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Nyack Underground: 155 Years of Broadway Cast-Iron

by John Patrick Schutz

Over the past several months North Broadway in Nyack has been torn up as part of an Orange & Rockland Utilities project to replace old low pressure cast-iron gas mains with modern high-pressure pipes.

How old are those cast-iron gas mains? According to O&R, gas service in Nyack for three street lamps and 41 homes and businesses began in 1852.

According to an August 27, 1859 article in the Rockland County Journal, the first six-inch gas mains in the village ran up Main Street starting near the Hudson to what is now Franklin Street. Slightly smaller mains were buried beneath the current Midland Avenue and six-inch mains were used on Piermont Avenue to the Nyack Female Institute (at Mansfield Avenue in South Nyack) and up Broadway to the Baptist Church at Fifth Avenue. Additional auxiliary lines of two and three-inch diameter extended into smaller cross streets like New Street, High Avenue and 1st through 5th Avenues.

Pipes were extended free of charge to residents and merchants from the street mains to the curb. When a new customer decided they wanted gas service, they paid to have gas pipes installed in their home or business.

My own corner of Fourth Avenue and Broadway was part of that original roll-out of cast-iron gas mains – which makes these pipes 155 years old. The gas mains under North Broadway were buried BEFORE Abraham Lincoln was elected president. There are more recent lines running parallel to the original cast-iron mains, but according to the contractors working on the project, these more recent vintage pipes are the mains that are being replaced. The new high-pressure high-tech lines will be backed up by the original and still reliable old cast-iron pipes.

photo by J.P. SchutzBy the time original gas mains were completed in October 1859, Nyack had 21 street lamps. Only three of those gas lamps were owned by the village: most of the street lamps were privately owned by businesses or residents.

In 1860, the gas for local customers was derived from coal heated in a “retort house” until gas was released, leaving behind coke and ash. According to a June 16, 1860 article detailing a tour of the gas works in the Rockland County Journal, gas was released into a “hydraolic main” [sic] which directed it into a condenser. Tar and ammonia were removed in the condenser by utilizing the suspension properties of the water in the cooling tanks. When the gas reached the “purifying house,” the remaining impurities were removed by passing the gas through lime purifiers. It was then piped into a 12 x 36 foot cylinder that stored all the gas Nyack required for a 24 hour period in 1860.

Farmers, Gas Lamps And Taxes: Why There are Three Nyack River Villages

In 1872 Nyack business leaders attempted to incorporate today’s Nyack, Upper Nyack, South Nyack and Central Nyack into a single community. But Upper Nyack objected to paying tax for gas service that only covered the downtown area. Although South Nyack was originally part of an incorporated Nyack, they pressed for dissolution and independent incorporation. The Village of Nyack incorporated after its adjacent villages in 1883.

See also: Upper Nyack’s Post Office Nyack’s ‘Break-up’.”

The Nyack Gas Works was owned by Messrs. Haughwout & Company and managed by Isaac W. Canfield managed when the project was completed in 1859. The construction of the gas works and laying of the mains were supervised by the Treadwell Company, considered the national leader in such gas infrastructure at this early time. By 1872 many more local customers had been added, but mismanagement of the company had it on the verge of bankruptcy when the Hon. William Voorhis came to the rescue and purchased the Nyack Gas Works, becoming its’ president.

The Nyack Gas Works was re-incorporated as the “Nyack Gas and Light Fuel Company” under the auspices of Mr. Voorhis. A local rival appeared in 1899, when Upper Nyack resident S.R. Bradley invented the “Orangeburg Pipe,” named after the location of the factory in which he produced the product. Orangeburg Pipe became an industry staple well into the 20th century, 100 years ahead of its being a fully recycled product.

Bradley’s holdings in Orangeburg and Blauvelt needed power – both gas and electric – and so he formed the “Rockland Light and Power Company” in 1899. Mr. Bradley would go on to purchase the Nyack Gas and Light Fuel Company in 1905 and merge it into Rockland Light and Power.

Bradley’s contributions to the community are remembered in the names of the Bradley Industrial Park and Bradley Parkway, the road that runs over Clausland Mountain from Blauvelt to Nyack. Bradley’s daughter, Augusta Chapman Bradley, was a lifelong Upper Nyack resident and international tennis star with a 30 year professional career winning 60 major tournaments. She also helped found the National Tennis Association.

The “Orange Utility Company,” founded in 1905, was acquired by Rockland Light and Power in 1924 to create the “Orange and Rockland Electric Company.” Rockland Light and Power re-incorporated in 1926 and pioneered the delivery of clean natural gas in 1935. In 1958, Rockland Light and Power received permission from the Federal Public Service Commission to consolidate its subsidiary Orange and Rockland Electric. The fully merged company was renamed “Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc.” It would be purchased in 1999 by Consolidated Edison of New York City for $790 million dollars. Analysts at Lehman Brothers claimed this deal substantially and possibly illegally undervalued the Orange and Rockland company.

Nyack was one of the earliest communities in the country to get gas. Despite some bumps along the way and the temporary state of North Broadway and the streets to its east and west, it is still serving the community that nurtured its birth.

John Patrick Schutz is the Nyack Village Historian and a realtor for Rand Realty in Nyack, NY. You can read his blog posts at AtHomeInNyack.

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Photo Credit: JP Schutz

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