by Bill Batson
“This church is a miracle.” That is how the wife of the pastor of Hollingsworth Memorial, Evangelist Myrtle Jones, has described this brick and steel structure. The evidence to support her comment is extensive. From 1990 until 1995 the spiritual home of this congregation was condemned, demolished, rebuilt, demolished, and finally rededicated. In a community with many storied houses of worship, the journey that this flock endured through the wilderness of real estate limbo might make you say: Amen.
The man who led this congregation through a harrowing interval of uncertainty to the stability of a new sanctuary, Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr., will celebrate his 29th year in the pulpit on Sunday, August 12th.
The story of this church is a study in tenacity and perseverance that must make every anniversary and milestone they observe all the more poignant.
The Church Of God in Christ denomination came to Nyack in the 1930’s through the determination of Pastors Hawkins and Parsons. Early services were held in the homes of members and eventually in a storefront at 104 Depew Avenue.
In 1941, Elder Walter Hollingsworth was installed as pastor and began to raise the funds to purchase a proper place of prayer. In 1964, after years of thrift and a profitable barbecue pit, the congregation purchased a church at 187 Main Street from the parishioners of Pilgrim Baptist who were moving to High Avenue. The new church would soon be named Hollingsworth Temple.
According to village records, the property had been converted by the officers of Pilgrim Baptist Church from a carpentry shop and stable into a church in 1903. When Elder Jones was installed as the fifth pastor of the parish in 1983, renovations to the one hundred year old building that he was inheriting were certainly high on his agenda. But he could not have imagined that the walls of the temple were soon to come crumbling down.
Seven years after assuming leadership, Rev. Jones was pictured in a Journal News article standing next to a roofless church. Major renovations would not remedy the structural flaws found by building inspectors. The reverend had become a construction manager, overseeing the demolition and reconstruction of his church. In the same article, Jones expressed appreciation to the First Presbyterian Church, now Nyack Center, for hosting his members during construction, which he expected to take six months.
The congregation was without a church for close to six years. Two years into their wanderings, a contractor reported to Rev. Jones that the four walls and foundation of the new temple had been completed but had inadvertently encroached over their neighbors’ property line. This three foot error would cost Hollingsworth two years in court and almost $100,000 in legal and construction expenses.
Thus began an agonizing period of homelessness that would have taxed the proverbial patience of Job. When the media reported that the real estate investor who demanded that the church demolish their errantly constructed foundation was also the owner of a property that included an all-nude bar, Rev. Jones wondered whether a Satanic force “was trying to keep us from building on this hill.”
Because of the support of many including, Pilgrim Baptist Church, Simpson Memorial, St. John’s Deliverance Tabernacle, Rockland Minister’s Alliance, the Church of God in Christ regional headquarters in Brooklyn, the administration of Nyack Mayor Terry Hekker and countless individuals and families, a dedication ceremony for a new brick church was held in June, 1995. Harold Owens’ design for this building makes it seem like its clinging to the curve of the hill, refusing to surrender its hard-won foothold. The modern metal steeple that pierces the sky above Main Street announces, as it reflects the morning light, that in the battle for Hollingsworth Memorial, good has prevailed.
The anniversary celebration this Sunday honors a tenure that almost equals the 30 years of service that Rev. Walter Hollingsworth gave to the church that would bear his name. In 2008, North Mill Street from Main to Burd was designated to be known each August as Superintendent Eugene Jones Sr. Boulevard. The renaming of part of our community for this member of the clergy is only fitting because the numerous churches that grace our village shape more than just our landscape. We all benefit from the spirit of interdenominational fellowship and community cooperation that was exemplified in the struggle that secured this church on this hill.
Special thanks to Carol Weiss, Historian of the Village of Nyack and Nyack Village Clerk and Hollingsworth Memorial member Mary White for their assistance in gathering research materials.
by Bill Batson
Karim Deen almost bought the farm in March. And Nyack came close to losing a pillar of our local economy. For nearly four decades Deen has launched businesses, designed fashions, and supported the retail sector in the village. It is a fitting tribute that the tight-knit community that he has nurtured through the years helped save his life.
