installed in the tower of the North campus of Nyack College.

The name of the fire house is taken from a poem by Lord Byron. The poem describes a young man who is exiled from Poland for an affair. Mazeppa is strapped naked to a wild horse that is let loose.

Mazeppa eventually returns and becomes King and eventually defeats the Russians in what is now the Ukraine.

Historical records verify that an Ivan Mazeppa served in the Polish Court of John II Casimir.

ELmwood 8 – 0180

In the early to mid-20th century, words were used as mnemonic devices to help telephone company customers remember phone numbers.  The first two letters in the word corresponded to the first two digits in the number. Elmwood translated into 35.  The phone number for OD’s, 358-0180 has endured.

Nyack’s community theater, Elmwood Playhouse, took their name from the prefix


O’D’s: A Timeline


As early as 1909, a tavern has stood at this spot. A post card created on a gravure cylinder and printed in Germany captured the proud proprietor whose name has been lost to history.


Returning from the Great War, John “Butch” Logue has his first drink at 66 Main St, Nyack.


Hilda and Charles Lindell open Charlie’s Bar & Grill.


Paul O’Donoghue Sr. works nights behind the bar at Charlie’s. During the days, he is the station manager at the Erie Railroad’s terminal in South Nyack.


After Charlie’s passing, Hilda offered the business to Paul O’Donoghue,  On August 26, 1960, the deed was transferred.  After over a decade as the night barman, a tavern owner and an institution were born.

NSL147_ButchO’Donoghue Sr. is known for a no-nonsense manner. When asked to mix a cocktail that he thought “frilly,” he would slap a shot glass hard on the bar and ask “will it fit in there?”  He was also known to summon a brogue and belt out his own rendition of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”


Paul Sr. retires and passes the reins to his eldest son, Kevin.


Butch passes away at 95.  To give some perspective about the length of his tenure, when he first started frequenting the tavern, women did not have the right to vote.  At that time, it was considered unladylike to be seen in a bar, so the servers would bring the drinks to the backyard, that is now the kitchen, for men and women who wanted to imbibe together.


Paul O’Donoghue Sr., passes away at the age of 84.


In November,  O’D’s under new ownership.


In May, Kevin O’Donoghue returns to the saloon’s saddle posting sign on the door that reads “O’D’s is under ‘new’ old management.”


April 23, last call at O’Donoghue’s.

Much of the history on this timeline was drawn from a web page created by Barry Koch, Manager of Programs and Publicity at the Blauvelt Free Library.

O’Donoghue/Eastwick photo by Pete Cizweski.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: O’Donoghue’s Tavern“ © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.


Nyack Sketch Log Welcomes Toni Morrison

NSL167_featured Image_2nd revisionby Bill Batson

On May 18th, Toni Morrison will attend the dedication of a monument in Nyack’s Memorial Park to the painful period of history when African slavery was a global industry. Morrison, a Nobel Prize-winning author and Grand View-on-Hudson resident will join civic leaders, residents and Nyack Public School students for a ceremony that begins at the Nyack Center at 2:30p (doors open at 2:00p). Following a procession through the streets of the village, the bench will be unveiled. Nyack will join 14 other cities around the world where the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road project has erected a public commemoration to acknowledge the African diaspora.

Toni MorrisonThe project to reinterpret the ordinary park bench as a place to ponder public history began with a phrase. In response to an interviewer’s question in 1989 about the inspiration of her novel Beloved, Morrison said:

“There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to” (The World, 1989).

Bench by the Road, Sullivan Island

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

The compelling comment became a call to action for the Toni Morrison Society. In 2006, the Bench by the Road Project was established and the metaphor was made real. Nyack will be the 14th bench location around the globe. Other sites include:

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, site of Fort Moultrie, the dis-embarkation point of nearly 75% of the slaves who entered America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bench by the Road_Oberlin Ohio

Toni Morrison in Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio, a community active in the clandestine opposition to slavery called the Underground Railroad.

Fort-de-France, Martinique, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aimé Césaire.

Concord, Massachusetts: The Walden Woods “Bench by the Road” Project honors former slave and Revolutionary War hero Brister Freeman, along Henry David Thoreau’s Path.

