Remember the days? Nyack Memories Before the Big War

Remember the days? Memories Before the Big War
By Jim Leiner, July 2016



When I was a kid we would sit on the front porch on warm summer evenings and talk. Long before Air Conditioning the front porch was the place to catch a breeze and shoot it a little at the same time. I marveled at the stories told by my grandparents about Nyack before the big war. Unfortunately, I didn’t record those conversations and they are lost forever. I did find the next best thing while going through archives at the library, transcripts of oral histories by some of Nyack’s old-timers. The transcripts do not identify who was telling the stories, but I’m confident they were told by several different people. I thought it would be fun to share some of their memories.

“Each spring a chimney sweep would come through town loaded down with huge brushes, long poles and a coil of rope. He would be singing: ‘Su-weep! Su-weep! Su-weep! Sweeping I wander and wandering I sweep!’”

“In Upper Nyack the gypsies used to come at certain times, mostly in the spring. There’d be horses and carriages, and they would often go to up to the Hook and start fires. The fires were very frightening to us. I don’t know if the gypsies were ever a hazard to residents, but as kids, looking up there from Midland Avenue scared us to death.”

“As children we mostly used our imaginations. There was very little organization of what kids did in that day and age. We’d go into the woods, make houses, play hide and seek, mostly outdoor things along the river bank.”

“Doctors at that time all made house visits. When our doctor came to the house in his carriage, he would tether his horse outside and carry his black bag in with him. It was filled with many wondrous bottles.”

“As kids we had a curfew by 9PM. The fire whistle blew first warning at 8:30 and the second at 8:45. You’d better be on the way home when that second whistle blew or you were in trouble! If we were still on the street the officer would grab us by the ear or the shoulder and take us home. They made us a little scared and told our parents the next time they’d have to pay a fine.”

“Wells were private, some reservoirs also. Along the property just north of the Presbyterian Church (The Nyack Center today) were wells with hand-pumps where anyone who needed water could help themselves. There was a large cistern at Burd and Broadway where before hydrants, old buckets and hand pumped fire trucks would be filled with water. By the turn of the century wells were being phased out. One at the corner of Depew and Piermont Avenue had to be covered with large flagstones.”

“Homer Lydecker’s sister used to ride a horse to Liberty Street School and tie it outside until she went home. (I have to assume they meant Homer Senior?)

“The street next McDermott’s on Route 59 used to be called Froze-to-Death Lane. (Kilby Street today.)
In the days of horses, people would hire Charlie Garrabrant to bury any horse that died. He was supposed to take it back in the woods and dig a hole, but old Charlie was a bit of a drinker and he wasn’t about to dig any holes. So he’d just take lime or something, throw it on top of the horse and leave them in the woods. My sister had a complete horse skeleton with the halter still on it that she put out for Halloween.”

“In 1947 the porcelain spittoons were finally removed from Village Hall. There had always been one by each trustee’s desk.”

“The Hand house on Franklin Street had a 6-holer outhouse…a wonder of the town!”

“Around the turn of the century when it snowed, my mother would put on her sealskin coat and hood and harness our horse Dolly to the cutter. We would all pull the buffalo lap robe around us and go cantering down into town. The streets were filled with sleighs like ours with the sleigh runners singing against the packed snow and the light of the river turning from amber to amethyst. I thought sleigh bells the most beautiful music on earth!

Anybody want to return to the Good-Old-Days?


Jim Leiner was born and raised in Nyack with family roots going back generations. 
Lerner was a columnist for Nyack Villiager “Remember the Days?” since 2003. 
Leiner graduated Nyack High School in 1963 and graduated Rockland Community College, and Saint Thomas Aquinas  before attaining his MBA from University of Michigan. 
Leiner had a 30 year + career as New Business representative and manager with Orange and Rockland Utilities. Leiner was very active in Nyack Fire Depts., served in the US Navy, and is married to his High School sweetheart, Judy Polhemus, for more than 50 years.