by 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.”
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.
The 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.”
Ideally 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.”
The 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.
According 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.
I 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.
by Bill Batson
Since the 1850s, only four families have called this address on South Franklin Street home. The first two families built and expanded what is in many ways a monument to American architectural and scientific innovation. The third family sought to restore and preserve this significant piece of local and national history. The fourth family is inviting the public to see the interior of this imposing facade, transformed by Rivertown Film into a Hitchcock-themed fundraising gala on May 2.
Architect and builder Azariah Ross acquired the land where he built this enduring great home from Garrett Tallman for $5,000 in 1856. Ross had interests in projects that shaped an American landscape being transformed by the materials and wealth of the Industrial Revolution. He was instrumental in extending the Northern Railroad to Nyack, erecting the stone bridges that transect New York City’s Central Park and the stone retaining wall surrounding the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The home that Ross built in Nyack is the product of the ideas and designs of the great landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was hugely influential in American residential and public architecture in the early 19th century. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, who built and designed Central Park, met in Downing’s Newburgh home. The Gothic Revival style of the home that Ross built is animated by Downing’s belief that architecture and the fine arts could elevate the morals of a property’s owner.
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.
RIVERTOWN FILM’S HITCHCOCKIAN GALA
On Saturday, May 2nd, Rivertown Film reincarnates the spirit of cinematic maestro Alfred Hitchcock at its “Hitchcock at Hand” spring gala.
This evening immerses guests into re-enacted scenes from such classic films as “Psycho” and “North by Northwest.” in many of the rooms of South Nyack’s historic Hand House, located at 122 South Franklin Ave., South Nyack. As guests wander the grand rooms, they’ll encounter pieces of classic vignettes and characters created by Hitchcock.
Complementing the evening’s chills will be thrilling palate of gourmet food donated by 8 North Broadway, Marcello’s Ristorante, Murasake Japanese Cuisine, Bonefish Grill, Alain’s French Bistro, Prohibition River, King and I, Velo, Brickhouse, Turiello’s, Sakana Modern Japanese Cuisine, Mimi’s Plate, Pour House Nyack and La Terrazza. Rafele Ristorante is donating accompanying desserts, and wines are being furnished by Grape D’Vine. The event sponsor is M & T Bank, and the house sponsor is Better Homes Real Estate/Rand Realty.
The mystery commences at 7pm. Tickets are $100/person, and are available via Brown Paper Tickets . More information can be found at rivertownfilms.org or on Rivertown’s “Hitchcock at Hand” Facebook page.
Rivertown Film is a non-profit organization, which was founded in 2001, and is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and Creative Financial Planning, Starbucks, Orange and Rockland and Painter Smith Advertising.
Their mission is dedicated to celebrating, exploring, and promoting the art of the motion picture. Their Creative Advisory Board includes such industry professionals and Rockland residents as the aforementioned Jonathan Demme, Ellen Burstyn and Bill Irwin.
Upon her death in 1917, the home was left to her daughter Mary E. Hand, who lived there until 1955. Mary E. Hand left the house to her nieces and nephews, who shared the home. Raymond Hand was a photographer who documented the Dutch inspired architecture of Rockland County; Dorothy Hand Park Crawford earned a degree in Interior Design at the Parsons School of Design, and William H. Hand was a noted scientist and inventor.
When William H. Hand died in 1978, he was described by the Historical Society of Rockland County as the last surviving personal research assistant to Thomas Alva Edison.
From a laboratory in the barn where his great-aunt kept her horses, Hand improved on the standard battery design, creating a unique power source with a 15-year lifespan. This significant technological development made his battery popular with the military and police and fire departments.
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.
Porter’s actions were consistent with Azariah Ross’s work on public projects and the philanthropic traditions of the Hand family. William Hand donated the land across from the Hand ancestral home where the Village of South Nyack built at public park and firehouse. This house provides evidence that Andrew Jackson Downing may have been right when he said, “If they can decorate and build their homes to symbolize the values they hope to embody, such as prosperity, education and patriotism, they will be happier people and better citizens.”