Underground Railroad shrineThe process that led to Nyack’s selection was set into motion when a shrine to the Underground Railroad near Main Street was condemned in late 2013. A meeting of leaders of the African American community was held at the home of Village of Nyack Mayor, Jen Laird-White in December of 2013 to discuss the impending demolition. The group expressed their concern that an important chapter of the African American experience in Nyack would be erased from the local landscape if the commemorative structure created by Joseph Mitlof was lost.

Commemoration Committee_Mitlof

Joseph Mitlof

Mitlof, who passed away in April 2014, had established several historic markers, in addition to the shrine, that traced the path and celebrated the conductors of the Underground Railroad in Nyack. The Underground Railroad is a euphemism to describe a series of clandestine sanctuaries, located in private homes and other structures throughout the United States. The escape route allowed slaves to flee their captors in the years before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Contemporaneous accounts and current scholarship cite Nyack as an important Underground Railroad location.

Even though Mitlof never claimed that his shrine was an actual Underground Railroad location, the absence of the building, with its signage visible from Main Street, created a void.  Furthermore, the demolition of the shrine was a painful reminder of the 1960s urban renewal project in Nyack that displaced a vibrant African American community that lived in the area between Main Street, Depew Avenue, Broadway and Franklin Street.

Underground Railroad Historic MarkerThe remaining markers that Mitlof had erected remain, but were not considered an adequate alternative. Located respectively in an isolated parking lot and on sidewalks near heavily trafficked roads, the markers were uninviting.

The group resolved to harness the urgency that the loss of the Underground Railroad shrine represented and create a permanent monument. The Nyack Commemoration Committee was created by a resolution adopted at the April 10, 2014 meeting of the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees. I was later asked to serve as Chair.

Nyack Commemoration Committee

Nyack Village Manager James Politi, Spring Valley NAACP president Willie Trotman, Constance Frazier, Nyack NAACP president Frances Pratt, center, Bill Batson, Anngela Vasser-Cooper and Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White

The mission of the Nyack Commemoration Committee is to create a public commemoration of the experiences and contributions of African Americans in the Nyacks. This commemoration would be in the form of a substantive display in a public space, that would accommodate individuals and families who might want to comfortably linger to reflect on and celebrate local African American history.

The Bench by the Road Committee of the Toni Morrison Society approved the application submitted by the Nyack Commemoration Committee. The complete committee is composed of:

  • Village of Nyack Mayor, Jen Laird White
  • Bill Batson, Chair, co-publisher, NyackNewsAndViews
  • Constance L. Frazier, Retired Assistant Superintendent of Schools
  • Lakeba Johnson, Youth Representative
  • Winston Perry, President Historical Society of the Nyacks
  • Frances Pratt, President, Nyack NAACP
  • Jennifer Rothschild, Historic Preservationist
  • Janey Tannenbaum, Executive Director, Arts Council of Rockland
  • Bob Timm, Media Management
  • Willie Trotman, President, Spring Valley NAACP
  • Anngela Vasser-Cooper, Women’s Veterans Association of Hudson Valley, Inc.
  • Andrea Winograd, Holocaust Museum
  • Wylene Wood, President, African American Historical Society of Rockland County

Nyack Bench_Hesdar SignThe Bench by the Road in Nyack will commemorate a former slave, who became an entrepreneur and abolitionist, Cynthia Hesdra. Hesdra (1808-1879) was enslaved at one point during her life, yet died a wealthy woman, accumulating properties and businesses in New York City and Nyack. One parcel was near what is now Memorial Park, at the point where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River, a landmark used by escaping slaves seeking safe passage to Canada. Hesdra is listed in Mary Ellen’s Snodgrass’ Underground Railroad Encyclopedia as a conductor.

Lori Martin

Dr. Lori Burns Martin,

Louisiana State University Associate Professor Lori Burns Martin, who was raised in South Nyack, was responsible for having a section of Piermont Avenue renamed Cynthia Hesdra Way in 2010.  She also authored the only scholarly account of Hesdra’s life, The Battle Over the Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra. Afro-Americans in New York Life and History and the book, The Ex-Slave’s Fortune.