On a recent afternoon, Karim was seated on a blue sofa in front of his store, Hacienda, waving to well wishers, something his doctor says is nothing short of a miracle. On March 2, 2012 he nearly succumbed to complications from a ruptured appendix. In order to fully appreciate the story of how he came to reach the hospital and the intensity of expression of community support he received, you need to go back to the corner of Main Street and Broadway and the year 1974.
Karim Deen came to this village 38 years ago to join his mother, Philis, who was a supervising night nurse at Nyack Hospital. His mother worked double shifts to fund an English Boarding School education for Karim and his sister Fatima. Mrs. Deen who was from Jamaica, was determined that her children would get the world-class education that was promised to citizens of the British Commonwealth.
The shop keeping tradition of Great Britain must have rubbed off on Karim. He opened his first store, Afrique Curiosity, the year he arrived in Nyack. His neighbors in the ground floor of the Presidential Life building were Trudy and Irv Feiner of Squash Blossom. Since then, Karim has owned and operated three businesses in Nyack.
In addition to his mercantile instinct, the impulse to create is in Karim’s DNA. “My grandmother sewed, my mother sewed and I sew. We all make clothes,” he told me when describing his second business, a design studio he ran with his sister called “Simply Us.” He went on to become the first African American to run a major clothing line in New York’s garment center. One of his lines, “Live in Color,” adorned the Fly Girls, the back up dancers on the iconic 1980’s sketch comedy sensation “In Living Color.”
Karim’s work in the fashion industry required him to travel the world to visit factories and acquire raw material. By 1994, Deen was tiring of the corporate politics of the fashion trade, so he decided to return to Nyack full-time and open his third store: Hacienda. And like a modern day Marco Polo, Karim returned from his expeditions with a treasure trove of artifacts from around the world.
A global cultural ambassador greets visitors to Hacienda. If you inquire about any of the objects in his store, Karim can tell you about the artist who made it or the antique dealer who discovered it. He has personally traveled from Mexico to Morocco and China to India to procure every item. He is particularly proud of his collection of antique African art. All of his pieces, having been tribally used, are very rare. There are only limited known examples of a certain pieces. In some of those cases, if Hacienda has one, the Metropolitan and British Museums have the others according to Deen.
For over ten years, Karim has shared his experience in commerce and culture as one of the directors of the Arts, Crafts and Antique Dealers association of Nyack. Through membership dues and fees from several annual street fairs, ACADA runs radio, television, print and internet advertising campaigns to bring tourists, shoppers and new businesses to Nyack. It was this dedication to building a network of mutual aid that was honored during his recent health emergency.
When Karim’s son Joshua handed a note to Jerry Koblin in early March describing his father’s symptoms, the response of the owner of the pharmacy of the same name was emphatic and blunt. Using a profanity to insure that the urgency of the matter was understood, Koblin urged the son to take his father to the emergency room immediately. Any delay could have resulted in Karim’s death.
At a fundraiser a week later at Casa Del Sol, scores of merchants, customers and friends collected money to help Karim confront a mountain of medical expenses and an unknown period of recuperation. During the early days of Karim’s convalescence, Pickwick Book Shop owner and fellow ACADA director Jack Dunnigan, organized volunteers to keep the doors of Hacienda open.
In a letter that he published in Nyack News and Views to his friends and supporters upon his released from a 12 day hospitalization, Karim Deen acknowledged the irony of selflessness. It is the safety net of interlocking relationships that we construct when we live a life of community involvement that catches us when we fall. And in the case of Karim, put him back in the saddle again.
ACADA’s Famous Street Fair will be held on Sunday, May 20th. Stroll the streets of our Hudson River Valley village and explore dozens of vendors with quality hand made crafts, art, unique gifts and accessories, home decor, and antiques. A children’s area and great food is available. And while you’re here, visit Karim at Hacienda at 126 Main Street.