The current owners are continuing this altruistic tradition. Dennis and Noah Brodsky moved to the Hand House from an apartment in Manhattan, having previously lived in Upper Nyack years ago. During a visit to South Nyack Village Hall, they mentioned to Village Clerk Sally Seiler that they were interested in getting more involved in the community. Coincidentally, Rivertown Film was in the midst of trying to identify a venue for their next gala. From the moment Rivertown approached the couple about the possibility of hosting Hitchcock at Hand in their historic home, they have demonstrated a remarkable generosity, flexibility and accessibility.
Space for Rivertown Film’s “Hitchcock at Hand” Spring Gala on Saturday, May 2 is extremely limited. Visit rivertownfilm.org to purchase tickets.
Special thanks to Adelma Park, Sarah Porter, Elizabeth Turk, Kris Burns, Roger and Sally Seiler, Winston Perry and Village of South Nyack historian Myra Starr.
Hand portrait and battery image courtesy Hudson River Valley Heritage.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Hand House Hosts Hitchcock Homage” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
The campaign to save the historic Lent House in Orangeburg was lost on Saturday morning, April 4th. The decisive blow was delivered by a backhoe. The 263 year old house was reduced to a pile of rubble in less than two hours.
As recently as last Thursday, architect and preservationist Walter Aurell was optimistic that the house could be spared. After learning about the unexpected annihilation, Aurell wrote, “ It is very upsetting that in a Town whose motto is “Rich in History” we have lost another significant piece of that very history – and its replacement in the public realm will be another strip mall.”
Social media was abuzz last week in anticipation of an Orangetown Planning Board meeting that was scheduled for April 8. The disposition of the Lent House was on the agenda. After being approached by Valley Cottage resident Rick Tannenbaum, I was preparing a Nyack Sketch Log titled: “Save the Lent House,” hoping to increase attendance at the public session. But on Friday, April 3, that meeting was postponed until May 13th. And after this holiday weekend’s arrival of heavy machinery, my headline, and our Lent House are now history.
In a letter to Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart last week, Aurrell reported that “Tom Graff (owner of the land) is on board to work with us.” The objective that Graff seemed inclined to support was to carefully disassemble and move the house to another location. Stewart was also confident that a solution could be found that would satisfy the developer, RD Management, the Graff family and a committed group of preservationists. “As recently as Friday (April 3) the owner of the property and the developer of Orangeburg Commons indicated that they shared my understanding of the desirability and feasibility of salvage and rebuilding,” Stewart reported in statement released over the weekend on Facebook.
The director of the Orangetown Museum, Mary Cardenas, was one of the many people who thought that progress was being made toward saving the Lent House. She described the building as an “important example of Dutch Colonial architecture that is commonly held by the people of Orangetown as an important part of our history.” Cardenas described the interior integrity of the structure, particularly the ceiling and floor beams as an aspect that made the Lent House ideal for preservation. On Saturday, Cardenas told the Journal News that it was “wrenching to see this piece of history going down.”
Reports suggest that the attorney for the Graffs advised their clients to take the structure down over the Passover/Easter weekend, and in advance of the May 13th planning meeting. The Graffs obtained the demolition permit from the Orangetown Planning Board over a year ago.
In Stewart’s Facebook statement, the Orangetown Supervisor responded to an assertion by some preservation proponents that he should have withdrawn the demolition permit. “Town attorneys advised…that any attempt by [Orangetown] to revoke a demolition permit that had been lawfully issued last year would have been clearly illegal,” Stewart wrote.
