Sunday, September 23, 2018

Immigration to and Emigration from Schwäbisch Hall

One of Hastings' early shopkeepers, Frederick Breyer, was included in a book recently published by the city archive of Schwäbisch Hall in Germany. The translated title of the book is "Immigration to and Emigration from Schwäbisch Hall: 1600-1914." For those of you who speak German, we now have a copy of the book in the Historical Society library. Here is an online version. Some of the following material is from our files and some is information translated directly from the book. The photos included in this post are the same ones provided to the authors of the book.

Friedrich Breyer (known as Frederick Breyer in the U.S.), was the son of a railway linesman from Uttenhofen. Friedrich was born in Heilbronn, Germany in 1869 and raised in Schwäbisch Hall. In 1884, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 15 with his 22-year old half-sister Catharina (his mother’s illegitimate daughter). His younger brother Christian Breyer (born in 1872) followed his siblings to New York in 1889, but vanished without a trace in August of 1890. 

Proprietor Fred Breyer behind the counter of his meat market, Breyer's Prospect Market Choice Meats, at 3 Spring Street, c. 1910

Frederick settled in Hastings-on-Hudson in 1899, where he married a native-born American and opened a butcher shop on Spring Street. Named "Breyer's Prospect Market," the shop was a mainstay of the village's commercial district for several decades.

Fred Breyer is in the center behind the dog, his son Fred, Jr. is seated on the barrel, and Anna Rohrbach is standing on the far right, c. 1910. This location today is the home of Giordano Beauty.

Frederick's business must have flourished, because he was able to purchase a Ford Model T truck for his establishment in the 1910s. 

Prospect Market truck, likely in the late 1910s

Prospect Market truck, overlay Google Map.

In 1920 Breyer sold his business and retired; he died in 1925. His obituary called him one of the most remarkable men of Hastings, because he continued with his trade -- without any obvious impairment -- despite ultimately losing his eyesight completely. 

Fred Breyer, Jr. on the Warburton Avenue Bridge with Demmler children, one of whom is probably Charles Demmler. Photo is c. 1905-1910.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Saving the Community Gardens

by Mary Wallis Gutmann (was Whiting in 1968)

 I’m not very Web-savvy, but every now and then someone who is calls to say, “Mary, listen to what I read on Facebook. . ."  This time it was my son, Paul, reporting that Wendy Waczek was writing about the [Zinsser] gardens.  So thank you, Wendy – your post made me remember with pleasure all your 4-H kids and working to save the Zinsser Gardens. -Mary Wallis Gutmann

Arthur Langmuir's 1933 photo showing  the site of 
World War I and II Victory Gardens.
Owned by Colonel Frederick Zinsser.

We [The Whiting Family] moved to an apartment in Hastings in 1968 and got to know the village. Paul and I were walking on the Old Croton Aqueduct and paused to look down into a low-gardened area. We were puzzled. Who owns this space? I thought. Along came another walker, who introduced himself as Charlie Callison. He was, I learned later, Vice President of the Audubon Society and an expert at saving land. “Are those community gardens?” I asked him. 

“Sort of,” Charlie said. “That garden belonged to the Zinsser family. The village bought it and the land next to it,” pointing above at a larger area along the Aqueduct. “The gardens have been here since the Zinsser Chemical Company decided to give their workers garden plots years ago. During the war they were Victory Gardens. Hastings had many Russian escapees [refugees]. They mostly grew cabbages, onions and tomatoes. Some still do,” he said, pointing out rows of neatly lined up plantings with onion tops tramped over in classic fashion.

 “What about the gardens now?” I asked. They seemed only partly used.

“The gardens now may be lost, ploughed under a grassy lawn,” Charlie answered. I winced.

“You’d better join our group. We call ourselves, the Nature Program Committee."

“What programs do you do?” I asked.

Charlie said, “Come to the next meeting and see.” A neighbor, Carol Ettlinger, was also a member of the group. The members were all concerned about the possible loss of the gardens. 

Charlie announced: “Here’s what we need to do. We’ll keep this low-key. First, we need a name. 'Zinsser Gardens' is one the Historical Society likes and it has been used for a long time. Next, we have to get more gardeners. Unfortunately it’s barely used: I’d say 20% tilled is a generous number; the rest is left to weeds and marsh. Mr. Ruggero has had a garden down there for years and we could get Pat Dugan, Director of Parks and Recreation, to assign him more space – Mrs. Ravinsky and other gardeners, too. We need a 4-H Club. Carol and Mary, you’ve got young kids, how about it?”