May 18 Schedule of events:

  • 2:30p (doors open at 2:00p, seating limited)A multimedia presentation in the Nyack Center describing the backstory of the other 14 benches, so that our community can learn about the national and global context of this initiative. Musical performances include Sam Waymon,  Nyack High School Chamber Orchestra and Chorale. Toni Morrison Society co-chairs Dr. Carolyn Denard and Dr. Craig Stutman, President, Toni Morrison Society and Dr. Lori Martin will discuss the Bench by the Road Society and the life of Cynthia Hesdra, respectively.
  • The Ex-Slave's Fortune3:30p Participants will form a procession, led by the Nyack College Gospel choir. Nyack High School students will carry yellow umbrella in the manner of the African Maafa ritual (pronounced Me aapha) that commemorates the traumatic legacy of African slavery, the diaspora and the middle passage. Gather outside Nyack Center, 58 Depew Avenue
  • 4:15p The procession arrives for a  dedication ceremony in the upper level of Memorial Park, being met by a drum circle and the Nyack High School Jazz Band. Memorial Park is located on Piermont Avenue, between Hudson and Depew Avenues. This stretch was renamed Cynthia Hesdra Way in 2010, because Hesdra owned property 400 yard from the spot where her bench will be installed. This location, where the Nyack Brook meets the Hudson River, was thought to be an important navigation route for escaping slaves.
Bench by the Road co-chairs

Dr. Carolyn Denard and Craig Stutman, Co-Chairs of the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project (far left and second from right respectively) with Nyack Commemoration Committee members Bill Batson and Constance Frazier

Toni Morrison Society founder Dr. Carolyn Denard, who serves as Associate Provost at Georgia College, and her colleague from Delaware Valley College, Assistant Professor of History and Policy Studies Dr. Craig Stutman came to Nyack on October 20, 2014 to announce the selection. Their first order of business was to attend a meeting with Nyack Public School’s superintendent, Dr. James Montesano and his key administrators. The Nyack Commemoration Committee selected a school day for the dedication ceremony so that public school students could play a central role in the installation of the bench. The meeting produced a collaboration that will introduce students in Nyack to the life and work of Hesdra and Morrison and the history of the Underground Railroad. The bench will also become a landmark that this current cohort of students can return to for the rest of their lives and proudly proclaim that they helped commemorate.

Bench Location 2

Bench by the Road Location

In his recently published book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, author, historian and Cornell University associate professor Edward E. Baptist notes that America has not adequately remembered those enslaved in our country from 1620 until 1863. He observes that while monuments to Confederate and Union soldiers are scattered across the South and in places in the North, like Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, there is scant statuary recognition of the men, women and children who suffered through involuntary servitude, or those that sought to liberate them. In his book, published in 2014, Baptist makes the same argument that Morrison made in 1989 and that the Toni Morrison Society has sought to redress.

In Nyack and 13 other communities around the world, the Bench is more than simply a perch from which to feed pigeons, or a place for a bucolic retreat. Our bench by Cynthia Hesdra Way will be, as Morrison said, “a place to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves,” and to honor this woman, who risked her hard-won liberty and prosperity and a community, that shepherded others to freedom.

During the Civil Rights Movement, normally innocuous public accommodations, like water fountains and bus seats, were transformed by courageous action into powerful symbols of resistance to racial oppression in America. The Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project similarly modifies the meaning of the mundane park bench.

Special thanks to Enid Mastrianni

For more information visit nyackbench.org.

To learn more about the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road project visit tonimorrisonsociety.org.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log Welcomes Toni Morrison” © 2015 Bill Batson.


Nyack Sketch Log: School Street Syllabus

NSL189_Featured Imageby Bill Batson

Upper Nyack’s School Street has enough history to supply its own syllabus. The row houses that line the block were built to accommodate the families of 19th century boat yard workers when Nyack was a regional center for ship building. If the corner store where the street meets North Broadway is strangely familiar, it’s because the address was immortalized by Edward Hopper. The school house that gave the street its name is gone, but the sound of the bell that rang from its tower to summon students to class still lingers in memory.

“The bell rang twice,” remembers Winston Perry, president of the Historical Society of the Nyacks who attended the Upper Nyack Elementary School from 1938 – 1945. “The first bell rang at 8:30am. I lived two houses away, so I could be in my seat by the second bell that rang at 8:45am.”

Win age 8

Winston Perry, Age 8

The school was built in 1885 and added to in 1928. Perry remembers the structure containing seven or eight rooms that accommodated eight grades plus a kindergarten.  “It had a closet for a library and no gym,” Perry recalled. “The auditorium was formed by opening partitions that separated three classrooms, one of which contained a stage.”