Veni, Vedi, Sketchi means I came, I saw, I sketched. The original boast from Julius Caesar was more ominous. For our purposes, the Latin verb for “I conquered”, “vici” has been replaced with a playful invitation to create.
On June 16 a legion of artists will divide Nyack into grid sections and conquer their chosen medium (pen, paper, brush, canvas or any other tools of the visual arts and yes, Etch-A-Sketchers are welcome) to create a composite portrait of the village in two hours. The Flash Sketch Mob is part of ART WALK 2012, a three-day arts festival sponsored by the Merchants Committee of the Friends of the Nyacks.
Today’s Nyack Sketch Log is an invitation to professional and amateur artists, students and art lovers to join the Flash Sketch Mob. This graphic that replaces my weekly sketch was created by a mini-mob of nine artists of all ages and skill levels. On June 16th, on a larger scale, we will cobble together a visual record of every inch, object, vista and structure of our Village.
Flash Sketch Mob Schedule
- 10:00a gather at the Nyack Center, the building depicted in this poster to receive a grid assignment.
- 11:00a, the bell of the Nyack Center will toll and you will proceed to your location to record what you see
- 1:00p, the bell will toll again inviting the sketch mob to return so that the art works can be collected, labeled and digitally scanned.
- 9:30p we’ll have a pop-up projection exhibition of these images on the side of a building (to be announced) to celebrate our collective accomplishment.
The second phase of the project will combine the images created by the Flash Sketch Mob digitally into an interactive online map of the Village of Nyack. An exhibition in the Fall will unite the actual and virtual material from our Flash Sketch Mob.
I have been sketching and writing weekly about Nyack since August 2011. The idea for the Flash Sketch Mob came from this Oct. 11, 2011 Nyack Sketch Log entry:
“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 sketchpad and pen.
The legend of John Henry commemorates an individual who used human spirit and physical labor to triumph over a machine. To accomplish what I envisioned in my Sketch Log—to create a complete visual compendium of Nyack, I realized that one John Henry would not be enough. I need one hundred John Henrys. With your help, on June 16, 2012, I hope to transform my individual effort, “Nyack Sketch Log” into a collective experience “Flash Sketch Mob.”
Nyack is a perfect location for the world’s first Flash Sketch Mob. The historic Hudson River Valley village was the home of many great American artists including Edward Hopper, Helen Hayes, and Carson McCullers. Many of the most iconic images of American art created by Edward Hopper are of Nyack.
Participants in the Flash Sketch Mob will be able to spend the rest of the day enjoying the 7th annual ART WALK. The three-day event on June 15-17 invites the public to view, enjoy and purchase the work of established and emerging artists exhibited in various businesses throughout the river village with the artists in residence.
Nyack’s Flash Sketch Mob is in large part homage to Kris Burns’ Hopper Happens. The public art event was a part of last year’s 40th anniversary celebration of the Edward Hopper House Art Center and included flash mobs, pop-up projections and readings. It was at one of the flash mobs that I decided to draw for the first time in years. When that drawing was included in a pop-up projection, I was inspired to continue to make art.
The premiss behind the Nyack Sketch Log and 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.
The members of the mini-mob that created the Flash Sketch Mob 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).
Special thanks to Paulette Ross for including the Flash Sketch Mob as part of ART WALK 2012, Loraine Machlin for the concept, design and execution of the poster and logo, Sue Barrasi and Annie Edwards for unleashing their dynamism in service of public art, Kim Cross for giving the Flash Sketch Mob a launching and landing pad, Dave Zornow for giving Nyack Sketch Log a home, Jane Newman for creating a digital depot to park my art projects and Mayor Jen Laird-White for her tireless support of the arts.
This landmark clock was a gift from the Rotary Club of Nyack. Despite an inscription at the base and a logo on the clock face, this is news to most of the pedestrians, protesters and village residents who use Veterans’ Park.