William E. Krattinger, a Historic Preservation Program Analyst for the New York State Division for Historic Preservation issued a resource evaluation for the Lent House in April, 2014 that asserted that the house was eligible for inclusion on both the State and National Historic Registers. Krattinger concluded that “the house was an exceptional example of New World Dutch stone house construction. The main section, 1752, predates the French & Indian War. It is of large scale, with very high ceilings, and was clearly a house of tremendous stature when built. It certainly ranks among the best of the stone houses I have seen in Rockland County.”
According to the website, Save Lent House, the home was continually occupied from 1752 until 15 years ago, when the last resident died. It was then purchased and converted to commercial use by the Graffs. However, no application was made to add the property to the National Register of Historic Places. Final application for inclusion on the Register never occurred, as this requires the owners’ consent.
In Rosalie Fellows Bailey’s definitive volume “Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York,” the Lent House is linked to Abraham de Ryck, one of the earliest settlers in New Amsterdam. The home was built in 1752 by or for Abraham Lent. On December 22, 1775, Abraham Lent was made Colonel of the First Regiment of Militia of Fort Orangetown, by the Provincial Congress for the Colony of New York. A genealogy of the Lent family described the Lents as being “very numerous in the Continental Army. They voluntarily took up arms and fought bravely to free themselves from the yoke of thralldom to Great Britain. Sir Henry Clinton said that he could neither “buy nor conquer these Dutchmen.”
Two hundred and forty years later, in the battle to save the Lent House, we did not acquit ourselves as honorably as our revolutionary forebears. The home of Colonel Abraham Lent was bought and conquered on our watch, and not by an invading army, but by a strip mall developer.
Another Dutch Colonial, The John Green House, is also imperiled. Nyack resident, composer and activist John Gromada has created a Facebook page to support the preservation of the oldest standing structure in Nyack, Save John Green House in Nyack. I wrote about the significance of the Green House and John’s preservation efforts in this January 2012 Nyack Sketch Log titled Save Our Green House.
Special thanks to Brian Jennings, New City Library’s Local Historian
Writer Tina Traster, a Valley Cottage resident, is producing a documentary about the preservation and loss of Rockland County’s most precious and historic buildings. She is seeking financial contributions to make the 15-minute documentary film so it can travel around the county and beyond to educate people about the importance of historic preservation. If you want to contribute to her project or if you have resources she can use, please send her an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Exterior Lent House photo (pre-demolition) by Tina Traster.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Lent House Demolished” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
On the evening last July when a lightening strike set his patisserie ablaze, Didier Dumas was watching the World Cup at Avida. “I saw a flash and heard a sound like a bomb, and I said, ‘I am glad that didn’t hit my building.’” But Didier and his beloved French bakery had not escaped unscathed. “An employee came in a few minutes later and told me that black smoke was pouring through the windows.”
This Thursday, after eight months of renovations, Didier will reopen his eponymous eatery. “I always knew I was going to reopen. I thought it would be three months. But then we found one problem after another.”
“I want to thank everyone who wished me well,” Didier said referring to the multiple posts on social media that pined for the return of his pastries. “I went through some tough and stressful times. Reading what people said has helped tremendously.”
A few weeks from now, when his operation is back up and running, Didier plans on holding a grand-reopening party. “Everybody will be invited. It will be like Bastille Day.”
This interview, published six months before the fire, reveals the inspiration that fuels this pastry chef as he rises, pheonix-like, from the ashes. Discover Didier’s “je ne sais quoi” that kept a legion of loyal customers waiting for his doors to reopen.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a pastry chef?
That was as far back as I can remember. As a child in Marseille, I was always looking in the window of the neighborhood bakery wondering how they were making these cakes. The shop was owned by Mr. Zeppini. He became my mentor.
After growing up in New York City with a French bakery just around the corner, I’m happy to have Didier Dumas right down the street in Nyack. I have tried almost everything in his cases and it’s all delicious, from his small sized desserts to his wonderful crepes and sandwiches.
Didier proves it’s not location, location, location, — it’s product. If you serve something authentic, people will come.
