Nyack Sketch Log: 1st time Author at 88 Chronicles Old Mill Road

by Bill Batson

I met Rockland County’s newest author when she was 85 at a book talk I gave at Valley Cottage Library.  “I’m writing a book and you’re going to help me self-publish,” she informed me. “Sure,” I replied, thinking I would never hear from her again. Two years later, I answered a call from an unknown number and heard the party say, “I’m done writing. Let’s get this published. You promised.” That determined voice was a force of nature named June Sundvik.

My bluff had been called  I never expected June to call back.  The way forward required acknowledging a tragedy.  June sought my guidance because I had self-published Nyack Sketch Log Volume I.  However, without the wisdom and dry wit of Jim Hershberger, my tome would have never made the book store shelf. Jim was a retired executive who made it his second life’s mission to provide tech support to historical societies and non profits and tail-gate every Giants home game. Jim vetted printers, compared notes with other self-published authors and helped me organize my sketches, essays and thoughts. The only way that I was able to help June was by reverse engineering what Jim did for me. Jim passed away on November 11, 2016. His loss is profound, but so is the continued resonance of his generosity.

June Sundvik was able to draft like a cyclist in the wake of Jim’s hard and smart work, channeled through me, to publish an exceptional local history entitled Life on Old Mill Road from 1750 to 1950.  Her family moved to Valley Cottage from Teaneck, New Jersey to a property that her grandfather, Carl Anderson, purchased in 1927.  Her father, Gustav Svahn, was a very prominent builder responsible for 10 homes on Old Mill Road and may others throughout the region.

With the help of fellow Swedish immigrants, Svahn built a garage, a flat-roofed four-bedroom house, dug a pond, created a cause way and an island in the pond, and expanded the original flat-roofed house to three-stories with a cathedral ceiling living room, among other structures, for his family.  The man-made and augmented natural features were so impressive that Charles and Ann Lindbergh were seen admiring the property from the road.

In July of 1928 Carl and his wife Clara Svahn made June, the youngest of three. June’s personality was clearly shaped by her father’s blizzard of building.Many of her father’s qualities can be seen in her creations and her character. His prolific construction projects also betrayed a playful aspect. He built a miniature lighthouse, a shed for the swans, Hansel and Gretel to winter in, a playhouse for the children, houses for the dogs. June’s hobby horse was deployed as a weather vane on a barn. June would go on to become an accomplished weaver and water colorist and now, a published author.

Life on Old Mill Road

by June Sundvik

Book talk, signing and sales

Meet June at the Valley Cottage Library, 110 NY-303 on Wednesday, November 15, at 2p.
June will describe her research process, read some passages, take questions and sign and sell her book.

Her book is on sale for $15 at Pickwick Book Shop, 8 South Broadway in Nyack, at the Valley Cottage Library and at my Bill Batson Arts booth on Thursdays at the Nyack Farmers’ Market.

June has witnessed the steady migration of families through the many homes that her father built along Old Mill Road. Like a builder, she has constructed her narrative on a strong foundation of primary source research.

This story started many years ago when I was taking home an old neighbor friend, Catherine Daniels, who had been helping me clean house,” June said. “She asked me if I was interested in some old books and artifacts from the old Fisher farm, which also had been torn down in 1933. She began writing in earnest when she was given a wooden chest full of old deeds and title search from her sister, Stina. Because I lived on Old Mill Road almost all my life, and remembered many of the families I decided to tell the story about their lives and the history of the homes they lived in. Although I included a few homes on the West Nyack part of the road, I concentrated on those that were in Valley Cottage, beginning where the Kill Von Beaste* flows into the Hackensack River, north to Kings Highway.

The result is, like June, artistic and sturdy. Her words are illuminated by historic family photos, many carefully restored by Dr. Arnold Roufa. She narrates with  the economy of a no-nonsense story teller who gets out of the way of her subjects. One of my favorite extended passages (1,144 words) is a an oral history taken by a granddaughter, Dotty Larson describing her grandmother’s somewhat scandalous, poignant and epic love affair with a man she was hired to serve as a housekeeper and cook.

Her final job was when she became the housekeeper/cook for Lester Polhemus on Old Mill Road in Valley Cottage. They became something of a love match between two adults who had buffeted in life and were happy to be in each other’s company for the final stretch.

The little house where Susan and Lester lived had only two rooms with an attached summer kitchen. It was full circle for Susan because it was similar to the one she lived in as a child in Glen Cove. It had no electricity, no running water, and was heated by a large iron wood stove that had become popular after open-hearth cooking became outdated. For furniture, there was an oak gate leg table, straight back chairs and a large floor to ceiling wooden breakfront with glass doors and drawers below for storage. A daybed was used for sleeping or seating in the main room. The bedroom had a large feather bed draped in white quilts and pillows. There was a hand-crafted blanket chest made of pine by local artisans.