The School Street School became obsolete when the current Upper Nyack Elementary School was built further down North Broadway in 1955.  Increasing enrollment and evolving New York State standards for school construction compelled the erection of a new structure. In the early 1960s, the old Upper Nyack elementary building was destroyed by fire.  School Street was then extended to the south to connect with Highmount Avenue by converting the school yard into pavement.

NSL189_Upper Nyack Elementary SchoolThe row houses, a corner store on North Broadway and a large brown Victorian house on the other corner that survived after School Street lost its school were all built by James P. Voris in about 1885.  Voris owned the boatyard that is now known as Petersen’s from 1874 to 1902. Perry described the launching of large sailing vessels and steam boats as community-wide events where awestruck onlookers would gather. “Everyone would turn out to witness the boats launched on marine railway tracks. They would remove the chocks and let it roll. It always made a big splash.”

NSL189_7 AM Store, 1890's 001Ideally priced and situated for boat yard workers, the row houses were  and may have been built by the men who inhabited them. Each of the attached houses was constructed in the bracketed Italianate style and built in the mid 1880s. The 2007 Historical Society house tour guide featured one of those houses.

The tour guide cites:

“…unusual cedar beams and evidence of the original pot-bellied stoves. Ceiling grates still in place pulled heat upstairs.  There were no brick walls separating the houses, only the same wood stud and plaster partitions as were used between rooms, so loud noise travels from house to house to house. The attics are continuous above all the houses,  making them essentially just one long building.”

NSL189_marblesThe corner store built by Voris must have been viewed as another convenience by his workers. It was also a way for the industrialist to “get back the money on Saturday that he paid his workers on Friday,” Perry suggested.

This photo of children playing marbles on School Street was taken by George Lyeth in 1898, who had acquired the row houses and corner store. Around this time, Win’s grandfather, Harry Perry rented the store from Lyeth. Harry Perry displayed merchandise on two floors, sold household goods, groceries and meats and assumed the duties of postmaster of Upper Nyack from a cubby hole on the counter.

7am_HopperAccording to Win, his grandfather rented stores on three different corners in Upper Nyack at different times and went bankrupt in each when he could not collect debts from seasonal customers who failed to pay their bills before returning to New York City.

Later the store built by Voris, owned by Lyeth and operated by Perry was used as the inspiration for Edward Hopper’s 1948 painting Seven A.M. The angle that the artist selected does not permit the viewer to see the row houses, or the Victorian, tucked around the corner.

7am_BatsonI visited the corner of North Broadway and School Street at the exact time that the title of the painting commemorates. At that hour of the day, the color of the light is the main character. The simple plot of a rising sun illuminating the natural and man-made landscape is sufficient to engage the viewer in Hopper’s masterpiece.

When I arrived at the appointed hour of 7am, I imagined the storefront when it had a public function, serving generations of workers and families. The facade is well maintained, but no longer accessible. With no commercial signage or product displays, the picture window looks purely ornamental. Reflected in the pristine glass storefront is the mirror image of a house, the home of that so-punctual student of the long-absent schoolhouse, and the grandson of the one-time postmaster, Win Perry.

One of the historic School Street row houses is for sale. Interested parties should contact Laura Weintruab at Weld Realty at 914 588-6878 or weldrealty.com.

Special thanks to Brian Jennings and Myra Starr.

Photos courtesy Win Perry.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: School Street Syllabus” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.


Nyack Sketch Log: Hand House Hosts Hitchcock Homage

NSL114_Featured Image Revisedby Bill Batson

Since the 1850s, only four families have called this address on South Franklin Street home. The first two families built and expanded what is in many ways a monument to American architectural and scientific innovation. The third family sought to restore and preserve this significant piece of local and national history. The fourth family is inviting the public to see the interior of this imposing facade, transformed by Rivertown Film into a Hitchcock-themed fundraising gala on May 2.