We had no choice but to nod.

“Now we need more activities there. Mary, how about if you do a watercolor rendering of the area?” Charlie spread his arms wide to indicate the size. His ideas were beginning to sound like work. “Pretend you’re in a helicopter. Your drawing should show the Aqueduct and all the way out to Broadway, including the parking lot. Now, sketch in garden spots. You’ll have to make them up, of course. Pretend there are about 20. Include the grassy area between the gardens and the parking lot, the space with the two magnificent oaks. Sketch in a bocce court and a climbing play place made of logs for the kids.”

“But who will play bocce?” someone said. I had never heard of bocce.

“We’re not making either of those, it just shows that we could. No promises – we’re creating interest and possible uses, and a story in the local newspaper,” Charlie smiled broadly at everyone.

We went to the next Village Board meeting armed with the sketch. I discovered that Mayor Sheldon Wagner [Mayor of Hastings-on-Hudson from 1961–75] had long ago dubbed us ‘the Nature Nuts.’ We could tell the Board was counting heads. We were more than 15 voters, joined by others who had come with different petitions or just because Sheldon’s meetings were often entertaining. Everyone sided with us. Since the board remembered an election where the Mayor had won by 29 votes, they took our numbers seriously. So did Sheldon.

Charlie made a little speech in which he called the gardens “a long tradition in Hastings” and said how the children would benefit from the educational aspects of the 4-H program (he didn’t mention that it did not yet exist). He went on to talk about the expert, long-term gardeners who worked there – Mr. Ruggero and Mrs. Ravinsky, for example – and the benefit gardening was to families and all ages learning together. By the time he finished, he had Board members calling the garden a tradition and we could see we’d won.

4-H Club:
Dawn Taylor tending her garden c.1974
We never put in the bocce court, but somebody assembled logs for a sort-of playground that is probably now humus. Carol and I liked the idea of a 4-H Club. Both our daughters were more or less enthusiastic and both sons not wild about it, but they all did some work every now and then. At the end of the first summer, we piled the kids in Carol’s big station wagon to take part in the Yorktown Heights Grange Fair. Our kids won prizes; Wendy Waczek remembers hers with delight and Paul won for the biggest tomato. 

Another of Charlie’s promotional ideas for the garden was to have our own 'Country Fair.' Pat Dugan liked the idea. He and I worked with different groups to set up a day at Zinsser Park with a pony ride in the upper field, a baby pig from the Andrus Children’s Home on display, and produce from the gardens. There was a cake, pie, bread baking, and corn-husking contest, and tables of fund-raising items for the local non-profits. The piglet got away, creating some delighted excitement.

Six women examining the preserve table a the Country Fair on September 15,1979. The fair was part of Hastings Centennial, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the village. From the Left: 2nd is Mary Callas, the former Village Clerk, Polly Carpenter, Carolyn Armour, Emmy Crosby, flatly on the right, Blanche Marchetti, the original owner  of Food for Thought.

After it was over, I said to Pat, “I am exhausted. How can we manage that again next year?” 

He said, “We won’t. We’ll hold it every other year.”

“Every other year? But they’ll be hounding us, some told me they’re already planning their part in next year’s.” 

Pat grinned, “We’ll tell them, when they ask what happened to the fair, that they missed it. They won’t know the difference.” 

No one caught on. We had six or seven fairs over 12 or 14 years. (to read more on the fairs Pat really understood people; that’s how he survived in a demanding little village. He used to say under his breath, no matter how mad they were at him for something he would or wouldn’t do, “Keep those cards and letters coming. . .” And they did.

Three girls, one in a Girl Scout uniform, 
standing in front of the sheep pen at the Country Fair. 
One of the events of fair was a sheep shearing exhibition. 
Do you recognize any of the girls? Let us know!

We all played a part in saving the gardens: Charlie Callison, Carol Ettlinger, Pat Dugan, Betty Waczek, other committee members, and me. One of the things I loved was the slightly ragged look of the area. This remained as more gardeners moved in. Some fenced their garden with chicken wire that sagged in places; others with cast-off pickets found at the dump. Mrs. Ravinsky had wooden boxes to hold her tillers and her planted rows were perfectly straight, while other gardeners gave up after spring harvest, and let their spot go to weeds and wildflowers.  It was a good place to hang out when the kids were playing ball in the upper field and to talk with other gardeners. 

