by Bill Batson
Since the 1850s, only four families have called 122 South Franklin Street home. The first two families built and expanded what is in many ways a monument to American architectural and scientific innovation. A third and fourth family, who sought to restore and preserve this significant piece of local and national history had shorter tenures. Back on the market, the Ross-Hand-Porter-Brodsky mansion seeks family number five.
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.
According to research by Nyack Realtor Donna Cox, “Ross also built several notable buildings in Nyack including Nyack’s first brick commercial building at 1 Piermont Avenue which housed Ross’ general store and the Nyack Express Company building at 38 High Avenue.”
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.
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.
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 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 life. This significant technological development made his battery popular with the military and police and fire departments.
Before 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.
The length of Porter’s tenure might be significantly shorter than the previous two stewards, but it is of major consequence to the legacies of the Ross and Hand families and all of the ideas and inventions enshrined in the building and grounds. Unlike many who seek to leverage real estate investments for profits by selling to the highest bidder, Porter’s commitment is to preserve the Hand House for future generations.
Porter’s altruistic actions are 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.”
Porter eventually sold to Dennis and Noah Brodsky in 2014, who moved to the Hand House from an apartment in Manhattan, having previously lived in Upper Nyack. During a visit to South Nyack Village Hall when they moved in, the Brodsky’s mentioned to Village Clerk Sally Seiler that they were interested in getting more involved in the community. A few months later, Rivertown Film gained access to the entire estate to hold a Hitchcock-themed costume gala. My fiancé, Marisol Diaz and I attended as Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelley from Rear Window.
In the generational game of musical chairs that is real estate, this property that presides over South Franklin is for sale again. If you are in the market for a single family, five bedroom, five bath historic home, you can call Donna Cox at Better Homes & Gardens, Rand Realty at 845-641-8613. To learn more visit handmansion.com
Special thanks to Donna Cox, Adelma Park, Sarah Porter, Elizabeth Turk, Roger and Sally Seiler, Winston Perry and Village of South Nyack historian Myra Starr.
Hand portrait and battery image courtesy Hudson River Valley Heritage.
by Bill Batson
Before we had a skatepark, Nyack was home to one of the first skateboard teams in New York, The Wizards. “Virgin Blacktop, A New York Skate Odyssey” a documentary about the eclectic crew by acclaimed action-sports photographer Charlie Samuels has been rolling up awards on the global film festival circuit. Just last week, Virgin Black Top won best skate board film at the Portuguese Surf Film Festival.
“The Wizards’ skateboard crew began in Nyack’s Memorial Park in 1977. I was super psyched to screen our film, which is set in the Nyack area, to the surf town of Ericeira, Portugal and to bring home an award. Our film shows that the lifetime friendships depicted in the documentary resonate to audiences an ocean away,” said Director Charlie Samuels.
For those who remember the early origins of the hardtop pavement sport, the film captures the growth of the sidewalk surfer culture. But the real magic of story is the unconditional friendships that Samuels both captured and maintained. Virgin Blacktop “has such humanity to it,” according to Dale Bell, producer of the documentary Woodstock.
When they met in 1977, they had nothing in common except a passion for skateboarding. Despite their vastly different ages, races and economic backgrounds and with their parents hands off approach, they formed a competitive, traveling team of spirited outsiders called the “Wizards”. Charlie Samuels is not just the director of the documentary, but was one of the crew. Samuels was the barely-of-age-driver that chauffeured the team to competitions around the country. When the Wizards took the stage at the Nyack Center in November of 2017 for a special family and friends preview, it felt like a family reunion.
“It was the late 1970’s. I was 15 and in love for the first time with a magic device of artistic expression — my G&S Fibreflex skateboard,” Samuels wrote for nystakeboarding.com, where he is a contributor. ” Sometimes I’d lay my cheek on the blacktop and marvel at my translucent red “Road Rider 4” urethane wheels with sealed precision bearings. I skated alone in the Rockland Cemetery across the street from my house in Sparkill, NY, just twenty minutes from New York City. I was psyched when I found several diverse kids in the nearby Hudson River villages of Grand View and Nyack who shared my passion.”
“We loved skating on the basketball and tennis courts of Nyack’s Memorial Park. But when we saw pictures of skateboard parks in our Bible – Skateboarder Magazine – we dreamt of having our own right there. The setting is visually stunning: on the Hudson River with a view of the Tappan Zee Bridge. A few of us lobbied the powers-that-be and failed. Then, in 2010 Sarah Anderson created the ‘Nyack Needs A Skatepark’ Facebook page.” Samuels enthusiastically joined the effort to secure the park.
The Nyack Village trustees unanimously voted to support the addition of a state of the art public concrete skate plaza, of approximately 5,000 square feet, to Memorial Park in March 2013, after the community efforts of Nyack Needs a Skatepark to gather over 1,000 petition signatures and many Village Hall meetings packed with people of all ages and backgrounds.