Rotary is a global organization that is both ubiquitous, and to some, mysterious. A recent survey by Rotary International found that in some countries, up to 90% of the population have heard of the Rotary, but know little of the purpose and history of one of the world’s oldest service organizations.
Attorney Paul F. Harris founded the Rotary Club on February 23, 1905 in Chicago. The group’s name comes from the practice of rotating meetings among the offices of its founding members. Harris wanted to establish a professional association that would reflect the spirit of mutual support and friendship that he remembered from the small town America of his youth. These ideals found an ardent following in Nyack, where a Rotary Club was established in 1923.
Some things about Rotary are timeless. A similarly scripted agenda is acted out in 34,000 service clubs by 1.2 million members around the world when Rotary clubs meet for a weekly lunch. In Nyack, the meeting is held on Tuesdays at 12:15 at La Fontana.
After the pledge of allegiance, there is a recitation of what is called the Four-Way Test: “Is it the truth? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Members, who are business owners, employees, community and civic leaders, then proceed with a meeting that seeks to focus their combined energy, talents and finances into four avenues of service:
- Club Service: the maintenance of the organization
- Community Service: the support of worthy community groups (recent recipients of Rotary support include the Amazing Grace Circus, the Nyack Center, People to People, Soup Angels and the YMCA)
- Vocational Service: programs to support the educational and professional advancement of young people
- International Service: programs that support the eradication of polio, the provision of clean water and the promotion of literacy, among others.
In other ways, today’s Rotary is radically different. For more than three quarters of the organization’s first century, it was a males only club. Women were relegated to a wives auxiliary called Rotary Anns. The surreptitious acceptance of a woman into a California club with an androgynous first name brought about a lawsuit that eventually overturned the Rotary International ban on female membership in early 1980’s, at least in United States.
Howard Hellman, past Nyack club President and owner of All Bright Electric, will tell you that his greatest claim to fame was recruiting Judy Martin into the Rotary. She was not the first woman to join, that was Joan Moffett, but Martin’s tenure is legendary.
Martin recently received a pin for 19 years of perfect weekly attendance. This feat of dedication and discipline was not accomplished without some very close calls. Since the Rotary is international, you can make up a missed local meeting by attending a session any where in the world. When in Rome with her husband Mac, Judy had to make a quick change in a restroom to make herself presentable for the only meeting available. In Rome, the Rotary’s weekly lunch is attended by the cabinet ministers of the Italian government.
Howard Hellman has a second claim to fame. He was the driving force behind the Rotary clock in Veterans’ Park. During a trip to Cape May, New Jersey, Hellman saw a stately time keeping monument. The Mayor of Nyack at the time, Terry Hekker, informed Hellman that there had once been a public timepiece in Nyack. The Rotarians collectively raised the funds and the fixture was dedicated in September 2001. Hellman thought the clock would hearken back to Nyack’s past grandeur and promote the service philosophy of Rotary.
Current Rotary programs that the clock symbol celebrates include the organization’s decade long commitment to introduce every Headstart and elementary student in Nyack to the joy of reading by giving each child their first book. Barnes and Nobles now donates the books that they distribute. Rotarians also engage middle school students through their partnership with Junior Achievement, a program that stresses the importance of financial literacy through a Rotary-modeled Interact Club.and Rotarians distribute food through Meals on Wheels to seniors in Depew Manor and Nyack Plaza.
The clock in Veteran’s Park is a perfect metaphor for the Rotary club. During the last eight decades, the Rotary has been a constant servant, looking out for the interests of the Village of Nyack. We can only hope that like the inner workings of this landmark, the heart of service that beats within Rotary will keep on ticking.
Giant Season Tickets Raffle to Support Scholarships:
In an enduring act of generosity, a past member bequeathed season tickets to the Giants. Each year, the club raffles these tickets to raise money for a scholarship program. According to current Rotary President Dr. Brett Caminez, last year’s raffle generated the funds for seven $1,000 scholarships to local highs school students. For more information or to buy raffle tickets contact The Rotary Club of Nyack at info@NyackRotary.org or visit their website: www.nyackrotary.org
Special thanks to Win Perry.