Mrs. Ravinsky showing her garden to her great grandson Patrick. c.1975

Everyone loved to pass on seeds and advice, and whatever kind of garden keeper you were didn’t matter – a bit seedy or pristine, all were okay. I hear all the garden plots are fully tilled now and that’s great.


Other write-ups on the Zinsser Gardens: 

County's Landless Farmers Cultivate Community Gardens
Published: July 22, 1990

A New Garden Pest: Pilferers in the Produce
July 26, 1992

In Community Plots, the Gardening Is Organic
August 16, 1992

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hastings Shortcuts
Paths and staircases offer direct routes through the Village

By Corinne McSpedon

Hastings is crisscrossed by many footpaths and staircases that connect one street or neighborhood to the next. Some—such as the paths into and through the Burke Estate, Hillside Park, and Zinsser Park—are well known and easily identified on the Hastings Trailways map, which is available at the Recreation Department or via this link.

Others require a bit more searching. There are many strips of land tucked between private property as well as several staircases throughout the Village. When many of these were built—about 100 years ago—pedestrians were navigating early 20th century Hastings roads, some of which were private and all of which had a tendency to meander as they followed the contours of the hills. The paths helped commuters and students save time and avoid walking on private streets. 

For the most part, these shortcuts are open to the public but tend to be hidden from view. Fred Hubbard detailed many of these in his 2006 publication, Recreational Areas of Hastings-on-Hudson (available at the library), in which he documents 40 “outdoor areas” in the Village.

Frequently only nearby or long-time residents know about the shortcuts in a given neighborhood. To follow are descriptions of some of the paths and staircases still in use today. A map, which can be viewed in greater detail, is included at the bottom of this post.

Hudson Heights 
A century ago, the developer of the Hudson Heights neighborhood, Hudson P. Rose, built steps, paths, and sidewalks into the hill to provide waterfront workers, students, and commuters with direct access to the center of town and the two rail lines servicing the area at the time: the Hudson Line of the Metro-North Railroad and the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad— “the Old Put”—which carried passengers and freight from the Bronx to Brewster and stopped in Hastings at Mount Hope Station, near the Saw Mill River. (The Old Put rail line is now defunct, although hikers on the South County Trailway can follow its path as it meanders along the Saw Mill Parkway.)

The Kent Staircase, located at the intersection of Kent and Fairmont Avenues
Today, some paths and staircases are used more than others. At the intersection of Kent and Fairmont Avenues, for instance, is the top of a long set of steps that blends into its surroundings so well it’s easily mistaken as a neighbor’s walkway. The Kent Staircase, which is missing steps and covered by vegetation in places, leads to the corner of Fairmont and Clinton Avenues and does not appear to have been used much in recent years.

Near the top entrance to these steps, just west on Fairmont Avenue, is the entrance to a trail that bisects Lefurgy Park, a portion of public land that extends between the backyards of houses on Southgate and Fairmont Avenues and Overlook Road. The Lefurgy Park Trail runs through this parkland, stretching from Fairmont Avenue to the south side of Mount Hope Blvd.

Entrance to the Lefurgy Park Trail on the south side of Mount Hope Boulevard, between Overlook Road and Southgate Avenue

Across the street from this entrance to the Lefurgy Park Trail are the remnants of a sidewalk that ran along the north side of Mount Hope Boulevard, providing commuters with a path to the Old Put. Although only small sections of this sidewalk remain between Lefurgy Avenue and Overlook Road, in recent years neighboring homeowners have cleared vegetation from the remaining and mostly intact sidewalk from Overlook Road to Cliff Street.

Sidewalk along the north side of Mount Hope Boulevard, between Overlook Road and Cliff Street

Descending the other side of the Hudson Heights neighborhood is a staircase linking Jefferson to Hamilton Avenues, offering a secluded if a steep alternative to Mount Hope Boulevard. Newspaper articles dating back to 1940 refer to this as the Mount Hope Staircase. Fred Hubbard called them the Jefferson Steps in his publication. Neighbors often refer to them as the Hundred Steps.

The Hundred Steps, between Jefferson and Hamilton Avenues

Staircase from Hamilton Avenue to Prescott Place
At the bottom of these steps and across Hamilton Avenue is a smaller staircase that provides access to Prescott Place and, ultimately, Rosedale Avenue.

Further north on Rosedale Avenue, on the east side of the street, is the bottom of another staircase. These well-used steps stretch from Rosedale Avenue to Wilson Place.