On November 2015, the park was dedicated at an event that Samuels attended and described here by NyackNewsAndViews editor Max Cea: “As the sun set over the village, the skateboarders, old and young, black, brown and white, continued to ride. Maybe they were inspired by the words of one of the founding Wizards, Jamaal Bey. ‘Ride until the wheels fall off,’” he said.
Virgin Blacktop explores the lives of Samuels’ diverse skater crew that met in Rockland in 1977. “It’s been almost 40 years since we named ourselves the “Wizards” – we placed in State and National competitions and one of us went on to be the first pro skater in New York City. Now we are fathers and husbands and our lives have spun off in different directions, but we’ve stayed passionate about the sub-culture of skating.”
Virgin Blacktop represents the culmination of 21 years of work for Samuels. After seeing some footage, Penelope Spheres, the director of Wayne’s World and Suburbia said “If your film has half the emotion of your trailer, you’ll have a festival darling on your hands.”
According to Anderson, there are many benefits to the four wheeled recreational vehicle that brought the Wizards together. “It’s outdoor recreational exercise and it’s really fun. You don’t have to belong to a team to participate, but it notoriously brings people together. It’s the 3rd most popular sport among youth ages 8-18, after football and basketball (SGMA study), but it is also inter-generational. In a time when we are all becoming increasingly sedentary and infused with our electronics, it is crucial that youth have a variety of healthy, social, physical activities. Skateboarding is one of them.”
Through the loss of one member, and the incarceration of another, the bond between the 9 member crew doesn’t fray, but tightens. For all those communities around the country that are considering skate board parks, Virgin Black Top is a compelling testimonial to the power of a sport that combines individualism, artistry, and athleticism. If you ever go down to Memorial Park, check out the diversity of the skaters. If there is one overriding message from Virgin Blacktop, it’s that the wizardry unleashed by his Samuel’s crew and captured by his camera lives on among its surviving members and those still riding boards.
Click here to see the trailer.
Or visit: www.virginblacktop.com
And thanks to Joe Ondrek for letting me sketch his skate board for the illustration!
by Bill Batson
Joy Macy can tell the love birds, because they show up early. The worm they seek is the brightest bouquet of flowers from her Bluefield Farm. I’m in that flock. Every week for the last six years, when in season, I buy flowers for my sweet heart. When people see me with an armful of color and fragrance and ask “what’s the occasion,” I say, “it’s Farmer’s Market Thursday in Nyack.”
If you want to make Valentine’s Day a weekly event, her local flower farm is at your disposal. Eleven acres of blossoms of fleeting beauty, plucked from the earth to make a brief expressions of affection. Visit her at the Nyack Farmers’ Market from 8a until 2p. But you better not arrive too late, or I’ll beat you to the best bouquets.
Here’s how Joy’s abundant and aromatic flower farm grows!
Were the flowers here when you arrived?
When John and I bought the property in 1998, we knew we wanted to do some form of farming. We have 11 acres and we wanted to preserve it as farmland in keeping with Rockland’s agrarian heritage.
We got in touch with Cornell Cooperative Extension for guidance and they recommended berries or flowers because they are potentially good cash crops if done well. Twelve years ago some fellow Master Gardeners from Cornell and I decided we wanted to grow organic vegetables and flowers and also get some chickens and goats. We started selling flowers to some retail stores to cover the costs of the farm. In 2010, the flower vendor at the Nyack Farmers’ Market decided to retire and we took her spot.
When did you find you had a green thumb?
Growing up we always had a flower garden and I loved to be outside. My father grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio and always grew vegetables.
I really fell in love with gardening when I went to college in Santa Cruz, California, and I was amazed that you could grow flowers and vegetables year round. I studied botany and ecology and worked at a nursery during my senior year.
When I moved to New York City, I worked in the plant district to learn the trade and and a year or two later started my own company to install and care for office plants.
How many kinds of flowers grow on Bluefield Farm?
There are too many kinds of flowers to count. And every year I discover new uses for what grows wild. I plant more perennials and try different annuals.
There is constant change in the flowers throughout the growing season. In the early spring there are the bulbs and early spring flowers, Daffodils, Alliums, Solomon’s Seal, Daisies, Bachelor Buttons, Campanula. Soon after that comes the Peonies, Baptisia, Sweet Williams and Sweet Peas .
By July I start having Lilies, Crocosmias, Yarrows, and Delphinium. And then all the summer annual flowers take over, the Zinnias, Celosias, Gomphrena, Sunflowers and, of course the Dahlias which carry us through until the first frost.
How do you pick what to grow?
I like to grow an interesting mix of flowers and foliage plants. I love fragrant flowers and also flowers that are unusual. But then I also like the old standbys, like Cosmos, Zinnias and Phlox, flowers that were growing in your grandmother’s garden. I find that people are interested in flowers that they haven’t seen before and also flowers that last a long time.
I spend time on the internet, especially in the winter, and read about what other growers are trying and loving. I follow several growers on instagram and belong to a couple facebook flower grower groups. I try to grow flowers that aren’t available anywhere else around here. I like to have flowers blooming from early spring to late fall. I like to have a mix of showy flowers and also some flowers and foliage plants for fragrance and texture.