Photo of founding Rotarians Courtesy of Rotary Images
by Bill Batson
When she receives compliments for her cooking, Maura Azanedo has been known to say “I am not a chef: I am a cook.” Home cooking, with all the feelings of fullness and satisfaction that the term conveys is what her Main Street restaurant “Maura’s Kitchen” promises and delivers.
Maura arrived in the United States from Peru in 1970 to attend high school in Kentucky as a foreign exchange student. Job opportunities and the desire to master English brought her to New York, where she met her husband Edwin in the tight-knit Peruvian community in Washington Heights. They moved to Rockland County in 1995.
“When I was growing up, I couldn’t go out much at night because dinner was important and I had to be home,” says Maura and Edwin’s son Tyrone. I imagine that it wasn’t just parental admonition that kept Tyrone at the table. The food that his mother cooked for her family was so phenomenal that both father and son urged her to open a restaurant.
Maura didn’t learn her cooking chops from a culinary school, which is why she insists she’s more cook than chef, having learned her way around the kitchen from aunts and a grandmother in Lima, Peru. Her father, Alberto Haro, a prominent figure in the Peruvian folk music genre called Musica Criolla, was always on the road. It was during his extended absences that four aunts and a grandmother gave young Maura her kitchen training.
When the Azanedo’s opened Maura’s kitchen in March 2011, they were afraid that an over emphasis on Peruvian cuisine might turn away diners. The sign that they hung expresses that ambivalence offering Peruvian “and Latin American” cooking. “We were shocked that from day one, some of the people who came into the store knew as much about Peru as we did,” said Edwin. Even more startling and serendipitous was how Peruvian cuisine exploded onto the culinary scene in 2011.
Thanks to super star chef Gaston Acurio, there is a growing global obsession with Peruvian food. References to Acurio as the ambassador to Peruvian food would seem like title inflation if not for the fact that he runs 28 restaurants in 12 countries. The recently opened La Mar Cebicheria in NYC was his 29th, a launch “god-fathered” by renowned chef Danny Meyer.
When Tyrone saw the award winning documentary Mistura: The Power of Food last year that featured Acurio, he had two thoughts: “we need to go full-on Peruvian” and “I’ve got to get the film screened in Nyack.” The film will be shown at the Nyack Village Theater to celebrate Maura’s Kitchen’s one-year anniversary and re-launch on March 30 and April 13.
The title of the film, Mistura means mixture. According to Tyrone, Peruvian cooking represents the convergence of Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and African cultures. In a culinary world where fusion is the rage, Peruvian food is already fused. Ingredients like raw fish in the ceviche and Chinese-style fried rice showcase the diversity of the cuisine.
The Azanedos feel fortunate that they have found and kept loyal customers during a very difficult business cycle. They credit their success to the popularity of dishes like their Ceviche Mixto, raw white fish prepared by ”cold cooking” with lime juice that includes calamari and shrimp and is served with a salsa made from onion and Peruvian corn (a larger kernel that looks like a pale lima bean) and Lomo Saltado, steak strips sautéed with onions and tomatoes and served with French fries and rice.
A sign outside a restaurant proclaiming “Home Cooking” can be a double-edged sword: you may get healthy portions, but there’s no guarantee that the food will approach the authenticity we expect from that proclamation. That’s not the case at Maura’s where the mother runs the kitchen, the father stands behind the cash register and the son promotes the business. The cuisine that the foodie world is now embracing as a formal phenom, is available right here in the village, minus the pretense, in an environment that will make you feel right at home.
Celebrate Maura’s Kitchen’s one-year anniversary at a screening of Mistura: The Power of Food. The documentary by Patricia Perez that won best short film at the NYC Food and Film Festival in 2011 will be showing at The Nyack Village Theater on March 30 and April 13 at 8:30p and 11:00pp. Admission is $35.00 and includes Peruvian Food and drink throughout the event.
