Houses & Streets Long Gone

With the pounding of pile drivers ringing in our ears as they signal the beginning the construction of the new TZ Bridge, a number of long-time Nyackers gather in a coffee shop and talk about what the area was like before the Thruway.

We recalled memories of houses torn down or moved out of the super highway’s path.
I enjoy talking about homes coming down Cedar Hill Avenue on their way to a new location in the empty lot further down the road were there was once a small apple orchard. To an 8 year-old boy it was quite a sight to watch huge houses rolling down the block. Many of my friends remember the houses travelling north along Midland Ave and finding new locations between of Sixth and Highmount Avenues, in an area that for a long time was pretty swampy.

The Java imbibers from South Nyack talk about the Bell Memorial Chapel that stood at the corner of Clinton and Hillside Avenue (Rte. 9w). The chapel was built by Louis V. Bell in 1899 in memory of this father, Isaac Bell and his mother, Adelaide Mott Bell. Their home, built a year earlier, was next to the chapel on Clinton Ave. The chapel’s bells were imported from France; the largest bell was 52 inches in diameter and weighed 2,900 pounds. Neighbors came to love the soft tones of the carillon bells chiming at the top of the hour. The clock, also from France, was installed by Brooklyn clock maker Charles Korhage in 1902. When the chapel was torn down in 1953, the clarion bells and clock were moved to the empty bell tower in Grace Episcopal Church on First Avenue.

Sooner or later our coffee conversations get around to streets that are long gone. South Nyack takes the prize for losing the most streets. Completely gone are Willow and Chase Avenues. Also gone are major parts of Hillside Avenue—it was relocated to the west—Cedar Hill, Cornelison, Brookside, Washington, Smith and all of South Nyack’s little village center at the end of Franklin Street. A total of 123 houses were moved or torn down in the village. One street was added—Cooper Drive, named in honor of South Nyack Mayor Louis Cooper.

Nyack lost a total of 33 homes along Depew, Cedar Hill, Crosby, Anna and Highland. The village also had two streets bulldozed into history.

My favorite trivia stumper for longtime residents is to ask where Froze-to-Death road was located. Before I tell you—the other stumper is the location of Cleveland Street. You have to find Cleveland Street to find Froze-to-Death Road.

Okay, the answer: six lanes of Thruway traffic pass over the old roads every day. Back before the Old Nyack Turnpike was turned into Route 59, it was a much-used little road. Travelers had to navigate the West Nyack Swamp and the marshy ground around the Nyack Ice Pond, wending their way over part of Old Greenbush Road to circle past the swamp and zigzag through Central Nyack on what is now DePew Avenue, and then turn slightly north onto Froze-to-Death Lane past the intersection with Cleveland Street and then onto Main Street about 30 yards west of the intersection with Highland Ave, (now Rte. 9w). The village maps of 1873 and 1891 don’t show any houses on Froze-to-Death, but neither do these maps give evidence to the road ever being called Froze-to-Death. Sanborn’s Insurance Map of 1910 labels it “Old Road.” So is the name truth or myth?
I discovered an article written by Virginia Parkhurst in July, 1946 where she wrote: “Mrs. John Kropf of Upper Depew Avenue told us about it. She casually mentioned that sometimes to get to Main Street, she walks down Froze-to-Death Lane.” When Virginia asked her how the name came about, she replied, “A man is said to have frozen to death there in a horse-drawn wagon one winter night in the early 1820s.” So, for me, if Virginia Parkhurst believed Mrs. Kropf and published the story, then Froze-to-Death road it is!

I wonder how many readers can name the two streets Nyack gained with the construction of the Thruway. Kilby Street, a one- way from Rte. 59 up to Depew, is named after James Kilby, prominent in real estate and insurance from the 1920s to the 50s. Polhemus Street was constructed over the filled-in Nyack Ice Pond, and is named in honor of long-time Nyack Village Engineer and South Nyack resident Harvey Polhemus.

The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’