What is the most exotic?
I wouldn’t call any of my plants particularly exotic. The plants that seem to intrigue people the most are the ones with interesting seedpods, like the Nigella and the Ping Pong Scabiosa. The flowers that form balls rather than the traditional daisy shaped flowers are popular these days, such as Globe Thistle, Gomphrena and Craspedia. Spiky flowers like Celosia and Amaranth also add texture and interest to an arrangement.
I also like to add herbs to my bouquets. We grow several different varieties of oreganos, basils, mints and scented geraniums. For Fall we grow many different grasses that can also be dried.
What is the most durable?
We have been growing more flowers that we can dry so that people can enjoy flowers in their homes all through the year. We’ve started drying Yarrow, Statice, Globe Amaranth, Lavender, Tansy, grasses and seedpods. Every year we try to add more flowers for drying. We also
How do you get along with the bees?
We love all the bees and pollinators even though the vase life of the flower is shortened once the flower is pollinated. We make sure to have plenty of flowers to support the native bees and other pollinators. I try to get out early in the morning to cut flowers before the bees have visited. We also love the butterflies and dragonflies that keep us company in the fields. In the evenings the fireflies light up the farm. This is an exceptionally good firefly year.
We have a beekeeper, Bill Day, who keeps several honeybee hives here. Every spring the bees swarm to create new colonies. It’s always exciting to see and hear a swarm and it makes us feel like the bees are happy and healthy here.
What else grows at Bluefield Farms?
We have 20 chickens. We raise them primarily for eggs, but we also appreciate them for their unique personalities and their beautiful feathers.
I understand you raise goats?
We have 3 cashmere goats. The goats grow beautiful cashmere coats throughout the winter. In early spring we comb out the cashmere. We are waiting for someone to spin our cashmere and make us hats, but so far that has been an elusive proposition. The goats have helped us clear some fields and in general are very good company.
Where do you sell your flowers?
Our favorite place to sell flowers is at the Nyack Farmers’ Market. We have been selling flowers there since 2010. Over the years we have gotten to know and love our regular customers who come by early to say hello and to see what we have that’s new. I have loved watching the babies and children grow up and hearing about our customer’s fabulous travels, families and gardens.
We also sell to some local shops and floral designers and by special order.
Can people visit?
People often ask if they can visit the farm. Generally we are very busy working in the field so it’s hard to have people drop by. We always have an ‘Open Farm Day’ in the Fall when the end of the season is in sight. This year it will be on Sunday September 16th, from 1-4. It’s still in the planning stages.
Tell us about your partnership with Festoon on the Hudson?
Kris Burns of Festoon has been working with me on the farm for several years now. She is a master floral designer and also a very good weeder and hard worker. Often if someone asks for a special arrangement or flowers for an event I’ll turn to Kris. She has been an inspiration for me. She loves to forage for branches and vines and fruits to add to arrangements, she has a true artist’s eye. Whatever she does always ends up being beautiful and unique!
Also with Kris’s help we have started opening up the farm to visitors a few more times a year. Last year we had an Open Day in December where we had dried flowers, wreaths and other holiday decorations for sale in the barn. And this past spring we opened up the farm the day before Mother’s Day with spring flowers and plants for sale.
What challenges are you facing?
Farming is a lot of hard work, of course, and none of it is mechanized.
Another challenge is finding a balance between supply and demand. Flowers need to be cut every couple of days to keep them fresh and to keep them blooming. At the beginning of the season I don’t have enough flowers to meet the demand and then by mid-summer, I have more flowers than I know what to do with. Some weeks everyone needs flowers for weddings and other events and then some weeks I have surplus flowers.
My pen fell in love with your barn. Tell me a little bit about her?
Our house was one of the original Blauvelt houses and the property, extending to Rte. 303, was still 100 acres as late as 1980.
The barn was built in 1911 on the foundation of an even earlier barn that had burned down. When we bought the property the barn was in disrepair. We renovated it in 2011.
Who many others have help tend the soil at Bluefield Farms?
I couldn’t grow such beautiful flowers if I didn’t have the help of all the people behind the scenes all these years, weeding, planting, cutting flowers, making bouquets, etc.
Trish Schroer, a true master gardener, and Rebecca Finnell, who was the original flower grower, have been with me since the beginning of the Bluefield Farm project. Patricia Lennon and Sandy Rosoff have backed me up for many years. Braulio, a wonderful gardener from El Salvador, has worked hard and given a lot of love to the flowers over the years.
Also I’ve had a series of younger people who wanted to learn about farming and growing flowers that have been a tremendous help and source of inspiration for me, Jodie Hamel, Marla Silverstein and this year Michael Jameson.
Visit Joy at the Nyack Farmer’s Market every Thursday from 8a – 2p from May through November.
Open Farm Day this year it will be on Sunday September 16th, from 1-4 at 690 Western Highway, Bluavelt.