NSL114_Andrew Jackson Downing

Andrew Jackson Downing

Architect and builder Azariah Ross acquired the land where he built this enduring great home from Garrett Tallman for $5,000 in 1856. Ross had interests in projects that shaped an American landscape being transformed by the materials and wealth of the Industrial Revolution. He was instrumental in extending the Northern Railroad to Nyack, erecting the stone bridges that transect New York City’s Central Park and the stone retaining wall surrounding the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The home that Ross built in Nyack is the product of the ideas and designs of the great landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was hugely influential in American residential and public architecture in the early 19th century.  Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, who built and designed Central Park, met in Downing’s Newburgh home. The Gothic Revival style of the home that Ross built is animated by Downing’s belief that architecture and the fine arts could elevate the morals of a property’s owner.

NSL114_Hand Portrait_jpeg

William H. Hand

Ultimately, Ross’s stonework in Central Park proved sturdier than his finances. From 1871 until 1882, the Franklin Street home was heavily mortgaged and became the subject of litigation between his heirs after his death. For a brief period during this interval, the property was operated as the Smithsonian Hotel, a name that may have been selected as homage to Downing and Vaux’s work on the Washington museum of the same name. In 1883, Mary H. Hand purchased the home at auction.

Mary’s husband, William H. Hand, was well suited to rebuild the property that had been turned into a near ruin by vandals. The son of a cabinet maker, William H. Hand established a firm that specialized in decorative woodwork that would eventually employ his sons William B. Roger and Walter. Together and separately they were engaged in construction projects including The Manhattan Beach Hotel in Coney Island, The Princeton Library, the Museum of the City of New York, The Fogg Museum at Harvard and numerous mansions in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island.

Mary H. Hand was a vigorous manager of the affairs of the house that included a working farm and a stable. She was known to carry payroll and supplies to her husband’s workers in Manhattan Beach by horse and buggy.


Hitchcock at the HandOn Saturday, May 2nd, Rivertown Film reincarnates the spirit of cinematic maestro Alfred Hitchcock at its “Hitchcock at Hand” spring gala.

This evening immerses guests into re-enacted scenes from such classic films as “Psycho” and “North by Northwest.” in many of the rooms of South Nyack’s historic Hand House, located at 122 South Franklin Ave., South Nyack. As guests wander the grand rooms, they’ll encounter pieces of classic vignettes and characters created by Hitchcock.

Complementing the evening’s chills will be thrilling palate of gourmet food  donated by 8 North Broadway, Marcello’s Ristorante, Murasake Japanese Cuisine, Bonefish Grill, Alain’s French Bistro, Prohibition River, King and I, Velo, Brickhouse, Turiello’s, Sakana Modern Japanese Cuisine, Mimi’s Plate, Pour House Nyack and La Terrazza. Rafele Ristorante is donating accompanying desserts, and wines are being furnished by Grape D’Vine. The event sponsor is M & T Bank, and the house sponsor is Better Homes Real Estate/Rand Realty.

The mystery commences at 7pm. Tickets are $100/person, and are available via Brown Paper Tickets . More information can be found at rivertownfilms.org or on Rivertown’s “Hitchcock at Hand” Facebook page.

Rivertown Film is a non-profit organization, which was founded in 2001, and is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and Creative Financial Planning, Starbucks, Orange and Rockland and Painter Smith Advertising.

Their mission is dedicated to celebrating, exploring, and promoting the art of the motion picture. Their Creative Advisory Board includes such industry professionals and Rockland residents as the aforementioned Jonathan Demme, Ellen Burstyn and Bill Irwin.

Upon her death in 1917, the home was left to her daughter Mary E. Hand, who lived there until 1955. Mary E. Hand left the house to her nieces and nephews, who shared the home. Raymond Hand was a photographer who documented the Dutch inspired architecture of Rockland County; Dorothy Hand Park Crawford earned a degree in Interior Design at the Parsons School of Design, and William H. Hand was a noted scientist and inventor.

When William H. Hand died in 1978, he was described by the Historical Society of Rockland County as the last surviving personal research assistant to Thomas Alva Edison.

From a laboratory in the barn where his great-aunt kept her horses, Hand improved on the standard battery design, creating a unique power source with a 15-year lifespan. This significant technological development made his battery popular with the military and police and fire departments.

NSL114_Hand BatteryBefore Hand’s innovation, batteries relied almost exclusively on the locomotion of the engine to generate and hold the charge. Hand’s research in electro-chemistry created a battery that held a charge allowing a vehicle to reliably go from a stationary position to  high-speeds, a valuable asset in crime fighting and combat.