Nothing had succeeded there until Didier opened. I have never seen a business do that well so fast, and in the process, he has extended Main Street.
This man, this artist, has the hands of Monet; with butter and flour and sugar rather than paint. He does for pastry in Nyack what Monet did for water lilies in Giverny!
I would make a special trip up to this ‘burb’ of Manhattan they call Nyack just to enjoy Didier’s again.
American Woman M from Yelp
Was there anyone else who inspired you to enter the culinary arts?
One person who inspired me was my grandmother. She was always baking something, flan, or pies or tarts. My aunt was also always baking at my grandparents farm. I started by baking cream puffs and puff pastries with her.
What brought you to Nyack?
I used to work and live in Westchester. I came to Nyack to study Kung Fu on Main St. I fell in love with Nyack. It felt like a friendly neighborhood with a lot of people always going out. I said to myself, ‘ a French bakery could be a nice addition to this lovely town.’
When did Didier Dumas open for business?
November 2006, a few days before Thanksgiving.
How is Nyack similar to where you grew up?
In French cities, you have a lot of different little neighborhoods; where you work, shop, and eat. Each neighborhood in the city is like a little village.
Nyack reminds me of some of the neighborhoods in Marseille. People in Nyack walk around and say hi. They know each other. They are very warm.
I didn’t have this feeling when I lived in Westchester. I lived there for seven years and needed my car for everything. After seven years, I didn’t really know anyone.
What is the biggest challenge of managing a kitchen and a business?
Trying to spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like to, without neglecting the other aspects of the business, like spending time with my accountant, doing some paper work, dealing with the employees, talking to customers.
I noticed a lot of young people work at your patisserie. Are you passing on your craft to the next generation?
I do my best to teach the people at the counter to be familiar with the product, to try the pastries so that they can answer questions for the customers.
In the kitchen, I have them for a few years so I am teaching them to be pastry chefs from the beginning. I try to show them the love in a job well done. I train them the way that I was trained when I started.
What are your favorite desserts to prepare?
I don’t have a favorite anymore. I used to when I was younger. What I like the most to do now in the kitchen is create new recipes.
Is there a new recipe that you are particularly proud of?
That would be my signature dessert, the Royal Chocolate Cake.
What are your favorite desserts to eat?
It depends on my mood. I eat a piece of pastry on a daily basis, sometimes a macaroon or a slice of cake.
What is the busiest time of the year?
The end of the year is the busiest time for me. It’s like a three course meal: Thanksgiving is the appetizer, Christmas is the main course, and New Years is dessert.
What have been some of the challenges to having a business above Franklin Street?
At the beginning, people told me that it was not a good location, that it was too far from downtown. I did not see it this way. I think if people know that there is a French bakery doing a good job they will come.
I like my location. We have become a destination. At evening time, it is more quiet than downtown. In the summer, there is not that much noise so you can sit outside and enjoy your pastry. We also have parking right across the street.
Several people that I have spoken to describe your bakery as one of their favorite things about Nyack. What are some of your favorite things about the village?
My favorite thing about Nyack are my customers. From the beginning they have always come first. I have made friendships. I have been invited to New Years parties, barbeques, and Easter dinners, especially when my family from France is here.
Welcome back Didier! Bonne Chance!
Photo Credits: Didier Dumas (Nancy Eisen), Fire (Bill Demarest)
Patisserie Didier Dumas is located at 163 Main Street in Nyack, NY.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Didier Dumas Redux” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.
by Bill Batson
On June 16, 2012, over 100 artists flocked to Nyack to join the Flash Sketch Mob. Situated every 12 paces along both sides of Broadway from Cedar Hill to 2nd Avenue, two hundred hands worked in concert to create a composite landscape portrait of the village. The art works were scanned and projected on the side of a building that night, and added to a digital map. This June 20, the Flash Sketch Mob returns to add Main Street to this growing visual arts atlas of Nyack. Register today!
