by Mike Hays
Southbound Exit 11 from the New York State Thruway and Route 59 Eastbound intersect at Mountainview Avenue, creating a busy, five-point intersection choked with drivers eager to be somewhere else. Few pedestrians dare cross; some struggle to reach a dilapidated bus stop. Sidewalks are non-existent or crumbling. A lone Shell station and the J&L Auto & Tire Center inhabit two of the corners. One abandoned old house, a strip mall and a fast food restaurant are nearby. It all makes for a visually unappealing introduction to Nyack.
This intersection hasn’t always been an unattractive village gateway. It was previously an Indian trail, a bucolic country lane and a 19th century toll road; the intersection was formerly home to a church, and bordered by a sports arena that seated 8,000.
1600s – The Indian Trail
Native Americans used the gap between Snake and Garrabrant Hills as a gateway to cross from the Hudson River to a village near West Nyack. They headed downhill in each direction from what is now Exit 11, to the east along the Nyack Brook and to the west to a North-South trail that became the Kings Highway.
1825-1893 – The Toll Road
Near the intersection, a plaque commemorates the One Mile Mark of the Nyack Turnpike. Route 59 was once a toll road called the Nyack Turnpike. Financed through private enterprise by Nyack entrepreneurs, it facilitated movement of goods from Suffern factories to the docks.
1835 – The Tollhouse
Tolls used to be taken near the intersection. The exact location of the so-called Van Houten Tollhouse, the eastern-most tollhouse on the turnpike, appears in different locations on old maps. Some place it very close to the Exit 11 intersection and some maps place it a little further west. Tolls varied by type of wagon, horses, and livestock.
1870 – The Skating Pond
The western side of the Nyack skating pond was close to the intersection. After the hill crests at the intersection there is a flat section, currently home to the Old World Market, the West Gate Motel and a car wash/gas station. Damming of the upper end of the Nyack Brook in the 1870s filled this space for ice farming (known as the skating pond). Through the 1940s, local skaters glided across the pond. It disappeared during Thruway construction in the 1950s.
1915 – Country Lane Crossing
In 1915, the intersection of what was then West Main Street (the Nyack Turnpike) and Mountainview Avenue was bucolic. The Central Nyack Congregational Church hugged the southeast corner. There was a stationary store where Thruway Exit 11 is now. A still visible driveway led up the hill to an estate in the north.
1933 – Baseball Park
Just above the intersection at Exit 11, to the southwest, the Clarkstown Country Club Sport Center Stadium was built with seats for 8,000. Pierre Bernard, who brought Yoga to the US and owned the Clarkstown Country Club, was a baseball fanatic. In 1933, Bernard obtained the Bush property. He had the hilltop dynamited until it was flat. Orange & Rockland provided four 64-foot light towers. The first semi-pro game, and one of the earliest night games, was held at the skyline stadium on the night of June 22, 1933 for a crowd of 3,500. Jack Sharkey, a heavyweight-boxing champion threw out the first pitch. The Nyack Nighthawks defeated the Brooklyn Winchesters 6-5.
Early 1950s – An Exit-less Nyack
Villagers in the 1950s were originally opposed to having any exit from the Thruway lead into the village. Imagine it! Where would people park? The business-minded soon prevailed; Exit 11 became a reality.
1981 –Brinks Robbery Memorial
On October 20, 1981, members of the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground robbed a Brinks truck in Nanuet killing security guard Peter Paige and wounding Joseph Trombino, who survived but would die later in the 9/11 attacks. At the Thruway entrance, a roadblock resulted in a fierce shootout when gang members jumped out of the back of a U-Haul. Nyack police officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly “Chipper” Brown were killed. The gang was apprehended and brought to trial and sentenced to long prison terms. A memorial, well worth the visit but hard to get to, is located near the Thruway entrance.
Photo Credits: The toll house and 1915 intersection photo are courtesy of the Nyack Library. The photo of Pierre Bernard and the Nyack Baseball team is courtesy of the Historical Society of Nyack. The photo of the toll marker is from the John Scott Collection, courtesy of the Rockland Historical Society. Photo of the intersection in 2018 by Mike Hays
Michael Hays is a 30-year resident of the Nyacks. He grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has recently retired from a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. He is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.