Or follow Joy on Instagram at joydmacy & bluefieldfarm & #bluefieldfarm
Special thanks to my inspiration and the object of my undying affection, Marisol Diaz!
by Bill Batson
While former President Barack Obama was in South Africa last week to honor what would have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the current American President had a televised bromance with a Russian dictator in Helsinki, Finland. The comparison is so unfavorable, I can not even mention the name of the 45th President of the United States and Nelson Mandela in the same column.
This world needs more Mandelas. The South African leader, who secured the presidency of his country through negotiations from a prison cell, was born on July 18, 1918. Great leaders are often smelted in the furnace of conflict. Abraham Lincoln found his immortal voice during our bloody civil war waged to end slavery. Winston Churchill stayed calm and carried on through world wars that ravaged his country and continent. By hiring his white, former prison guards as his Presidential security, Mandela showed a nation how to transcend the seemingly intractable racial divide of Apartheid.
While former President Barack Obama was in South Africa last week to honor Mandela, the current American President had a televised bromance with a Russian dictator in Helsinki, Finland. The comparison is so unfavorable, I can not even mention the name of the 45th President of the United States and Nelson Mandela in the same column.
Thanks to Samuel Harps, the founder and director of the Shades Repertory Theater in Garnerville, Mandela has been on my mind a lot lately. After Harps read a column I wrote about Mandela in 2012, where I describe the African leader’s brief career as an actor while incarcerated as a political prisoner, he began exploring the unusual production.
Harps just completed Antigone on Robben Island, a play that explores how humans reconcile fidelity to self, family, government and movements. Here is the story of an autograph that inspired Harp’s play within a play set in a prison.
When first published, Long Walk to Freedom revealed previously unknown details about Mandela the lawyer, boxer, military leader and diplomat, but to the surprise of some, he was also an actor.
“Our amateur drama society made its yearly offering at Christmas. Our productions were what might now be called minimalist: no stage, no scenery, and no costumes. All we had was the text of the play,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography of how he and his colleagues passed their time on Robben Island. “I performed in only a few dramas, but I had one memorable role: that of Creon, the king of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone.”
Apparently, Mandela found the work of Greek playwrights “enormously elevating.” “What I took out of them was that character was measured by facing up to difficult situations and that a hero was a man who would not break down even under the most trying circumstances.”
In the play, King Creon must decide whether or not to give a proper burial to one of his sons, Polynices, who had been killed during a rebellion against his father’s throne. Antigone, Creon’s daughter, rejects her father’s decision and buries her brother. Creon’s response was merciless.
“At the outset, Creon is sincere and patriotic, and there is wisdom in the early speeches when he suggests that experience is the foundation of leadership and the obligations to the people take precedence over loyalty to an individual,” Mandela wrote.
But ultimately, Mandela sided with Antigone. “Creon’s inflexibility and blindness ill become a leader, for a leader must temper justice with mercy. It was Antigone who symbolized our struggle; she was, in her own way, a freedom fighter, for she defied the law on the grounds that it was unjust.”
In 1998, on a trip to South Africa, I shook hands with Mandela on a rope line, but was unable to ask him to sign the copy of Antigone that I had brought with me. The manner in which I eventually got his autograph demonstrates the profound sweep of South Africa’s transformation.
A member of the President’s security team saw the book in my hand and asked me if I wanted Mandela’s signature. The towering bodyguard could have been a body double for Dolph Lundgren. He had the bearing of a seasoned member of the South African Defense Force, which meant that a few short years before he was assigned to protect President Mandela, he was part of a government determined to hold him captive, and extinguish his dream of South African multiracial democracy. He may have even served as a guard on Robben Island.
Three months after the anonymous security official made his unsolicited and magnanimous offer, I received Mandela’s autograph on my copy of Antigone in the mail.
Stay tuned for an announcement of dates to see the first staging of Sam’s play. It reveals the depth of character required for a man go from prisoner to president. A fitting juxtaposition to a man of no character who should be going from his presidency to prison.
Learn more about Samuel Harps;
by Bill Batson
Art lovers travel to Nyack from around the world to experience the childhood home of the preeminent realist painter, Edward Hopper. Daytime visitors enjoy exhibitions of contemporary artists and Hopper family artifacts, but for neighbors who come at night, there is a special sensory treat. For those who arrive with a blanket or chair on designated Thursdays and Fridays in July and August, a feast of jazz music and cinema is served in the backyard.
Ray Wright came up with the idea for the Jazz Music in the Garden series when he was a Hopper House director in 1981. Once he gained the support of his fellow board members he reached out to then Nyack High School Music Teacher Bert Hughes to be musical director, a role that Hughes plays until this day. “I sent personal letters to all the surrounding neighbors to win their approval for the outdoor evening concert series,” Wright remembered. In its 37th year, the series attracts some of the greatest jazz performers and a loyal audience
This year Jazz Music in the Garden presents:
July 19 – Peter Furlan Quintet w/Neil Alexander
July 26 – Mark Patterson Quintet
July 28-29 – Next Generation Jazz Weekend
August 2 – Steven Bernstein R&B Jazz Band
August 9 – Jeremy Wall and John Ragusa
August 16 – Richard Sussman Group
The first movie that multimedia artist Kris Burns projected on a building in Nyack was Charade in 2002. That screening helped form Rivertown Film Society, a nonprofit that celebrates the art of the motion picture through film screenings and educational programs.