The goal of the Flash Sketch Mob is to produce a self portrait of the entire village of Nyack created by the residents. Artists of all skill levels and ages are welcome to participate.
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.
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 schedule: Saturday, June 20, 2015
- 10:00a: mob at Weld Realty, 4 Park St. to receive grid assignments
- 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
- 9:30p: View a pop-up projection of art work created at Flash Sketch Mob 2015 at the corner of Park and Main St.
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.
The 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.
Flash Sketch Mob is supported, in part, by a Community Arts Grant, a local re-grant program of the Arts Council of Rockland made possible with funds from the Decentralization program of the New York State Council on the Arts.
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.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Flash Sketch Mob: 2015” © 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.
by Bill Batson
Dr. Lori Martin helped erect this street sign that honors the memory of Cynthia Hesdra. When she published The Ex-Slave’s Fortune: The Story of Cynthia Hesdra in 2008, Martin saved an important figure in local history from obscurity. On May 18, 2015, a monument in Memorial Park will be dedicated to Hesdra as part of a global initiative sponsored by the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road project.
Martin, a proud product of Nyack’s public schools, believes “we all have a responsibility to be historical detectives, whether it is for our own families or our communities.” This intrepid and inquisitive spirit led her to uncover the story of Cynthia Hesdra.
At the time of the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River, Martin was asked to draft a report on the economic contribution of blacks during the last 400 years by Dr. Susan G. & Dr. Edmund W. Gordon. Her findings were to be presented to a group of middle school students at Rockland Community College.
“Most of the research that I do involves poring through census data; it doesn’t involve getting into the lives of real people. But once I stared doing the research for this project, I kept coming across the Hesdra name. I became curious about the mentions of Edward Hesdra and that Cynthia was curiously absent,” she described.
The fact that Edward overshadowed Cynthia was inexplicable to Martin, because according to her trained eye, it was Cynthia that amassed all the wealth that the Hesdra family accumulated.
Cynthia Hesdra was born in Tappan in March 6, 1808. Her father, John Moore, owned mills along the Hudson. Newspaper reports during her life suggest that she was held as a slave. After her freedom was secured, she went on to own and operate a laundry business in New York City and to acquire properties in New York City and Nyack. Cynthia Hesdra is listed as a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad Encyclopedia by Mary Ellen Snodgrass.
“What was striking about Cynthia was her ability, and the ability of many other people of African ancestry, to move from being assets to asset owners,” Martin observed.
When Cynthia Hesdra died on February 9, 1879, she was reportedly worth $100,000, the equivalent of 2.3 million in contemporary dollars. Allegations of fraud and forgery in the dispensation of her will against her husband Edward led to the first application of a law that compared known and disputed signatures in New York.
One of the Hesdra properties stood at the corner of 9W and Route 59. The house was destroyed by order of the Urban Renewal Agency of Nyack in 1977, despite the objections of the Historical Society of the Nyacks. A historic marker on the spot mentions only Edward. Subsequent research suggests that this was not the house that Hesdra used as an Underground Railroad station.
In order to set the record straight, Martin approached the village in 2010 to temporarily rename Piermont Ave. between Hudson and Depew for Cynthia Hesdra. Nyack’s Trustees agreed. Nyack Center Director Kim Cross, who was in attendance at the Board meeting, was so moved by Martin’s scholarship and Hesdra’s accomplishment and marginalization that she asked the Village Board to make the designation permanent, a recommendation accepted by the trustees.
Martin and Hesdra Honored at Upcoming Events
March 14, 2015
the 11th Annual Women of Leadership and Vision brunch at the Nyack Center will honor both Dr. Lori Martin and Cynthia Hesdra In Memoriam. Judith Johnson and Dr. Sharon Quayle will also be honored.