“Nyack Sketch Log: Maura’s Kitchen” ©2012, Bill Batson.
by Bill Batson
The Nyack Library is an example of one of the most epic philanthropic gestures of the early 20th Century. Andrew Carnegie supported the construction of 1,689 public libraries in 1,419 communities across America. The Steel Magnate, who was at the time the richest man in the world, would be proud to know that in the 21st century, the construction of a modern wing doubled the space that his original building provided.
Communities across the country competed for a contribution from Carnegie and his funding did not come without strings. Local governments had to accept a matching formula to receive a contribution. Prospective communities needed to allocate $2 per resident per year to support a library. The population of the three river villages, Nyack, Upper Nyack and South Nyack was 7,500 at the end of the 19th century. The three village boards voted to increase library funding from $1,200 per year to $1,500 to meet Carnegie’s challenge.
The cornerstone was laid on May 21, 1903 for a building that was designed by acclaimed local architects the Emery Brothers and Mr. J. B. Simonson. As iconic as the rocky stone façade of the original library building has become, another object made of stone that stands vigil near the entrance merits honorable mention.
The 10-ton rock dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army was dragged from the banks of the Hudson River by a team of 18 horses and 100 men with ropes. Local school children raised the funds to cover the expense of excavating and depositing the immovable monument and Civil War veterans attended its dedication on June 13, 1908.
On May 7th 2011, hundreds attended the grand opening of a spacious annex of metal and glass that is barely visible from the Lincoln boulder. Carnegie would still recognize the building he funded because architect Michael Esmay has executed an expansion that neither competes nor clashes with the original structure. (My sketch is drawn from the rear of the new complex.)
The new Nyack library building is designed to meet the needs of the information age: the number of computers with Internet access has tripled, there is increased public meeting spaces, areas that serve different ages groups have been enhanced, and display and media elements that make it easier to browse the collection have been installed.
The interior of the new wing, designed by Barbara Corwin is bright and inviting, like a reading room in a solarium. The experience of sitting with a book at a wooden table, looking at a panoramic view of the Hudson through a floor to ceiling window is elevating.
Roger Seiler, President of the Board of Trustees describes the new Nyack library as a “dynamic center of information and culture.” Here are a few examples of current programs that honor that commitment.
The Carnegie Concert Series Is the Talk of the Town
This weekend concert series is the continuation of the St. Paul’s Festival of the Arts that began in 1982 under the direction of its founder, William Hargrove. Initially a forum for classical music, the introduction of jazz and other contemporary performers has made the weekly concerts the talk of the town.
General admission and reserved seating tickets may be purchased by calling (845) 608-3593 or by visiting: www.carnegieroom.org. The Carnegie Concert Series is made possible in part by sponsorship of the Soiree Society of the Arts, Yamaha Artist Series, and the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society.
Local History Goes Digital
The Nyack Library has a collection of master negative microfilm of the Rockland County Journal that encompasses the years from 1850-1915. The laborious process of digitizing the collection began in June 2010 and the portion of the archive that is been converted is available at Hudson River Valley Heritage. In 2011, there were over 33,000 visitors who viewed over one million articles.
The library is currently focusing on digitizing the newspapers for the years that the artist Edward Hopper lived in Nyack. Edward Hopper, the prominent realist painter, was born in Nyack in 1882 and spent his early life through his high school years in our village. The digital archive of this period will be a tremendous resource for art history scholars, local historians, genealogists, and interested citizens. You can support this important project to save and share our history for online access through the library’s Kickstarter fundraising effort.
Nyack Sketch Log Teams Up with the Nyack Library Teen Room
During the Spring School Break, I will be joining multimedia artist Kristina Burns to present “Nyack Through the Eyes of Edward Hopper”, an arts program for Middle and High School. Through a three-day workshop in the community room of the library and on the streets of Nyack, students will learn about the life of Edward Hopper and explore his approach to making art.