Interestingly, a path that still exists in the Hudson Heights neighborhood, linking Lincoln and Lefurgy Avenues, appears to have been one of a couple of parallel paths that existed on adjacent streets: from Lefurgy to Cochrane Avenues and from Cochrane to Jefferson Avenues. The trails on these streets are no longer in existence, but it seems they may have once formed a continuous path from at least Lincoln Avenue to the top of the Hundred Steps.

The Farragut Trail connects Rosedale Avenue to Farragut Avenue and could be a further extension of the path from the Hudson Heights neighborhood to the Village. A few houses south of the Rosedale Avenue and Prescott Place intersection, on the west side of Rosedale, this path runs between neighboring properties to Farragut Avenue, ending a few houses down and across the street from the dirt road entrance to the Burke Estate.

Riverview Manor 
High up in the Riverview Manor neighborhood are the Summit Steps, which offer views of the Hudson River. This staircase leads from Summit Drive to the intersection of Calumet Avenue, Buena Vista Drive, and Pleasant Avenue.

The Summit Steps, leading to Pleasant Avenue

On the other side of town, a set of steps and path connect Pinecrest Parkway to the Aqueduct, near where it intersects Pinecrest Drive, providing residents with an essential link to the Village.

Steps and path from Pinecrest Parkway to the Aqueduct

At the bottom of Pinecrest Drive and across Warburton Avenue is another staircase—steep and made of metal—leading to the waterfront and Rowley’s Bridge Trail.

Staircase from Warburton Avenue to Rowley's Bridge Trail
In the Village
Unlike many of the steps found in the other neighborhoods, the staircase leading from West Main Street and the Steinschneider Parking Lot to Southside Avenue and the train station—one of the most well-used shortcuts—was constructed around the middle of the last century by the Village.

Stairs from West Main Street to Southside Avenue
Ownership and Upkeep
In 1940, the state of disrepair of the Mount Hope Boulevard Staircase, as described in a Herald Statesmen article published on October 31 of that year, led the Village to barricade the steps, which incited outrage among residents. According to the article, an investigation revealed that Hudson P. Rose deeded the staircase to the Village around the time it was built, in 1910. The steps were ultimately reopened, but it's not clear if they were repaired at that time.

Ownership and maintenance of other paths and staircases, such as the Summit Steps and the Wilson Place staircase to Rosedale Avenue, can be equally unclear. Some of these cross through private, state, or Town of Greenburgh land. In addition, Hastings homeowners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks bordering their property. It seems that the Village and neighboring homeowners have, at various times during the past century, maintained certain paths and staircases. Others, however, have simply been left alone.

Occasionally, nature has reclaimed—or neighboring property owners have purchased—some of this land. The Hastings Trailways Committee and the Adopt-a-Trail program in the early to mid-2000s organized efforts among residents to clean and maintain some of the remaining public passages. Currently, the Village’s Recreation Department maintains the paths identified on the Hastings Trailways map.

In general, the staircases tend to be in worse condition these days than the trails, which are at least minimally maintained as long as people use them. Many of the staircases have broken or missing steps and are washed out or overgrown in places. Despite their condition, however, these staircases and footpaths are still used regularly—by commuters and students, walkers and joggers. More than 100 years later, they continue to be vital pathways for anyone navigating the hills and neighborhoods of Hastings.

click on map to enlarge

Map was adapted from the Hastings Department of Parks and Recreation’s Trailways Map, design by Adam Hart, by Lindsey Taylor June 2016

Photos by Corinne McSpedon
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesser-known trivia and tidbits about Hastings' famed painter Jasper Francis Cropsey

Artist and Architect

The popularity of the Hudson River School came during a time of tension between nature and industry. While Hudson River School painters found their inspiration from the unaltered and natural beauty of the land and the river, life along the Hudson was changing. The Hudson River Valley was a focal point of the industrial revolution, from the invention of the steamboat to railroad construction.
Cropsey was the unique Hudson River School student who found ways to both preserve and embrace the nature through his art and to contribute to the rise of industrial development.

As a child, the noted artist and Hastings resident Jasper Cropsey was “something of a prodigy.”
with “both an artistic and a mechanical bent,” writes William Nathaniel Banks, in Ever Rest, Jasper Francis Cropsey’s house in Hastings-on-Hudson New York.

At the age of 13, Cropsey won a diploma from the Mechanics Institute for a model house he had designed.