March 14, 2015
The Historical Society of the Nyack will hold an opening reception for our exhibition: An Underground Railroad Monument Comes to Nyack: Honoring Cynthia Hesdra. The exhibit is being curated by Bill Batson and Jennifer Rothschild.
Afternoon dedication ceremony for the Cynthia Hesdra Bench by the Road in Memorial Park.
Hesdra owned two properties on Piermont Avenue. After consulting Rockland County Archives, Historical Society the Nyack President Win Perry described two of Hesdra’s holdings:
“Cynthia was living in New York City on November 24, 1837, when she made her first recorded purchase in Nyack, a 42-foot-wide lot on the east side of Piermont Avenue with frontage on the Hudson River, from her father’s partner, Peter Depew. She bought the lot in the name Cynthia Moore, so it was probably before she married. The lot is now known as 93 Piermont Avenue and is in the Village of Nyack, with the Nyack-South Nyack boundary running along its south side.”
“In 1842 Hesdra purchased another 42-foot lot on the south side of her first lot, and in 1853 she purchased a third lot south of the second. We know exactly where her property was located because this third lot adjoined Diamond Street to the south which led to the river and is now the site of the South Nyack pumping station. These two purchases were also from Peter Depew, but this time she made them in the name “Cynthia D. Hesdra of Nyack”, indicating that sometime between 1837 and 1842 she married and moved to Nyack, perhaps building a house at 93 Piermont Avenue since no other purchases by her or Edward are recorded during this period.”
It is more likely that Hesdra used the 93 Piedmont Avenue location to assist escaping slave make there way to Canada, and freedom.
In August 2013, Martin took a position as Associate Professor at Louisiana State University. Her recent publications include Black Asset Poverty and the Enduring Racial Divide and Out of Bounds: Racism and the Black Athlete, a collection of essays that explores how racial ideologies are created and recreated in all areas of public life, including the world of sports.
After a dilapidated structure that Miltof had tranformed into an Underground Railroad shrine was demolished in 2014, the Village of Nyack Board of Trustees created a committee to establish a permanent monument to the presence and experience of the African American community in Rockland County. The goal of the committee was to develop a substantive display that would accommodate individuals and families who might want to comfortably linger to reflect on and celebrate local African American history. Dr. Martin submitted a proposal to the group in May, 2014.
Martin’s research formed the basis of the successful application that the committee made to the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road Project. On August 1st, Nyack was selected to join over a dozen other communities that host benches including Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, Oberlin, Ohio, Concord, Massachusetts, Fort-de-France, Martinique and Paris, France.
For more information about the Nyack Bench by the Road, or to donate, visit nyackbench.org.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: cholar Puts Local History on the Map” © 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.
by Bill Batson
Elegant hats have become the symbol of local civil rights icon Frances Pratt. But when she arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City 62 years ago, she wore a borrowed dress and shoes too tight for walking. On Thursday, April 16, Pratt will officiate the 56th annual Freedom Fund dinner for the Nyack branch of the NAACP at the Pearl River Hilton. From head to toe, France Pratt’s personal story is as bold and compelling as her sartorial style.
Pratt grew up with her mother, four sisters and two brothers in rural South Carolina. An incident from her early childhood shaped her future activism. “I walked into an ice cream parlor with my mother and the clerk said, ‘You can buy the ice cream, but you have to eat outside.’ I had never seen my mother demeaned in that way. If she had spoken up, the clerk would have called the police.”
In May, 1955, Frances, who was attending Friendship College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, learned that she would not be returning to school. “My mother sat me down and said ‘you are going to have to go to work for a while,’” Pratt recalled. “My brother Billy Powell and my mother were not well.” With the support of a teacher, Pratt found a potential employer in New York who would pay her $40 per month that she could send home to support the family. She first had to travel to Clover, South Carolina to pick peaches to raise the $17.50 for her bus fare.
