A Home with a View: House hunting ninety-five years ago BY BERTA AND ELMER HADER

A Home with a View

House hunting forty ninety-five years ago

Berta and Elmer Hader recount their personal adventure of finding a home in 1919 Rockland County. They recalled their adventure after the Tappan Zee bridge was built.

Berta and Elmer Hader were popular and award winning children’s book writers and illustrators.  Their book “Little Town” (1940) was based on South Nyack downtown, which was removed to build the Tappan Zee bridge.


The Hader couple illustrated a number of John Steinbeck novels in addition to their children’s book work.



The great upheaval due to World War One, removed us from a happy artist’s life on Telegraph Hill, in San Francisco, and sent us to distant shores. The termination of the war found us in New York City, in Greenwich Village. The big city was a mecca for writers and painters and we found it very stimulating, but memories of Telegraph Hill made us long for a home with a view and we set out to find one. We looked at lofts, cold-water flats and tenements, to no avail. Then, we tried looking for a home in the country, along the east shore of the Hudson. Once day a friend in Harmon suggested we try the west shore of the river. “There is a little village opposite Dobbs Ferry,” he said, “I think you will like it. It’s called Sneden’s Landing.”

We boarded the first local train on the Grand Central for Dobbs Ferry-where we walked from the railroad tracks to the river shore. We found the signal for the ferry and sat down on some boulders nearby to wait. It wasn’t long before a small launch pulled up to the rickety wharf and took us aboard. Then, we chugged across the river and tied up beside a dock just below the towering Palisades. We were enchanted with our first glimpse of Sneden’s Landing.


Snedens Landing by Robert Knox Sneden, 1858

“Are there any places for sale or for rent?” we asked. The ferryman rubbed the stubble on his unshaven chin. “Nope” he said. “But you ask Mrs. Tonetti. She gets around quite a bit. She lives up the hill.”

Mrs. Tonetti, a handsome gray haired woman, greeted us with a friendly smile, but she didn’t know of a place for rent either.

“Why don’t you walk to the top of the hill and take the road through the woods to Sparkill and Piermont?” she suggested. “You might find just what you want when you come to the river.”

We started off. We had not walked far into the woods before we heard dogs barking. We rounded a turn in the road and came upon a two-story house. The windows were open and one or more dogs barked from every opening. The yard was covered with twenty or more kennels, every one occupied by a barking dog. The din was terrific.

A man was seated on the ground, his back against the base of a large elm tree. His faded green shirt, peaked hat, and green corduroys stuffed into laced knee-high leather boots gave him the appearance of a storybook character. He eyed us rather glumly.

“Are we on the right road to Nyack?” we asked. The barking dogs made such a hubbub, he didn’t hear a word. He turned his head in the direction of the house and in a low voice said, “Shut up.” The sudden quiet was startling. The dogs in the windows disappeared from view. Those on the ground retreated into their kennels, or sat quietly beside them.

“Do you keep all those dogs in the house with you?” we asked.

“No. I live just around the bend. That house is for the dogs. Mostly boarders.”

After recovering from the shock of seeing a large house turned over to dogs, we again asked the way to Nyack. “Keep right on over the mountain and down into Piermont. Then you follow the River Road to Nyack.” We started on our way.

A short distance beyond, the road divided. The right fork lead thought the woods and over Talman Mountain to the village of Piermont. The left fork, descending the mountain, seemed the most likely one on which to find a house. The road ran along the south bank of Sparkill Creek through Sparkill and on into Piermont. Small houses on the steep north bank of the creek, seemed very old. Some were relics of the early Dutch settlers. There were no ‘for rent’ signs. The shrill whistle of the big paper mill at Piermont announced that it was high noon. The mill covered a large part of the pier. Houses were scattered along the fill that extended a mile into the Hudson River. The short Main Street of Piermont was almost deserted. The only vehicle in sight was a small combination station wagon and truck. This was the bus that ran between Piermont and Nyack. It accommodated about six passengers. It had no regular schedule.

We stopped at the local drug store for a soda. The clerk, who knew every house in the village, said there was nothing for sale or for rent. As for the River Road, he was not encouraging-but-he hadn’t taken the bus to Nyack for quite a spell.

As we walked along, the main village street merged into the River Road. We came to the Grand View village marker. Every bend of the road disclosed green lawns, flower gardens and clap-board houses many of them like picture in Gody’s Lady’s Book. Some of the houses were large, some we small. All were occupied, none for rent, none for sale. We sat down to rest on a low stonewall, where we could see the river. A few young people in canoes paddled along close to the shore. Father out, others sailed spanky little catboats. Far out, the deep channel of the river, the Hudson Line day boat exchanged deep-throated salutations with the ferryboat that plied between Nyack and Tarrytown. The Tappan Zee at this point reminded us of the San Francisco bay. The east slope of Clausland Mountain, like Telegraph Hill, rose high above the broad water and like Telegraph Hill, bore the scars of quarries. Across the river, the hills of Westchester were like the Berkeley hills of Marin county. We decided that this was just the place for transplanted Californians.


Hader’s mountaintop view from “Little Town”

We continued along the River Road until we came to what seemed to be the center of the village. On the riverside of the road we saw the Tappan Zee Yacht Club, a half-timber and stucco building. We were told later, that this area had been the heart of the brown sandstone out cropping and many quarries had operated here in the last century. One of the stonecutters had built himself the house with the carved thistle lintels in 1850.

Just north of the Yacht Club a workman was patching the roof of a house that seemed to be empty. The frame house clung to the steep riverbank. Two floors above the road and two below. We came to a wooded hillside on the west side of the road., and rested under a huge horse chestnut tree, that seemed part of a forest primeval. Maple, ash, oak, aspen, tall sycamores, and some enormous willows proved an impenetrable tangle. Faintly we heard the sound of water splashing and running, but the matted mass of honeysuckle, elderberries, blackberries, and over vines hid the ground and what lay behind the trees. We saw a spring that gushed from a quarry wall, It had been trapped and piped to a low stucco building, Here labeled as Cascadian Springs water, it was bottled and sold.

The River Road turned west, swept in a wide curve up a hill. Passing a handsome Dutch colonial stone house. We walked along a wide tree lined street through South Nyack. Here were house of the Victorian era, with cupolas, lace like wooden trim.

In Nyack we lunched at the Hotel St. George and found a real estate agent. We asked about the old empty house we had noticed in Grand View. “You must mean the Lyall Hotel,” he did. “The used to serve wonderful Welsh rabbit there. It was only a summer hotel. There is no furnace in the place. The owner died and the house is pretty run down.”

It was only a short drive back to the Lyall Hotel. We asked the man working on the roof is he wanted to rent the place. He shifted his quid of tobacco and said “Yes.” Twenty-five dollars a month. Our new landlord wasn’t interested in a lease. He believed a man was only as good as his word. We were elated… We had found a home on the river with a view across the water, so like the view from Telegraph Hilll in San Francisco.

With light hearts we returned to Nyack and boarded the Ferry for Tarrytown, where we could catch the Grand Central back to New York. We stood on the rear deck of the ferry to look backward toward the wooded mountainside that was to be our future home and we felt a glow of pride, as though we were already members of the community. The old Lyall Inn was to be revived, not as an inn, but as a home for us, and a gathering place for our friends. That was more than forty years ago. There have been many changes, but the lovely view across the Tappan Zee still remains.



Elmer Stanley Hader, Upstate New York (1920) oil on canvas