In 2011, as artist-in-residence for the Hopper House, Burns organized a series of pop-up projections commemorating the 40th anniversary of the arts center. People walking through the village would stumble upon cropped figures from Hopper paintings projected on bricked over door ways and windows. A showing of Hitchcock’s Psycho transformed the side of the Verizon building, which stands adjacent to the municipal parking lot, into a drive-in movie screen. “Hitchcock was inspired by Hopper’s painting of a physical space, House by the Railroad, to make Pyscho. I was inspired by the physical space of the Verizon building to show Hitchcock’s film.”
This year Film in the Garden presents:
The same community spirit that saved this humble structure from destruction in the 1970s, launched these two popular outdoor art events. The Edward Hopper House was literally a few signatures away from condemnation when an ad-hoc coalition that included neighbors, Rotarians, labor unions, students and artists came to the rescue. Thanks to a local tradition of historic preservation and the absence of over-development, the majority of the village that you see today is very close in scale and population density to how Nyack was in the early 20th century, when Hopper was a child.
A short walk from this house to the north will bring you to the First Baptist Church, a sanctuary that was founded in 1851 by Hopper’s great-grandfather. The enterprise that generated the income that allowed Hopper to pursue a career in the arts, GH Hopper’s Dry Goods Store operated by his father from a storefront that is now the Grace Thrift Shop several blocks to the South of the family home.
In 1979, former Hopper House Board Chair Alan Gussow wrote “half of all the business blocks standing in Nyack in 1950 were built in the 1880s and 1890s” during Hopper’s childhood. These brownstone brick facades, when bathed in the light reflected off the Hudson, produced the saturated tones that form the color palate in many of Hopper’s most important paintings, such as Early Sunday morning.
Hopper left home after graduating from Nyack High School, but would return to visit his sister, Marion, who lived in the house until her death in 1965. The artist died on May 15, 1967 and his wife of over 40 years, artist Josephine Verstille Nivison passed away a year later. The demise of this entire cohort of the Hopper family over such a short span put the future of the family home in jeopardy. After Marion’s death, the house became an abandoned eyesore inhabited by squatters.
When Jeffrey and Barbara Arnold intervened to save the house of their late neighbor Marion in 1970, a real estate investor with plans to demolish the home and build apartments had already purchased the property from the Hopper Estate. The Arnolds were able to raise $15,000 from gifts and interest free loans from concerned citizens to buy back Hopper’s house.
But that was just the beginning of what local architect and historian Win Perry calls the greatest and most exciting adventure of his life. Perry volunteered to coordinate the restoration project. The steady stream of individuals and organizations that answered the call to save Hopper’s house and appeared at the work site to lend a hand must have resembled an Amish barn raising.
Edward Hopper celebrated the essence of his hometown on canvas, making our village globally recognizable. If these volunteers had not returned the favor, we would not benefit from the cultural pilgrims from around the world who come to Nyack to see what made Hopper happen, and the community wouldn’t have summertime jazz and cinema
Special thanks to Art Gunther for his essay on the restoration of the Edward Hopper Arts Center that was published last year in a fortieth anniversary commemorative brochure entitled “The Edward Hopper House, Beginning, Achievement, Future: A tribute to Our Founders.”
For those who want to learn more about the private life of the reclusive artist, I recommend Gail Levin’s “Edward Hopper an Intimate” Biography, Rizzoli, 2007.
by Bill Batson
I adore alliteration. So when I saw a flyer promoting a writers circle called River River, I took the bait. Sure, I love the Hudson and all bodies of water that keep rolling along. But this title was not about a river. River River promises poetry.In a world where overheated polemics scorch ears and singe eyeballs, I am thirsty for nuanced language, open for interpretation. Then I saw the subject line announcing their most recent digital journal, “A user guide for undead neighbors.” I was hooked. Brothers and sisters, snap your fingers for River River, and co-founder, Anu Amaran.
What is River River?
River River Writers Circle is a nonprofit literary arts organization, the existence of which occasions writing salons, open mic events, readings with award-winning authors, workshops, and an online journal of new writing and photography. We’ve been shepherding itinerant bands of poets and writers in Nyack and our lower Hudson valley environs since 2015.
Was there something in your development as a poet that led you to start River River?
I don’t really think of it that way. It’s truer to say that River River started up because of other poets. I sensed the need, and, since no one else was doing it, the job fell to me. In my own development, though, I had been reading works by some tough American poets, like Ai and Jane Hirshfield and Reetika Vazirani and Jean Valentine, for my MFA thesis. And philosophers Krishnamurti and Wittgenstein. Since I was wading way deeper than the sugar-coated poetries I’d known before that, the need for a practice of grounding oneself in community became crystal clear. I also felt that developing a stronger, better-educated audience for fine literature and the work of independent presses in this country would require more local organizations across the landscape. We are a necessary part of the arts ecosystem.
