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Nyack Sketch Log: B.W. Church- Boat Builder

NSL_BWChurch_Featuredby Bill Batson

Byron Wood Church came to Nyack in November 1901 with his wife Eliza and daughters Dorothy and Mildred to manage The Church Motor and Launch Company.  Church manufactured motors and boats to meet the growing market for power boats in the early 20th century.  In Fall of 2013, Church’s great- granddaughter, Carole Zak returned to visit one of the houses in Nyack where he lived and met the current occupant, T. Robins Brown.  An architectural historian and boat enthusiast, Brown worked closely with Zak and her siblings to mount an exhibit about Church which is currently on display at the Historical Society of the Nyacks.

BW Church Portrait“I came to Nyack with a picture of grandfather Church’s house,” said Zak. “I found the house, got out, and saw Robin and her husband in front. They were very friendly and invited us inside. I told her our great-grandfather and lived there.  She did not know that he was a boat builder, we found out she was an architectural historian.  We started a correspondence. She ate up everything we sent.”

The chance meeting that became a voracious meal of material for an eager historian is now available for public consumption. The exhibition, on display through July 26, introduces visitors to the Nyack’s boat-building history during the early decades of the 20th century as revealed in the life and career of B. W. Church. “While the first firm lasted less than a year, it brought Church to Nyack and begins the story of this man, his career, and his life in our Hudson River community” according to curator Brown.

NaeraPanels in the exhibit explore Church’s role in the recreational boat-building industry of the first decades of the 20th century. “The gasoline engine, as in the automobile and airplane industries, had an amazing impact on the boat-building industry,” Brown writes. “The public was enthralled by the new fast transportation. There were many new power boat manufacturers and rapid innovation. It was a time of expansion and of risk. In 1898, gasoline-powered boats were 28% of the boats built in the United States. By 1903, they represented 52% of the boats built. Increasingly, the boats were pleasure crafts. The wealthy built luxurious, progressively faster yachts. Church business cardSmaller, less-costly stock, or one-design boats, allowed recreational power boating to grow rapidly to become a sport of the middle class as well as the wealthy. By the 1920s, the power-boating industry was contracting and, like in the automobile industry, large manufacturers in the Midwest dominated the construction of stock designs.”

Hudson Yacht and Boat CO 1909

Hudson Yacht and Boat CO 1909

Through her research, Brown found that Church was associated with a number of locations in the Nyacks. “Three boatyards once associated with him include land now partially occupied by Clermont Condominiums, Rivercrest cooperative apartments, and West Shore Towers. The ambitious Hudson Yacht & Boat Company built impressive yachts at spacious facilities in Upper Nyack that
tool display boardtoday is the home of the Petersen Boatyard. Part of the location of the B. W. Church boatyard between circa 1902-09 is now the location of the Hook Mountain Yacht Club. Church was a member and officer of the Nyack Boat Club, located adjacent to the site of one of his yards.” Church lived in three different houses in Nyack, including the home where Brown lives with her husband, former Nyack Mayor Keiran Quinn.

One of the center-pieces of the exhibit is a display of tools that belonged to Church. This week’s sketch is of a 7/8” wood dado plane.

“The tool board was hanging in our grandfather’s house. He inherited Byron’s tools and recreated a workshop in his basement.  That’s what we remember when growing- up. Carole ZakWe were told that the tools came from our great grandfather who was the boatbuilder.  The display was made by aunt Nancy who is Byron’s granddaughter.  She was trying to replicate the look of the tools in the basement. We remember that Byron had made a custom holder for each tools. She was trying to recapture that.”

Carole Zak and her siblings, Ellen Zak Danforth, and Bradford T. Zak- came from Colorado, Michigan, and Zambia to visit Nyack the week of July 6 to view the exhibit of their great grandfather’s career. “The presence of tools, other items, and family papers and photographs loaned by Church’s descendants help make Church, his wife, and daughters people we know and link us to our own heritage in their story,” said Brown. “How Church’s family care for their heritage is a special story in itself.”

B. W. Church – Boat Builder:
An Exhibit in Nyack through July 26

The exhibit includes a rare 1902 boat catalog, a half hull model, and tools drawn from the collection of Church’s descendants are among the fascinating items and images in the exhibit.  Photographs and graphics illustrate the variety of his creations:  98’-long luxury yachts, functional launches, and diminutive stock cruisers.  Charming photographs of the Church family, a handmade toy boat and toy hutch, and items related to Nyack Boat Club and the Knights of Pythias show his life as a family man and club member.

The exhibit is open from 1 to 4p every Saturday through July 26.  It may be seen at other times by appointment.  Call (845) 418-4430.   The Historical Society of Nyack’s museum is accessed under the front porch of the DePew House, 50 Piermont Avenue, Nyack, NY, 10960, adjacent to the Nyack Library parking lot.

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “B.W. Church- Boat Builder” © 2015 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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