Nyack Sketch Log: Our Green House

by Bill Batson

The man who built this house, with labor coerced from slaves, laid the foundation for the village we occupy. Since his death in 1842, John Green’s house has had many owners and tenants. Because of the neglect of its current absentee owner and a disinterested bank, the building might soon crumble into dust.

John Edward Green was born in 1772. After a fire consumed his lumber business in Coeymans, NY, he arrived in Nyack to start from scratch. His first job was as a laborer for the Cornelison family. Soon, he returned to the timber trade, opening his second lumberyard around 1810.

Green built the house that now slumps behind the chain-linked fence and barbwire in 1819. It still exhibits the distinct traditional Dutch Colonial design with roughly coursed stone walls (now covered in stucco) and a high gambrel roof. The sandstone used for the walls was quarried a few miles North. Some of the original stones are visible through a gaping hole on the Northw corner of the house.

The Nyack of 1820 was an isolated outpost accessible by dirt roads or the Hudson. Working with a member of a founding family of the village, Tunis Smith, Green championed two major transportation and infrastructure projects that literally put Nyack on the map.

Certainly self-interest figured in Green’s construction of Nyack’s first dock, where Hudson River sloops could deliver lumber for his yard. However, guided by a depth map of the shoreline drafted by Smith, Green inspired a transportation revolution when he helped found the Nyack Steam Boat Association. (A photographic copy Tunis’ 1825 drawing, possibly the earliest map of Nyack, can be seen at Hanneman’s Funeral Home.) Steamboats eventually replaced the sloop as the primary mode for passenger and freight transportation until the railroad came to Nyack in 1873.

Nyack was now connected to the world through nature’s mighty highway, the Hudson. But once goods got to our shore, overland transportation was unreliable and arduous. The West Nyack Swamp, which still stymies the efforts of modern engineers, stopped any western progress. Inland traveler in the early 19th century could only turn North or South on Greenbush Road, which was then known as King’s Highway. There was no way to connect the iron foundry and machine shops of Ramapo to the Hudson River.

Once again the talented tag team of Smith and Green intervened. Smith surveyed the route and in 1830 Green joined a state commission to oversee construction of the Nyack Turnpike, a road that roughly followed the course of what is now Route 59.

In addition to these important public works, Green was an early trustee of the Nyack Library and a founding member of the Methodist Church, helping erect the Old Stone Meetinghouse on North Broadway. Green died on April 10, 1842 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

For local preservationists, saving the building is not an exercise in celebrating the life of one man, but “knowing where we came from.” Last year, a Facebook page dedicated to rallying support to save the house was created by Nyack resident John Gromada. As the threat of demolition has grown greater in recent weeks, so has social media activity surrounding the fate of the house.

When you visit the Facebook page, you will find that the building is not a decrepit monument, but a place where generations of families have raised children. People have been posting family photos from 23 Main Street. In one photo three children cuddle under a Christmas tree; in another, a woman is seen standing next to an exterior wall, showing her nephew where she grew up. You can see the sandstone over her shoulder, peeking through the decaying stucco.

How can we call ourselves the Gem of the Hudson, if we allow the sandstone that forms the oldest house in Nyack to rot? As the substance of our earliest buildings and our first major industry, sandstone was precious to our transformation from a bunch of homesteads into a community that has survived centuries.

As long as this house stands, we can literally touch materials that were handled by our anonymous slave ancestors. These stones, quarried from our soil, fueled an economy that was made possible by the bounty of our river. This stone house holds together these complex threads of our history. If the story of how our village came to be truly matters to us, we will find a way to save our Green House.

Special Thanks to Winston Perry and John Gromada for their help researching this story.