Two years after arriving in New York City, Frances moved to South Nyack into the home of new husband Marshall Pratt. “I met Marshall in Mount Morris Park in Harlem while I was on a field trip with a group of children,” said Pratt. “I was working for a nursery school founded by Dr. Thelma Adair, the first women to serve as an elected Moderator for the Presbyterian Church. Marshall declared that he wore out four tires circling the park trying to see me again. When he found me, we made a date.”
When Pratt came to Nyack, she dreamed of attending the missionary program at Nyack College. “I wanted to go to Addis Ababa in Africa.” But responsibilities to family required that she find a way to serve the world closer to home, so she enrolled in Rockland Community College where she obtained her degree in nursing. Pratt went on to work at Nyack Hospital for 53 years, holding titles including Head Nurse of the Emergency Room and the Office of Employee Health.
This week’s sketch is based on a photo that currently hangs in the emergency room lobby of Nyack Hospital. The lobby as well as a scholarship and a Peace Rose Garden were named in her honor when she retired.
With her typical combination of candor and comic timing, Pratt remarked at the dedication ceremony, “What I appreciate most about this recognition is that it is not about the late Frances Ethel Powell Pratt. I can actually read the plaque and smell the roses!”
In 1981, Pratt was elected President of the local branch of the NAACP. On Thursday night, April 16, Pratt will host the organization’s annual fundraising gala at the Pearl River Hilton. While all eyes will be focused on this year’s keynote speaker, Reverend Curtis Everette Gatewood, a member of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and a founder of the Moral Mondays Movement, people will find it difficult to turn away from Pratt, who always appears in a hat more spectacular than the one she wore the previous year.
Pratt credits her husband Marshall, who passed away in 2002, for her memorable hats. “My husband designed all my hats. He was a talented artist and would always design my hats and coordinate my outfits.” Pratt’s collection of 250 chapeaus were on display at RCC in 2005 for a fundraising event for the NAACP.
One of Pratt’s greatest legacies might be the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program that has taken place at Pilgrim Baptist Church for the last 31 years. The interfaith, racially diverse event is consistently a standing room only affair.
Freedom Fund Dinner
On Thursday, April 16, at 6:30p, the Nyack Branch of the NAACP will hold their 57th Freedom Fund Dinner at the Pearl River Hilton.
I am humbled to be one of those honored this year. Please join me for a compelling program that features Keynote Speaker, Reverend Curtis Everette Gatewood. Rev. Gatewood is a member of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and works closely with Rev. William Barber II, the founder of the Moral Mondays Movement .
2015 Freedom Fund Dinner Honorees
- Apostle Dorian Elizabeth Alston
- Josephine A. Bailey
- Bill Batson
- John Castellano
- Pastor Mireille R. Desrosiers
- Dorothy Harris
- Barbara S. Williams, MSW
To purchase tickets contact Voncile Oliver at (845) 268-6626 or Maria Whittingham at (845) 664-8492.
“Frances Pratt is one of the most decent, thoughtful people I have ever known. Her fight for the rights of all and her clarity and fairness in pursuing those rights is astounding,” said Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White.
Pratt’s organizing style is as subtle as her fashion sense is striking. Most people who organize large public events always include themselves on the program, but that is not Pratt’s predilection. But even as she reserves the limelight for others, for many, Pratt’s aphorisms are as memorable as her accessories. When Pratt sets the agenda, her guests get the last word. Today, however, this Nyack Sketch Log will end with a few classic Prattisms:
If you see a turtle on a fence, you know he didn’t get there by himself. None of us got to where we are without help from someone else.
Your pennies you got to watch, the dollars take care of themselves.
You ain’t never seen a U-Haul following a hearse.
Public remarks should be like a lady’s dress…short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject.
Special thanks to Doria Hillsman for the hat photo and Dr. Lori Martin and Paul Adler for sharing some Prattisms.
Hat collecton photo credit: Lloyd Stansbury
France Pratt photo credit: Paul Adler
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: NAACP President Frances Pratt” © 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.