Sarah Porter and her husband Tom Watts purchased the house from Dorothy Hand Park Crawford’s daughter Adelma in 1999, continuing the legacy of female stewardship of the property. During the sale, Porter learned that there was another bidder that wanted to demolish the home and build over 30 condominiums. Subsequently, they initiated talks with the Village of South Nyack to preserve the historic house through new provisions in the local zoning ordinance.

As a result of Porter’s negotiations, the parcel cannot be broken into smaller lots and there are new economic uses permitted on site including the establishment of a bed and breakfast, art gallery, spa, conference or retreat center.

Porter’s actions were consistent with Azariah Ross’s work on public projects and the philanthropic traditions of the Hand family. William Hand donated the land across from the Hand ancestral home where the Village of South Nyack built at public park and firehouse. This house provides evidence that Andrew Jackson Downing may have been right when he said, “If they can decorate and build their homes to symbolize the values they hope to embody, such as prosperity, education and patriotism, they will be happier people and better citizens.”

The current owners are continuing this altruistic tradition. Dennis and Noah Brodsky moved to the Hand House from an apartment in Manhattan, having previously lived in Upper Nyack years ago. During a visit to South Nyack Village Hall, they mentioned to Village Clerk Sally Seiler that they were interested in getting more involved in the community. Coincidentally, Rivertown Film was in the midst of trying to identify a venue for their next gala. From the moment Rivertown approached the couple about the possibility of hosting Hitchcock at Hand in their historic home, they have demonstrated a remarkable generosity, flexibility and accessibility.

Space for Rivertown Film’s “Hitchcock at Hand” Spring Gala on Saturday, May 2 is extremely limited. Visit rivertownfilm.org to purchase tickets.

Special thanks to Adelma Park, Sarah Porter, Elizabeth Turk, Kris Burns, Roger and Sally Seiler, Winston Perry and Village of South Nyack historian Myra Starr.

Hand portrait and battery image courtesy Hudson River Valley Heritage.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Hand House Hosts Hitchcock Homage” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.


Nyack Sketch Log: Lent House Demolished

Lent House Featured  Revised copyby Bill Batson

The campaign to save the historic Lent House in Orangeburg was lost on Saturday morning, April 4th. The decisive blow was delivered by a backhoe. The 263 year old house was reduced to a pile of rubble in less than two hours.

As recently as last Thursday, architect and preservationist Walter Aurell was optimistic that the house could be spared. After learning about the unexpected annihilation, Aurell wrote, “ It is very upsetting that in a Town whose motto is “Rich in History” we have lost another significant piece of that very history – and its replacement in the public realm will be another strip mall.”
Lent House Photo

Social media was abuzz last week in anticipation of an Orangetown Planning Board meeting that was scheduled for April 8. The disposition of the Lent House was on the agenda. After being approached by Valley Cottage resident Rick Tannenbaum, I was preparing a Nyack Sketch Log titled: “Save the Lent House,” hoping to increase attendance at the public session. But on Friday, April 3, that meeting was postponed until May 13th.  And after this holiday weekend’s arrival of heavy machinery, my headline, and our Lent House are now history.

Lent House_CornerstoneIn a letter to Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart last week, Aurrell reported that “Tom Graff (owner of the land) is on board to work with us.” The objective that Graff seemed inclined to support was to carefully disassemble and move the house to another location. Stewart was also confident that a solution could be found that would satisfy the developer, RD Management, the Graff family and a committed group of preservationists. “As recently as Friday (April 3) the owner of the property and the developer of Orangeburg Commons indicated that they shared my understanding of the desirability and feasibility of salvage and rebuilding,” Stewart reported in statement released over the weekend on Facebook.

Lent house_stairsThe director of the Orangetown Museum, Mary Cardenas, was one of the many people who thought that progress was being made toward saving the Lent House. She described the building as an “important example of Dutch Colonial architecture that is commonly held by the people of Orangetown as an important part of our history.” Cardenas described the interior integrity of the structure, particularly the ceiling and floor beams as an aspect that made the Lent House ideal for preservation. On Saturday, Cardenas told the Journal News that it was “wrenching to see this piece of history going down.”