Who are some of the other founders of River River?
My co-founder, Donna Miele, was the first to step up and start planning, organizing, and hosting events with me. She is a fiction writer, teacher, lawyer, and co-owner of CILK119/Cuppa Pulp Writers Space in Nanuet. David e. Bell, a local writer, photographer, consultant, and sailor (and more) also provided lots of support as we worked through the brainstorming and trial-and-error of building a nonprofit organization.
Where did you get the name?
The name is a kind of translation of what a literary community was called in my south Indian tradition. In Tamil, the word cankam (pronounced “sangam”) refers to legendary gatherings of poets, scholars, sages, and patrons in ancient times. This word comes from a root in Sanskrit meaning “a confluence of rivers.” It’s the same root for the word sangha, which refers to a meditation community. Interestingly, I learned from my geologist friends that Nyack used to be a site of confluence, which is why there’s a natural break in the palisade here along with the wide, silt-filled shallow of the Tappan Zee.
How did River River form?
I had been running an informal writers’ salon at my house for a couple of years (also known as the Saturday-night Indian-food orgy and reading), and the writers who were regulars at that series were my inspiration for the organization. Bryan Roessel of the Rockland Poets, Rosemary Farrell and Laurie Needell at Nyack Library, Cherie Raglan, and Alison Stone, who have all worked on aspects of the local literary scene, joined in this early incarnation. I felt that the lack of an established literary arts organization in Nyack was holding us back. As a nonprofit, 501(c)3 entity, we have been able provide some fiscal sponsorship and programming assistance to groups running specific literary programs, like local artist Katie Elevitch’s women’s storytelling project, which was awarded a Rockland DEC grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, with our help.
What does River River do?
Whatever the writers around here want us to do. Writers are by definition very independent-minded people, and it’s often difficult for us to gauge what they really want or need in their organization. We’ve found that the writing salons and the readings series are popular; everyone has come to expect them now. Our literary journal is also a huge effort for us to produce and edit, but it’s worth it to be able to showcase local writing alongside the submissions we receive from around the world. We get people to listen to each other properly.
Am I the only one that loves saying River River? Is there a comma?
No comma! I’m not sure if people like saying it, but if we’re doing our work properly maybe there is a bunch of writers who like thinking “river river….”
What work are you doing with McCullers House?
The director of the Carson McCullers House, Nick Norwood, has been wonderful to work with in developing plans that align with River River’s programming goals. We’ve collaborated on readings and open mic events, and one of our weekly writing salons meets in the house. Our members certainly appreciate the particular inspiration of McCullers’s work and legacy by participating in our joint programs. We’ve also brought teen writers into creative engagement with her writing, and plans are underway now to do more of that in the fall. It’s been a very fruitful partnership between organizations for our Nyack community.
Any events coming up?
Always! The next reading in our 2018 series is coming up on Sunday, July 15 at 3 p.m. in the gallery 95 ½ Main. We’re hosting two amazing writers: Mary-Kim Arnold and Suzanne Parker. Their bio information is available on the events page of our website, RiverRiver.org. We’ve also put together a “summer excursions” schedule for our writers, including writing sessions at the Dewint House, Storm King Art Center, and Lyndhurst. Our environmental writing and travel residency in Vietnam is open for registration right now, and that group of adventurers will start on a program of preliminary writing and research this fall.
How can someone join your writers circle?
Just show up! Anyone can join. Most events are free and open to writers working in any genre. Our writing salons offer a noncompetitive and welcoming space in which everyone is invited to generate new work, share their creative efforts, and enjoy camaraderie with fellow locals. Writing in community encourages practicing discipline in creativity, increasing confidence in the voice, and listening to one another with positive attention and intelligence.Our events calendar is updated regularly with special events and our schedule of salons. We publicize things on social media, too, so we should be pretty easy to find.
Tell us about your upcoming residency?
We are offering a travel residency to Vietnam, in collaboration with an NSF-funded science workshop by a friend of mine who is a climate researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Briefly, writers will join in discussions comparing and contrasting scientific methods with aesthetic methods of inquiry, will present short talks on environmental writing and landscape-oriented literature, and will gain insight into writing about travel experiences. We plan to spend a few days in the inspirational central highlands landscape of Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, near Dalat, Vietnam. Bookending the trip will be our arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), where we will take excursions to museums and other sites along with our generative writing workshops, and at the end of the residency two days in Dalat, exploring the cultural heritage of this former French colonial hill station and surrounding region.I visited these places in December, and the welcoming attitude of our hosts impressed me. We learned to say “thank you” in Vietnamese pretty quickly, because we were saying it a lot. I have organized a writers’ residency in Slovenia, and some of the same reasons that made it a rich experience also apply to Vietnam. For instance, the language presents a barrier in both places, so our writers must become very conscious of language and our reliance on the English language. History and current challenges in these locales make a deep impression because we encounter perspectives and specific details by direct experience, outside of our American stories.We’d like to include students in this residency, so we are running an online fundraiser to offer scholarships. Any writer with an interest in environmental writing is welcome to join us. I’m looking forward to learning too, right along with everyone else on the trip.
