Author Archives: Bill Batson

Bill Batson

About Bill Batson

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Visit to see more of his work.

1752 Rockland County House Destroyed For Strip Mall

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Lent-House-Featured-Revised-copyThe campaign to save the historic Lent House in Orangeburg (in Orangetown, Rockland County) 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.

Less than two weeks before, 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.” Continue reading

In Haverstraw, The House That Inspired Hitchcock

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HaverstrawThe building in my sketch at left, located in Haverstraw NY and the subject of Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting, House by the Railroad, maintains its vigil on Route 9W. Hopper’s haunting depiction of the three-story house came to the attention of the cast and crew of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie classic, Psycho. The painting inspired not only the design of the Bates Mansion in the 1960 production, but the mood of the film as well.

House by the Railroad captures the fading elegance of this victorian-style home, located just south of St. Peter’s Cemetery. His composition shows a solitary structure, cut off from the world by a set of railroad tracks. Today, the building is still visually incarcerated by a heavily trafficked road, power lines, a chain linked fence and the railroad that gave the original painting its name and theme. Continue reading

Sylvia Roth: A Nyack House Haunted by Art

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NSL155_Featured-ImageWhen printmaker Sylvia Roth moved into her home in South Nyack in 1977, she had no idea it was the birthplace of a major figure in American art, Joseph Cornell. This house on Piermont Avenue seems to have its own designs, selecting artistic occupants for over a century.

Emily Dickinson, Cornell’s enduring muse, wrote that “nature is a haunted house, but art is a house that tries to be haunted.” As Roth describes the creative output of subsequent generations of her family, one begins to suspect that this is a house haunted by art. Continue reading

A Nyack Sketch: The Historic Towt House

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NSL154_Towt_Featured-imageImagine the stories that would be told if houses wrote autobiographies.

This stately structure on South Highland Avenue in Nyack could tell us if slaves were hidden here during the abolition movement. We would know about the political maneuverings and legal strategies of the successive generations of lawyers who called this place home. Or learn the downside of having a neighbor who owns a private zoo. The garden could share the secrets of what makes her bloom. But alas, buildings and garden beds don’t write books.

Fortunately for us, this house has a biographer, and her name is Judy Martin. Continue reading

Merger Recalls Nyack Medical History

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NSL150_Nyack-Hospital-Revised-397x600In June, Nyack Hospital and Montefiore Health System issued a joint press release announcing a merger. When the process is complete, Nyack will have a medical institution informed by over two centuries of history in health care. Will the philanthropic and progressive impulses that characterized the creation of nonprofit hospitals in nineteenth-century America endure?

A moment of reflection seems to be in order. Here’s a snapshot of the origins and early days of each health care institution that may provide some prologue and set expectations for what will follow. Nyack Hospital was incorporated in 1895. Initial funds were raised by an initiative called “Kirmess,” that drew inspiration from medieval festivals that used merrymaking to accomplish good. Continue reading

45 Years After Stonewall: Gay Pride Rockland

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Gay Pride Rockland CountyOver 1,000 people gathered for the first Gay Pride event in Nyack in 1999. As if to prove the positive force that this public affirmation of sexual identity can have, a Village of Nyack Trustee named John Shields, who would later serve four terms as Mayor, publicly came out of the closet that day.

In the late 1990s, if you lived in Nyack and wanted to attend one of the major Gay Pride celebrations that are held around the country each June, you had to travel to Manhattan. Phyllis B. Frank, Associate Executive Director of VCS, Inc. enjoyed the annual pride pilgrimage to the city, but thought aloud to others that “even if we had just a group walking behind one sign, we needed to do something for Gay Pride here in Rockland.” Continue reading

Rockland County:
Thurgood Marshall’s 1940s Desegregation Case

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Brook students being turned away from the Hillburn SchoolDr. Travis Jackson often quotes this African proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

As one of the 49 children at the center of a successful desegregation case in Rockland County in 1943, Dr. Jackson will be a special guest at a ceremony in Hillburn, New York on Saturday, May 17. The event commemorates the 60th anniversary of a subsequent legal decision, the landmark Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The program will also remember the lawyer who was on the winning side in both cases, Thurgood Marshall. As an eyewitness to this epic hunt for equality, Jackson has become the historian for the lions. Continue reading

Mount Moor: Nyack’s Segregated Cemetery

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Mount Moor Historical MarkerCemeteries were segregated in America until the mid-20th century. Even black veterans of America’s armed conflicts were dishonored when buried. Today, Mount Moor Cemetery stands as a monument to the twisted logic of racial discrimination. But the cemetery of approximately 90 veterans and civilians also serves as a symbol of perseverance and defiance.

The gravestones at Mount Moor endure, despite the initial efforts of the developers of the Palisades Mall to obliterate the burial ground. Continue reading