Reports suggest that the attorney for the Graffs advised their clients to take the structure down over the Passover/Easter weekend, and in advance of the May 13th planning meeting. The Graffs obtained the demolition permit from the Orangetown Planning Board over a year ago.

Lent House_beamsIn Stewart’s Facebook statement, the Orangetown Supervisor responded to an assertion by some preservation proponents that he should have withdrawn the demolition permit. “Town attorneys advised…that any attempt by [Orangetown] to revoke a demolition permit that had been lawfully issued last year would have been clearly illegal,” Stewart wrote.

William E. Krattinger, a Historic Preservation Program Analyst for the New York State Division for Historic Preservation issued a resource evaluation for the Lent House in April, 2014 that asserted that the house was eligible for inclusion on both the State and National Historic Registers. Krattinger concluded that “the house was an exceptional example of New World Dutch stone house construction. The main section, 1752, predates the French & Indian War.  It is of large scale, with very high ceilings, and was clearly a house of tremendous stature when built.  It certainly ranks among the best of the stone houses I have seen in Rockland County.”

According to the website, Save Lent House, the home was continually occupied from 1752 until 15 years ago, when the last resident died. It was then purchased and converted to commercial use by the Graffs. However, no application was made to add the property to the National Register of Historic Places. Final application for inclusion on the Register never occurred, as this requires the owners’ consent.

Lent House DoorIn Rosalie Fellows Bailey’s definitive volume “Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York,” the Lent House is linked to Abraham de Ryck, one of the earliest settlers in New Amsterdam. The home was built in 1752 by or for Abraham Lent. On December 22, 1775, Abraham Lent was made Colonel of the First Regiment of Militia of Fort Orangetown, by the Provincial Congress for the Colony of New York. A genealogy of the Lent family described the Lents as being “very numerous in the Continental Army. They voluntarily took up arms and fought bravely to free themselves from the yoke of thralldom to Great Britain. Sir Henry Clinton said that he could neither “buy nor conquer these Dutchmen.”

Lent House DestroyedTwo hundred and forty years later, in the battle to save the Lent House, we did not acquit ourselves as honorably as our revolutionary forebears. The home of Colonel Abraham Lent was bought and conquered on our watch, and not by an invading army, but by a strip mall developer.

Another Dutch Colonial, The John Green House, is also imperiled.  Nyack resident, composer and activist John Gromada has created a Facebook page to support the preservation of  the oldest standing structure in Nyack, Save John Green House in Nyack. I wrote about the significance of the Green House and John’s preservation efforts in this January 2012 Nyack Sketch Log titled Save Our Green House.  

Special thanks to Brian Jennings, New City Library’s Local Historian

Writer Tina Traster, a Valley Cottage resident, is producing a documentary about the preservation and loss of Rockland County’s most precious and historic buildings. She is seeking financial contributions to make the 15-minute documentary film so it can travel around the county and beyond to educate people about the importance of historic preservation. If you want to contribute to her project or if you have resources she can use, please send her an email: ttraster@aol.com

Exterior Lent House photo (pre-demolition) by Tina Traster.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Lent House Demolished” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.


Nyack Sketch Log: Didier Dumas Redux

NSL123_Didier Dumas_by Bill Batson

On the evening last July when a lightening strike set his patisserie ablaze, Didier Dumas was watching the World Cup at Avida. “I saw a flash and heard a sound like a bomb, and I said, ‘I am glad that didn’t hit my building.’” But Didier and his beloved French bakery had not escaped unscathed. “An employee came in a few minutes later and told me that black smoke was pouring through the windows.”

This Thursday, after eight months of renovations, Didier will reopen his eponymous eatery. “I always knew I was going to reopen. I thought it would be three months. But then we found one problem after another.”

Didier Dumas

The writing is on the wall. Patisserie Didier Dumas will be open soon. Painting by Lynn Stein

“I want to thank everyone who wished me well,” Didier said referring to the multiple posts on social media that pined for the return of his pastries. “I went through some tough and stressful times. Reading what people said has helped tremendously.”

A few weeks from now, when his operation is back up and running, Didier plans on holding a grand-reopening party. “Everybody will be invited. It will be like Bastille Day.”

This interview, published six months before the fire, reveals the inspiration that fuels this pastry chef as he rises, pheonix-like, from the ashes. Discover Didier’s “je ne sais quoi” that kept a legion of loyal customers waiting for his doors to reopen.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a pastry chef?

