I met Rockland County’s newest author when she was 85 at a book talk I gave at Valley Cottage Library. “I’m writing a book and you’re going to help me self-publish,” she informed me. “Sure,” I replied, thinking I would never hear from her again. Two years later, I answered a call from an unknown number and heard the party say, “I’m done writing. Let’s get this published. You promised.” That determined voice was a force of nature named June Sundvik.
My bluff had been called I never expected June to call back. The way forward required acknowledging a tragedy. June sought my guidance because I had self-published Nyack Sketch Log Volume I. However, without the wisdom and dry wit of Jim Hershberger, my tome would have never made the book store shelf. Jim was a retired executive who made it his second life’s mission to provide tech support to historical societies and non profits and tail-gate every Giants home game. Jim vetted printers, compared notes with other self-published authors and helped me organize my sketches, essays and thoughts. The only way that I was able to help June was by reverse engineering what Jim did for me. Jim passed away on November 11, 2016. His loss is profound, but so is the continued resonance of his generosity.
With the help of fellow Swedish immigrants, Svahn built a garage, a flat-roofed four-bedroom house, dug a pond, created a cause way and an island in the pond, and expanded the original flat-roofed house to three-stories with a cathedral ceiling living room, among other structures, for his family. The man-made and augmented natural features were so impressive that Charles and Ann Lindbergh were seen admiring the property from the road.
Life on Old Mill Road
by June Sundvik
Book talk, signing and sales
Meet June at the Valley Cottage Library, 110 NY-303 on Wednesday, November 15, at 2p.
June will describe her research process, read some passages, take questions and sign and sell her book.
Her book is on sale for $15 at Pickwick Book Shop, 8 South Broadway in Nyack, at the Valley Cottage Library and at my Bill Batson Arts booth on Thursdays at the Nyack Farmers’ Market.
June has witnessed the steady migration of families through the many homes that her father built along Old Mill Road. Like a builder, she has constructed her narrative on a strong foundation of primary source research.
This story started many years ago when I was taking home an old neighbor friend, Catherine Daniels, who had been helping me clean house,” June said. “She asked me if I was interested in some old books and artifacts from the old Fisher farm, which also had been torn down in 1933. She began writing in earnest when she was given a wooden chest full of old deeds and title search from her sister, Stina. Because I lived on Old Mill Road almost all my life, and remembered many of the families I decided to tell the story about their lives and the history of the homes they lived in. Although I included a few homes on the West Nyack part of the road, I concentrated on those that were in Valley Cottage, beginning where the Kill Von Beaste* flows into the Hackensack River, north to Kings Highway.
The little house where Susan and Lester lived had only two rooms with an attached summer kitchen. It was full circle for Susan because it was similar to the one she lived in as a child in Glen Cove. It had no electricity, no running water, and was heated by a large iron wood stove that had become popular after open-hearth cooking became outdated. For furniture, there was an oak gate leg table, straight back chairs and a large floor to ceiling wooden breakfront with glass doors and drawers below for storage. A daybed was used for sleeping or seating in the main room. The bedroom had a large feather bed draped in white quilts and pillows. There was a hand-crafted blanket chest made of pine by local artisans.
As much as one might find a strong influence of the father in June’s life, Old Mill Road it self became her mentor. A litany of creatives seems to gravitated to the spot that the Lindberghs found so alluring.
During the last 50 years these extraordinary artists live on Old Mill Road:
Clement Heaton was born in England to a family of glass makers, and decorators and had connections with William Morris. He works were sold in London, Paris,Vienna and Berlin. He bought mill house he was able to build the framework for his stained glass windows, and there he was able to make important windows for St John’s Cathedral in New York.
His son Maurice continued the art of glass making and develops a method of enameling on glass. With a group of fellow artists he founded the Rockland Center for the Arts, and even had a studio named for him. He was honored by the Smithsonian by having a piece of his work in their glass collection.
A renowned stained glass maker, moved from France to the US in 1951. Pinart transformed darker stained glass images by creating new glass scenes that allowed light to enter the churches. His works can be seen in the National Cathedral in Washington.
George was an artist who studied in Paris and Florence. He was fascinated with the mountains in Norway and spent many summers there, painting them. He was the son of the famous Rube Goldberg, and while living on Old Mill Road had a large celebration for his father’s 80th birthday in the field across the stream from the house
Sickles shared a studio with Milton Caniff who was working for the Columbus Dispatch. Both men moved to New York City and worked for the Associated Press, where they worked together for two years, often drawing each other’s comic strips. He had an impressionist style of inking and proved to be adept at using a shading called zipatone. When LIFE published Hemmingway’s Old Man of the Sea, Sickles was the illustrator. Some say he was the best illustrator ever.
George was an actor on Broadway and Hollywood. He was a good friend of Vincent Price, and at one time they had an art gallery together. George was well known for his part as Rita Hayworth’s husband in Gilda.
There are too many stories that surround us and not enough story tellers. From my experience sketch logging in the effort to preserve and animate local history, I met June and more recently 16 other Rocklanders who are telling their tales full of the pathos and profundity at the
Not as skilled as I am in “getting out of the way,” I’ll let June have the last word:
“Every road and every house has a story, which is ongoing, and what I have written is only a small window into the lives of the neighbors that lived on Old Mill Road starting with the early settlers of the 1850s and through the changes that were made and homes that were added for the next 100 years to the time that the reservoir was built. Much of this information came from old records, and the fact that I knew many of the families, as we were a neighborhood, often depending on each other.
I consider myself lucky to have been part of these creative people, who helped me develop interests far beyond everyday life.’