The workshop will be held on three consecutive days, on April 11, 12 and 13 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day. Contact Elizabeth Hobson, Teen Librarian at 358-3370 ext. 236 for more information.
See also: The Nyack Library Part I
Special thanks to Brian Jennings, the Librarian Supervisor at the Nyack Library.
Interior library photo credit: John Putre
Bill Batson, an artist, writer and activist draws sketches and writes essays curbside in Nyack, NY.
by Bill Batson
More than 200 years ago, Nicholas Green and Tunis Depew sowed the seeds that would become the Nyack Library. A membership fee of $90 a year was required to join the first edition of our community’s book depository. Their institution was undoubtedly modeled on Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company of Philadelphia, considered to be the first lending library in North America. The story of the evolution of public book lending in Nyack captures the powerful civic and egalitarian impulses that have compelled people spanning the ideological spectrum and generations to support The Nyack Library.
Rev. Stephen Merritt Jr. established the next incarnation of a library in Nyack in 1872 as part of the Young Men’s Christian Association during a period when the village was emerging as a regional capitol. Factories, steamboats and the Nyack Turnpike helped grow the village to 3,500 people. The swelling population brought new problems: Nyack’s streets were crowded with “tobacco-chewing, street loafers” according to a letter to the editor in the Rockland County Journal.
The newly incorporated village administration must have been pleased to see a private effort to promote literacy and self-improvement. As a Methodist minister, Merritt imbued the YMCA with the tenets of the Temperance Movement. In 1873, the collection included 200 volumes that advocated abstinence from alcohol.
Nyack’s YMCA, two banks and many businesses may have succumbed to the economic depression of 1878, but Merritt’s collection of books endured. The existing collection was subsequently reorganized into the nucleus of a resurgent public library. By-laws were adopted and the Nyack Library was reborn in January 1879.
Local stationer and news dealer John Haeselbarth served as librarian and his store on Main Street and Broadway became the reading room. On September 10, 1890, the trustees took steps to create a proper library setting, where readers did not have to compete with shoppers for the librarian’s attention. Rooms were rented on the DePew Ave for $275 per year and Emma Thornburn, who previously served as the YMCA’s librarian, was returned to her post.
There was still one big transformation ahead for our library: the journey from fee to free. According to the founding documents “any person might become a member..by payment of $1.” An additional dollar would have to be paid annually for the right to borrow books. The library became truly public in February 1893 when a resolution was adopted to drop the yearly charges.
The free circulation policy was influenced by political and philanthropic forces. On the political front, a law passed by the New York State legislature in 1892 authorized tax-collecting bodies to establish “forever free” public libraries that would qualify for additional public funding.
On a parallel track, the business leaders that made up the Board of Trustees practiced their own enlightened self-interest. The industrial revolution required a sober and manageable work force, an ethos that the burgeoning national public library movement encouraged.
In Nyack, the legacy of the temperance movement was compatible with the goals of corporate philanthropy. The continuing inspiration of Rev. Merritt was evident when Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was blacklisted from the stacks in 1893 because of the protagonist’s fondness for rum.
Thanks to a thesis written by Ruth Diebold, Nyack Library Director from 1964 – 1970, we know some of the popular titles that made it into circulation in the 1890’s.
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
As the 19th century drew to a close, the time was now ripe to build a permanent space for Nyack’s Library. The building on South Broadway that is now central to the village’s landscape and psyche was built during an era of great civic public works projects including a new water system (1896) and public hospital (1900). In 1903, with a significant philanthropic gift from Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world, a corner stone was laid for the library the citizens of Nyack had sought since 1806.
See also: The Nyack Library Part II
Special thanks to Brian Jennings, the Librarian Supervisor at the Nyack Library.
The Nyack Sketch Log would not be possible without materials provided by The Nyack Library’s Periodical Project, a community effort to scan and save old issues of the Rockland County Journal from the “Edward Hopper Years” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I urge you to consider supporting this important project to save and share our history for online access through the library’s Kickstarter fundraising effort. — Bill Batson, Nyack Sketch Log