That was as far back as I can remember. As a child in Marseille, I was always looking in the window of the neighborhood bakery wondering how they were making these cakes. The shop was owned by Mr. Zeppini. He became my mentor.

Rave Reviews

After growing up in New York City with a French bakery just around the corner, I’m happy to have Didier Dumas right down the street in Nyack. I have tried almost everything in his cases and it’s all delicious, from his small sized desserts to his wonderful crepes and sandwiches.

Debbi Cracovia

Didier proves it’s not location, location, location, — it’s product. If you serve something authentic, people will come.

Nothing had succeeded there until Didier opened. I have never seen a business do that well so fast, and in the process, he has extended Main Street.

Kris Burns

This man, this artist, has the hands of Monet; with butter and flour and sugar rather than paint. He does for pastry in Nyack what Monet did for water lilies in Giverny!

I would make a special trip up to this ‘burb’ of Manhattan they call Nyack just to enjoy Didier’s again.

American Woman M  from Yelp

Was there anyone else who inspired you to enter the culinary arts?

One person who inspired me was my grandmother. She was always baking something, flan, or pies or tarts. My aunt was also always baking at my grandparents farm. I started by baking cream puffs and puff pastries with her.

What brought you to Nyack?

I used to work and live in Westchester. I came to Nyack to study Kung Fu on Main St. I fell in love with Nyack. It felt like a friendly neighborhood with a lot of people always going out. I said  to myself, ‘ a French bakery could be a nice addition to this lovely town.’

When did Didier Dumas open for business?

November 2006, a few days before Thanksgiving.

How is Nyack similar to where you grew up?

In French cities, you have a lot of different little neighborhoods; where you work, shop, and eat. Each neighborhood in the city is like a little village.

Nyack reminds me of some of the neighborhoods in Marseille. People in Nyack walk around and say hi. They know each other. They are very warm.

I didn’t have this feeling when I lived in Westchester. I lived there for seven years and needed my car for everything. After seven years, I didn’t really know anyone.

Didier Dumas Fire 20140702. Photo Credit: Bill DemarestWhat is the biggest challenge of managing a kitchen and a business?

Trying to spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like to, without neglecting the other aspects of the business, like spending time with my accountant, doing some paper work, dealing with the employees, talking to customers.

I noticed a lot of young people work at your patisserie. Are you passing on your craft to the next generation?

I do my best to teach the people at the counter to be familiar with the product, to try the pastries so that they can answer questions for the customers.

In the kitchen, I have them for a few years so I am teaching them to be pastry chefs from the beginning. I try to show them the love in a job well done. I train them the way that I was trained when I started.

What are your favorite desserts to prepare?

I don’t have a favorite anymore. I used to when I was younger. What I like the most to do now in the kitchen is create new recipes.

Royal ChocolateIs there a new recipe that you are particularly proud of?

That would be my signature dessert, the Royal Chocolate Cake.

What are your favorite desserts to eat?

It depends on my mood. I eat a piece of pastry on a daily basis, sometimes a macaroon or a slice of cake.

What is the busiest time of the year?

The end of the year is the busiest time for me. It’s like a three course meal: Thanksgiving is the appetizer, Christmas is the main course, and New Years is dessert.

What have been some of the challenges to having a business above Franklin Street?

NSL_Didier Dumas_ExteriorAt the beginning, people told me that it was not a good location, that it was too far from downtown. I did not see it this way. I think if people know that there is a French bakery doing a good job they will come.

I like my location. We have become a destination. At evening time, it is more quiet than downtown. In the summer, there is not that much noise so you can sit outside and enjoy your pastry. We also have parking right across the street.

Several people that I have spoken to describe your bakery as one of their favorite things about Nyack. What are some of your favorite things about the village?

My favorite thing about Nyack are my customers. From the beginning they have always come first. I have made friendships. I have been invited to New Years parties, barbeques, and Easter dinners, especially when my family from France is here.

Welcome back Didier! Bonne Chance!

Photo Credits: Didier Dumas (Nancy Eisen), Fire (Bill Demarest)

Patisserie Didier Dumas is located at 163 Main Street in Nyack, NY.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Didier Dumas Redux” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.