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Nyack Sketch Log: Introducing River Hook: The Hester Haring Cason Preserve

by Bill Batson

For all of its resplendent beauty, there is one thing that the Village of Upper Nyack lacks: a place for residents to gather. Hook Mountain State Park is certainly an impressive attraction, but one that is shared regionally, and controlled by the State of New York. Now, thanks to the foresight of the village and a group of residents, a 12-acre parcel known as River Hook, the Hester Haring Cason Preserve, is being cultivated as a public amenity.

A recent letter from Friends of River Hook, a group raising funds to support the effort, asked the community to “imagine scenic paths winding through meadows and woods; past natural play areas and outdoor sculptures. Imagine repurposing the buildings into gallery spaces, or places to make, learn or gather.”

An Exciting Upcoming Event

I am honored to be consulting with the board on communications and development, and to be moderating a panel about the project on Monday October 19 at 7p.

The event, co-sponsored by the Historical Society of the Nyacks and the Nyack Library, will feature a short visual poem by filmmaker Pascal Akesson, a lecture by local historian Mike Hays, a presentation from Jonathan Malloy of the architectural design firm Public Record, and greetings from Friends of River Hook Board President Paul Curley.

Friends of River Hook is a not-for-profit organization formed in early 2020 as the result of community meetings hosted by the village over the course of the past 2 years. The volunteer board members have been hard at work—on site and online—imagining the possibilities. They recently launched a website (www.riverhook.org) to showcase a potential long-term design vision for the preserve.

Their mission statement describes River Hook: the Hester Haring Cason Preserve as “a vital, self-sustaining and treasured place for retreat, repose and reinvention where the arts, environment, education and innovation thrive. Where the cultural value and historical significance of Upper Nyack are honored, where forward-facing ideas flourish and where our community unites.”

History

The land that is now River Hook was once 1 of the 6 major farms that Europeans usurped from the Lenape people, the native inhabitants of the region.

Early maps show a massive farm owned by John L. Smith extending from what is now 9W to the west, Hook Mountain to the north, and Hudson River to the east. River Hook board members and volunteers are on constant look-out for the kitchen dump of the Smith family home that can reveal the archeological record of the land.

In 1934, William P. Haring, Jr., a native of Piermont, acquired the 31.4-acre parcel. Haring’s daughter, Hester, inherited the property and eventually married James Cason in 1965 after meeting at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory where they both worked. Together they began raising sheep. The bucolic image of their small herd grazing in the meadow along North Broadway became a beloved sight for generations, and eventually the logo for the preserve that bears their name.

James survived Hester, serving as a Village of Upper Nyack trustee in the 1990s. In 2018, at 95, he sold the estate to the village.

The profile of the Haring estate, standing as if on a pedestal above North Broadway, has been a beacon, drawing volunteers and talented professionals into a collaboration to create a community space.

Public Record’s Support

One of those pilgrims to the project is Jonathan Malloy, a partner at Public Record, a multi-disciplinary design studio working across architecture, urbanism, and the environment. Public Record was engaged to  create the design vision that will be a part of Monday evening’s program.

Jonathan grew up in South Nyack, where his parents still reside, and attended nearby Blue Rock School for his elementary school years. Jonathan and PR’s other designer, Laura Cerpa Marrero, discovered River Hook by chance while biking through the neighborhood and were taken with its dormant beauty. The design vision drafted by Public Record, based on public comments and input from the board, includes open spaces, adaptive reuse, and some evocative site-sensitive construction.

In the serendipitous spirit that has animated the project, the work of PR was funded by the generous support of Ray Wright, who made his donation after a spontaneous visit to the preserve. The filmmaker who will present a short visual poem, Pascal Akesson, was also drawn circuitously to the project.

Register for Waiting List for the River Hook Lecture

As of this writing, our Zoom lecture on October 19, is over subscribed. The event will be recorded and uploaded to riverhook.org; and will include Akesson’s video, Hay’s lecture, and Public Record’s design vision presentation.

Nyack Library has created a waiting list for 10/19 that you can join by clicking here. You will be informed if an encore presentation is scheduled and receive a link to the recording of the program.

If you’d like to be kept informed of general developments at River Hook, including future programs,, please send an email to friendsofriverhook@gmail.com and put mailing list in the subject line.

I hope that you’ll consider learning more about River Hook and that you’ll walk through one day soon. And if after doing so, you wish to support the Preserve, you can reach me at wrbatson@gmail.com, call me at (845) 675-3160, or visit the donate page at riverhook.org.

For more about the history of the Hester Haring Cason Preserve check out these 2 installments of Mike Hay’s Nyack People and Places:

Nyack People & Places: River Hook Farm’s Winding Saga, Nov, 7. 2019 Nyack People & Places: Hooked on River Hook, June 11, 2020

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Introducing River Hook: The Hester Haring Cason Preserve” © 2020 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

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