While Cropsey’s tranquil canvases of Hastings-on-Hudson in the mid to late 1800s are well-known, lesser known is the fact he also designed the stations of 14 elevated railway stations built in Manhattan, as well as a blueprint for the Seventh Regiment Armory, also in Manhattan.
Cropsey's sizable collection of architectural drawings have been displayed at the Newington Cropsey Foundation.

An Interior of the Newington-Cropsey Foundation's Art Center.
Photograph, winter 1990.

Views on “The View at Hastings”

In 1987, a custodian discovered an original Cropsey painting in a furnace room of the Hastings High School.  “The View at Hastings on Hudson,” in which Cropsey painted what he saw from his Washington Avenue studio to the river in subtle greens and reds, was estimated to be valued at $1 million.  (See this Society blog post).

The painting’s donor, a man named Sherman Thursby, wished for the painting to go to “the village,” as he had indicated on the back of the canvas. Village residents debated the implications of this inscription.

The Hastings School Board believed that as “View” was found on school property, and because at the time of the gift the school district effectively pulled the community together, that Cropsey’s work should remain in the hands of school officials. The Board added that the sale of the painting would be an asset for the school system's fiscal crisis at that time. 

"View at Hastings on Hudson," Jasper F. Cropsey ca. 1891

Representatives from both the Historical Society and the Hudson River Museum agreed on the importance of the public display of the painting and jointly brought a lawsuit against the Hastings School District in order to prevent the sale of “View at Hastings.” Meanwhile, the lengthy debate over the nearly 100-year old artwork received notable media coverage.

The Newington-Cropsey organization itself took no official position, while the Foundation’s administrator and trustee Adelia C. Rasines told a New York Times interviewer “It’s too bad that the legitimate ownership cannot be established.” New York Supreme Court justice John DiBlasi ruled that the painting remained school property, but that it be publicly displayed. The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers was chosen as the best nearby public location for its safety and visibility, and there it has remained ever since.

Beatrice and Barbara

Jasper Cropsey's granddaughter Isabel Wack and her husband William Steinschneider, who became the mayor of Hastings, lived in the Cropsey residence on Washington Avenue during the 1920s and 30s. Determined to preserve her grandfather's legacy, Wack held parties and social gatherings and instilled in her daughters Barbara and Beatrice an appreciation for art.

In the early 1960s, Cropsey made the silver screen. While giving a tour of the White House, Jackie Kennedy pointed out a Cropsey original to the TV audience. Beatrice and Barbara both saw the program and were inspired by the longevity of their great-grandfather and his work. This, said Barbara, was "when the slow reawakening of interest in Cropsey began."

Thanks to Cropsey's great-granddaughters, the Newington Cropsey Foundation was established in 1978. The goal of the Foundation, said Barbara in a New York Times article, was to preserve the "moral and artistic values" of her great-grandfather.

Photo of a reception for a Cropsey exhibition the Hastings Municipal Building, February 1979.
From left to right: Mayor Julius Chemka, Village Manager Jim Mulcare, Barbara Newington,
and Beatrice Ellsworth

The Role of the Foundation

Adelia Rasines, executive director of the Newington Cropsey Foundation, describes the Foundation as a "little pocket, [a] little bonfire." Indeed the establishment of the Foundation came out of the personal passion of Barbara and Beatrice, adamant about their aims to preserve the art and artistic values that ran in their family's history.

In the decades since its inception the cultural center has had often tenuous relations with the Village of Hastings on Hudson. An article in the January, 2000 issue of the Enterprise describes how "some [Hastings] residents assumed the Foundation would function like other museums."

The article goes on to mention that the directors of the Foundation wanted to build a security fence on the eastern side of the Warburton Avenue Bridge after receiving complaints of trash being thrown over the bridge. The Hastings Planning Board refused to grant this request, citing the importance of maintaining visibility of the Foundation's property from the Bridge.

Warburton overlookers can still sneak birds-eye views of the Foundation's expansive property, with its gardens and fountains and stunning architecture. And the Foundation holds community events from from art exhibits and concerts to high school reunions and garden parties. The Foundation itself, however, remains privately funded, and tours are granted by appointment only.

In spring of 1979, the artistic legacy of Jasper Cropsey and the cultural past and present of Hastings-on-Hudson intertwined seamlessly for an event called "Jasper Cropsey, A Hastings on Hudson Centennial Celebration." An informational brochure for the event discussed "the link between the artistic and public domains in Hastings," stating that Barbara and Beatrice "have been in a unique position" reconciling the two.

Photograph of the building on the Newington-Cropsey foundation property.
Photograph, June 1994.

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