How has social media and the internet effected poetry?
It’s been a boon to poetry. Social media and the internet make distribution so much easier. Recently I read that the rate of poetry reading by young people is up significantly in the past few years. Just goes to show that we poets have not been wallowing in metaphoric mudholes of obsolescence. (Yes, I’ve been accused of that.) We’ve just been waiting for people to wake up to the lovely rivers that are still running undammed inside the human soul.
What is a flash poetry mob?
Well, the way we do “flash poetry” doesn’t actually create a “mob.” More like a series of doubletakes as passersby realize that there are some people typing on manual typewriters, and then realize that those people are typing poems. And then, not poems from stale memory or anything, but freshly imagined and composed and typed in a few minutes. In a flash of inspiration. Anyway, I think a mob would overwhelm our antique technology.
How many members do you have?
We don’t have a membership model at River River because we are interested in the openness, the boundarylessness of community writing. Between our events calendar and other media, we have a following of around 650 locals who are interested in what we do. The journal attracts hundreds of submissions of poems, stories, essays, and art for each issue.
Could you share some work of your members?
Some of our regulars have been published in the journal. Stop by RiverRiver.org and look for titles by Juan Mobili, Katherine Dering, Julie Goldberg, Celeste Rose Wood, and Steven Swank. Our blog also publishes a “borrowed pages” feature, which highlights some of the writing that comes out of our writing salons. Or stop by Patisserie Didier Dumas around 8 p.m. on most Wednesday nights, and you can hear their readings hot off the crepe pan of imagination.
I’m glad I don’t know. The story (or poem) is more exciting when the action keeps you guessing. But the best ways to find out are to join our email list, follow our events calendar on Meetup.com, or keep in touch via social media. Or come on by and just write with us.Bill Batson is an artist, activist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” River River Writers Circle“ © 2018 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com
by Bill Batson
Since 1954, the Nyack Field Club has provided family-style recreation for its members. The club has prospered on a piece of property that was twice famous, once for hosting world-class tennis tournaments and later as a resort created by America’s first major yoga practitioner, Pierre Bernard. Exemplified by board members that average many years of service, the club is guided by leaders who speak sanguinely of a place where life-long friendships are made. Something in these 12 acres of soil has inspired successive generations to indefatigably organize competitive sports, recreational games and social gatherings.
Not every Nyack Field Club member plays tennis, but without the game, a true history of the club could not be served. Starting in the late 1880s, the land that the club now occupies was the site of the World Cup level Nyack Tennis Tournament. The event was hosted by what was then known as the Nyack Country Club and was “held yearly just a few days after the annual Forrest Hills tournament so that international competitors would have another American tourney after having to spend 5 days to get here by Ocean Liner,” according to local historian John Patrick Schutz.
The name of the club changed to the Braeburn Country Club when Pierre Bernard acquired the property in 1918. A yoga teacher to the wealthy, Bernard captured the imagination of enlightened European and American elites as well as the ire of the newspapers of the Hearst organization. Fueled by a xenophobic reaction to a wave of immigration in the early twentieth century immigration (sound familiar?), Bernard was hounded out of Manhattan. The buildings, and tennis courts, were the ideal location for the guru that tabloid dubbed “The magnificent Oom” to create a resort. Van Wyck Rossiter, an executive for the Vanderbilt family’s Grand Central Railroad sold the home that he built as a weekend getaway to Bernard’s wife Blanche De Vries. The Braeburn club’s original foot print stretched from Midland Avenue to the Hudson River. The estate encompassed the current Upper Nyack Elementary school, and eventually became the lower campus of Bernard’s sprawling ashram, innocuously called the Clarkstown Country Club.
Four local business men, Harold Mac Cartney, Richard Jewett, Homer Lydecker and Orville Mann established the Mid Land Company on May 20, 1954 to acquire the land as Bernard was nearing the end of his epic, vedic run. The next month, on June 12, a board was establish to create a private club.
“It was around the time of the opening of the Tappan Zee bridge,” recalled local architect and long time member John Colgan. “Post World War II businesses were starting to get established in New York City, which reinvigorated suburbia. The founders wanted a place to swim and some early members like Browne, Bachelor and Bromley were known tennis players on the east coast. My father was a member. I came on much later when I had small children. I had played tennis at Nyack High School – with a little cadre of talent including Paul Bernabo and Tom Probert.
“In 1971, there were only seven tennis court versus ten today,” recalled Ed Sonoski. “I joined for the Tennis. I used to play on the Merrit Courts in Nanuet on Townline Road. We thought it would go down because the patriarch of the club had died. We joined Nyack for the sports and the family. My daughter Jane grew up there. They had a swim team for the kids.”