There is a contemporary photo of their love shack taken by her son Carl Sundivk.  The structure still stands off old mill road and should have a plaque.

As much as one might find a strong influence of the father in June’s life, Old Mill Road it self became her mentor.  A litany of creatives seems to gravitated to the spot that the Lindberghs found so alluring.

During the last 50 years these extraordinary artists live on Old Mill Road:

Clement and Maurice Heaton
Clement Heaton was born in England to a family of glass makers, and decorators and had connections with William Morris. He works were sold in London, Paris,Vienna and Berlin. He bought mill house he was able to build the framework for his stained glass windows, and there he was able to make important windows for St John’s Cathedral in New York.

His son Maurice continued the art of glass making and develops a method of enameling on glass. With a group of fellow artists he founded the Rockland Center for the Arts, and even had a studio named for him. He was honored by the Smithsonian by having a piece of his work in their glass collection.

Robert Pinard
A renowned stained glass maker, moved from France to the US in 1951. Pinart transformed darker stained glass images by creating new glass scenes that allowed light to enter the churches. His works can be seen in the National Cathedral in Washington.

Thomas George
George was an artist who studied in Paris and Florence. He was fascinated with the mountains in Norway and spent many summers there, painting them. He was the son of the famous Rube Goldberg, and while living on Old Mill Road had a large celebration for his father’s 80th birthday in the field across the stream from the house

Noel Sickles
Sickles shared a studio with Milton Caniff who was working for the Columbus Dispatch. Both men moved to New York City and worked for the Associated Press, where they worked together for two years, often drawing each other’s comic strips. He had an impressionist style of inking and proved to be adept at using a shading called zipatone. When LIFE published Hemmingway’s Old Man of the Sea, Sickles was the illustrator. Some say he was the best illustrator ever.

George MacReady
George was an actor on Broadway and Hollywood. He was a good friend of Vincent Price, and at one time they had an art gallery together. George was well known for his part as Rita Hayworth’s husband in Gilda.

There are too many stories that surround us and not enough story tellers. From my experience sketch logging in the effort to preserve and animate local history, I met June and more recently 16 other Rocklanders who are telling their tales full of the pathos and profundity at the continuing education program offered by the Learning Collaborative at the New City JCC. I was invited June to speak to the group on six occasions, but she had to cancel each visit because of her health, and a book talk at Valley Cottage Library because of ill health.  I am very hopeful that they will all attend her Wednesday, November 15 talk at 2p in the Valley Cottage Library.  I am hoping that June’s example will encourage others to liberate their family photos from dusty albums, dare to scribble down some thoughts, or sketch out some memories and cook up some books full of the recipes for living that we all inherit or invent, but often fail to pass down.

Not as skilled as I am in “getting out of the way,” I’ll let June have the last word:

“Every road and every house has a story, which is ongoing, and what I have written is only a small window into the lives of the neighbors that lived on Old Mill Road starting with the early settlers of the 1850s and through the changes that were made and homes that were added for the next 100 years to the time that the reservoir was built. Much of this information came from old records, and the fact that I knew many of the families, as we were a neighborhood, often depending on each other.

I consider myself lucky to have been part of these creative people, who helped me develop interests far beyond everyday life.’

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: 1st time Author at 88 Chronicles Old Mill Road”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

Nyack Sketch Log: Shipwrecked Friend

by Bill Batson

A friend, poet, photographer and sailor shipwrecked along the coast of New Jersey last week. His sister has come to his aid and established a go-fund-me page. In the blunt prose of urgency, I ask that you consider donating some money to return his sailing vessel and home, Evening Light, to the waves. In the more nuanced language of a sketch log, let me introduce our waylaid sojourner, David e. Bell.

But first, the facts: according to his sister Robin’s appeal, David’s sailboat hit the jetty at Barneget Bay. The Evening Light began to sink.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard arrived quickly and installed pumps and towed the boat to shore.  Sea Tow moved the boat to a shipyard across the Bay.

David lives on the Evening Light. His insurance is covering the hull repairs and David has been working persistently to clean and repair the boat.

The good news is the giant gashes have been repaired and she floats again!

The Problem: Sea Tow claimed salvage and charged $6,300 for the tow and the insurance only covered $1,000.  Ouch. (Hence the go-fund-me figure of $5,300)

The funds will be used to help David cover the expense of the Sea Tow salvage claim and the other losses he incurred (everything from the engines glow plugs to most of his socks!)