Like Sonoski, Paul Bernabo joined for the racquet sports. “I’ve only had two jobs [at the Nyack Field Club], head of the tennis committee and board president, twice,” said Bernabo. A local tennis legend, Bernabo began playing at Upper Nyack Tennis Club on North Broadway, which used to have four courts. Before shaping the program at Nyack Field Club, Bernabo won the Bryce-Witt Boys Championship at Nyack High School for three years. His game was good enough to earn him a Temporary Duty Year playing tennis in the US Army, where in served in Germany from (?)
His impact as tennis committee president was immediate. Under his leadership, the field club hired Gerri Viant as tennis pro in 1983. Viant had been a ranked junior player in South Australia, and had taught tennis in the United States for several years. Viant was asked to help improve the club’s Platform Tennis program.
Platform Tennis was invented by James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard in Scarsdale, NY in 1928. The game that is played on a court that is one quarter the size of a standard tennis court, combining elements of tennis, racquetball and squash. The scoring is like tennis, but players only get one chance to make their serve. Like squash, you can play the ball off the fencing that encloses the court.
Viant was still new to platform tennis when she started at Nyack, but having the need to learn the game so that she could comfortably transfer her tennis skills to the smaller, quicker game changed her life. She has gone on to win eight Nationals Women’s crowns and two runner-ups, with her double’s partner Sue Aery. They were inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.
“When Paul hired me there were very few female head professionals. I was 27 years old and not from the area. He took a chance that thankfully worked out,” Viant said.
“We didn’t really have a year round manager when I arrived – Nyack was really run down and tired, the club had seen better days. We made improvements , we raised the energy.” With Viant’s efforts, racquet sports are now played year-round at Nyack Field Club, from April through October on the har-tru courts and from September through March on the platform and the job of the pro was no longer seasonal.
On June 17, Viant and Bernabo were on hand when the court where the club finals are held was re-dedicated as The Paul Bernabo Championship Court. For the last 25 years, Bernado has been the umpire calling aces and faults court side. Now his presence will be felt forever.
Speaking at the dedication Viant said” Usually in the middle of the day when the sun was at its peak, Paul would slice and dice his way to victory, always giving 100% effort, no excuses, no fluff, just plain and simple, play by the rules, give it your all, may the best man win, and enjoy a coke on the porch afterwards. And on a weekly basis, his social skills were on full display, as he embraced playing mixed doubles with his wife Myrt, who is also a great competitor and exemplifies how sports at the Nyack Field Club and Friendship goes hand and hand.
Viant stepped down four years ago. Proof of her enduring fondness for the club is found in her recent decision to buy a home adjacent to the club, and to join as a member.
Current Board Chair Bill Loftus is not surprised by the longevity of Viant’s commitment to the club or her wish, even in retirement, to move closer. “We are a member-run family club,” Loftus proclaims. His twenty years on the board, five as president, cap 50 years a a member. “I started when I was six. My parents chose joining over a family vacation.” One of his three grown children who is local is a member as is his sister. “We are not a country club,” he asserts, “members are responsible for the upkeep of the club. We strive to maintain that dynamic today.”
One of Loftis’ proudest achievements is the renovation of the all-purpose building, where members can relax and view the action on the platform tennis courts. In addition to the snack bar, and out door grills where members have their own summer barbecues, the club has contracted with local eatery Rockland Roots who pull up in their food truck to provide meals for social events.
Over the years, The Nyack Field Club has continued to expand their youth and family social activities. There are many seasonal events including their Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Winter Holiday Family gathering, and the “bring on summer” Schools Out Party. The club also offers a six week all day or half day camp program for children ages three to thirteen.
According to past board member Glenn Meyerson, the social aspect is the most meaningful. His two children, Benjamin and Rebecca were active in the club’s camp and the swim team, participating in meets against clubs in Palisades, West Nyack and Nauraushaun in Pearl River. “Our kids would have swim practice during the week and learned to play tennis. Starting at four they stayed in these programs until they were 14 and 15. They made life long friends here,” Meyerson said.
Meyerson, who is a past president of the Nyack Center Board of Directors, spent a combined 22 years on the board of the Field Club with his wife Kathi. “Now, as always our focus is on children and our vibrant summer camp. If somebody asked me what is the single best thing I did for my kids growing up, I’d say it was joining the Nyack Field Club.”
To learn more visit: Nyack Field Club
Special thanks to: Laura Graham, Bill Loftus, JP Schutz, John Colgan, Orville Man, Jr., Dale Lydecker, Ed Sonoski, Glenn Meyerson, Gerri Viant and Paul Bernabo. Photo of Nyack Country Club represented from Hudson Valley Heritage.
Nyack Sketch Log:Yoga Reborn Here from September 3, 2012
JP Schutz’ blog At Home from September 3, 2010 :A True Nyack Character… Pierre Bernard
JP Schutz’ blog At Home from September 29, 2011, 100 Years Ago This Month: Nyack’s National Tennis Tournament