I met David through his sister, who as a climate scientist, and was the subject of a sketch log about Earth Day in 2013.  One day she saw me at my booth at the Nyack Farmers’ Market and said, “you should meet my brother, David.” These words, as mundane as they may be, have always been portentous for me.  They were uttered by Zev before I met one of my best friends, Jerry and by Tracy before I met the love of my life, Marisol.  They not only vouch for a person, but imply that you will meet a bird of your feather. Robin (Zev and Tracy) knew my flock.

Here’s how Robin described her brother to me recently:

David Bell was born in New Hampshire where he dreamed of building a sailboat to sail over the horizon.  He and I poured over the plans of boats together. We learned to sail Sunfish at our great aunt’s house on Nantucket. We tipped over a lot.

You could always tell a Bell family member because there was a camera around their neck… so there are not lots of picture of the family— lots of planes, flowers etc.

He studied film at Hampshire College. Boats were always part of his life — he proposed to his son Shane’s mom while flying a catamaran on the Long Island Sound.

In Nyack, he built a boat in his apartment and only managed get it out by cutting it in half. Living on the Evening Light has been lifelong dream

When I met David he was searching up and down the Atlantic seaboard for an aquatic abode. Evening Light, a Saturna 33,  pilothouse sloop was found in Nova Scotia. I was invited to crew her back to Nyack. A leg of the journey included the length of the Erie Canal, so the historian in me was intrigued, but I was in the grip of publishing my first book Nyack Sketch Log: Volume I.

Before David left to buy his buoyant bachelor pad, he was instrumental in helping me finish my book. Each week at the farmers market, before he purchased his quiche from Concklins and coffee from Mostly Myrtles, he would advised, cajole, opine and profess. While he mentored me, he wrote. He has since finished his third novel, Fly Fishing in Russia.  He has psyched me into keeping pace with his prolificacy.

Also while on land, before he gave up his apartment above Pickwick Book Shop, to ride the waves in between the Nyack Boat Club and compass points north, west and south, he helped found the River River Writer’s Circle.  There he helps writers do the extremely difficult thing that only writers do and that others talk about doing, but seldom actually do…write.

David fixes things like sentences, computers and engines.  David gives generously and unselfishly of his time and energy.  David, as a father to Shane, is an exemplar of those qualities embodied in the terms scholar and gentleman. David is now stuck just short of the current, in a lagoon after colliding with an immovable object where there should have been none, off the coast New Jersey. He is now seaworthy, but he’s waiting for a part to restart his stalled engine.

My drawing is of his vessel’s halcyon days in Petersen’s boat yard. Vessels that are designed to float are referred to as “on the hard.” when they are on the blocks above dry land.  No longer weightless and swift, they are cumbersome and sluggish.  At this point, David’s southernly migration is “‘on the hard.”

David would be the first to say that of there are greater needs in the world. He would argue that shoring up the floating studio of a poet and photographer is not at the top of the triage chart. But Robin and I and many others beg to differ.  I want to live in world that stops to aid the poet warrior shipwrecked on the Jersey Shore. Because when they come back from their voyage, plumbing the depths of human experience they share their catch and our souls are nourished:

The wind whispers to the boat, and the boat speaks through the wheel, point up, a little more, now down, follow that puff, there you go. An hour or so of this and even your thoughts go quiet and just drink in the world around you. The desert mirage like mirroring of trees, distant floating above their reflection with imagined sky between. The dome of the sky, white becoming blue, over head. The whisper of wind over feathers, osprey soaring somewhere under the blue. Even the fish are silent.

David e Bell from his blog sveveninglight.com. And yes, the “e” is lower case, like e.e. cummings I guess.

Visit go-fund-me to help David continue his nautical and literary journey.

An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Shipwrecked Friend”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

Nyack Sketch Log: Grandmother’s Chair

My grandmother, Frances Lillian Avery Batson worked as a maid for the Jewett family in Upper Nyack. My life-mate and I recently moved into a cottage on the property near the “big house” where the Jewett’s once lived. My grandmother would often bring her daughter, Adeline and her granddaughter, Sylvia with her to work. Sylvia would play piano and violin at parties. My grandmother and aunt would prepare meals, provide table service and clean up.

We have placed my grandmother’s favorite chair in a place of honor over looking the Hudson River. She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith and now she has a cozy seat with a view near where she once toiled.

Like many prized possessions of families without abundant means, this chair was almost lost forever. Few can afford to maintain or store furniture from previous generations. These items are lucky to be given away or sold. Most often, they are literally dumped on the thrash heap of history.

In the constant shuffle of expanding and contracting families, grandma’s chair was sent off to be reupholstered and got abandoned at the antique store.  I have Muhamad Mahmoud of Antique Masters to thank for its salvation. With one broken arm, sagging underneath the weight of threadbare fabric, the weakened chair was no longer suited for seating. So I brought it to Mohamad.  I was lured by his sign “Bring me your broken chair, old lamp and your damaged table, and I’ll fix it and save you money.’

I paid for the service, but did not return when the work was completed.  We were in a very cramped apartment and could not find room for the precious piece of furniture.

Grandma is first from the left in the back row

In desperation, I tried to donate the chair to the collection of a local historic preservationists. I argued that the chair represented the middle-class black community in the center of town along Jackson Avenue that had been destroyed by urban renewal.  That this chair was the last thing standing. But alas they did not have the space for furnishings.

Despite my lack of retrieval of the chair (that I had by that time left behind for two years), it was not discarded or sold-off to cover the cost of storing it, instead Muhamad hung on to it for me. He understood the importance of the chair. One day as I walked down Main Street, on the opposite side of his shop in a  not so subtle attempt to avoid Muhammad’s gaze, this earnest and honorable man intercepted me and said, “It’s your chair, come and take her back.”

Items from Mohamad Mahmoud’s Antique Masters

It just so happened that Marisol and I had just moved into the cottage on the Jewett estate.  And suddenly, in a bolt of recognition, I realized that the stars had aligned for my grandmother to return to her place of employment. (Thank you, Mohamad. My family is eternally grateful).

Chairs were very important in our household, or any hardworking homestead.  Elders got special chairs that no one else could sit in. If you were cheeky enough to rest in one that was spoken for, you had to vacate from your surreptitious squat swiftly, when the rightful chair-heir arrived.  

The chair would face the window with the most bucolic vista, or be closest to the fireplace or TV, whichever centerpiece families would gather around.  In later years, with the advance in chair technology, the chair of honor would be the one that reclined. 

As one aged, one got closer to inheriting the chair.  The music of a funeral dirge would elevate you to that seat.  I took my dad’s chair when he passed.

My father loved his chair. As a working man, he would rest his Schlitz beer on the TV tray and watch the news. During his slow decline, he would recline and bounce his feet when we’d play the music of his youth. He looked so secure in his seat.  He was there for two meals each day and probably too much television watching and many naps.  His chair might as well have been at the helm of a ship that sailed seas or flew through space.  There, he was master and commander.

As supreme as my family may have felt at home, outside the house in the 30s, 40s, 50s, ad 60s things weren’t so sanguine for people of a darker complexion.  American custom and culture of racial hierarchy dictated lesser roles.  Even though my aunt had her own business, Batson Secretarial services, and my grandmother was a civic leader and a deacon, with as much power as any man or minister in her church, in the world of work, they were given servile parts to play.  

But even within confines of the oppressive order that relegated one gender and any non-white person to servitude or second class citizenship, (a state of things that is shockingly still in effect), the Batson family never bent the knee.  

My aunt rose close to the apex of public service as the Deputy Village clerk for the Village of Nyack and my grandmother most certainly was a competing matriarch in the homes that she visited dressed as a domestic. For example, in addition to her domestic duties she double as a Latin tutor.  As a child she would have me recite Cicero’s speech to the Roman Senate given in 63 BC: Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra! 

My grandmother, my aunt Adeline and my father Prime Batson circa 1930

On holidays, in the 70s, for as long as she had the strength, my grandmother continued to help her families with large meals.  As a teenager, I found the arrangement wholly unacceptable. She would stay up all night before Thanksgiving cooking for us, but then leave the family table on the morning of the holiday to help others find comfort around their hearth.

There must have been some intense compassion that drove her to leave those she loved so much to work so hard for others.  She most have found that the money that she received paid more than bills, but allowed her to share her love by deepening the security of her progeny.  She owned her home, but I’m sure she succumbed to the reality that houses always need fixing.

And the families that she visited must have treated her in a way that kept her from retiring her crisp white maid’s uniform. I had a public school classmate in Teaneck, David Geller who had family from Nyack. They were lucky enough to have my grandmother tend to their holiday table. When we made the connection that my grandmother worked for his mom’s family, I detected only a reverence at the fact and no superiority in his tone.

My grandmother’s chair came back to the Jewett estate in a trip that she bought and paid for with a life of service, dispatched without bitterness or contempt.  

I need to take to her chair more often. I will find something very important sitting quietly there.



An artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Grandmother’s Chair”  © 2017 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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

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.