The 150-year Saga of the House You Know As Home to Art Café
by Mike Hays
The Art Café and the red-and-blue painted Italianate-style house at 65 S. Broadway look like they were made for each other. Art Café aficionados flock to its other-century charm, with its contemporary coffee bar, breakfast-through-late-night dinner menu, and its evening entertainment. Spring through fall, the Art Café’s Euro-style Broadway-facing patio, full of bright red umbrellas, attracts all ages. It’s as if Art Café has been in the building forever. Yet Art Café is a 21st century habitant in a 19th century home. And the home was actually moved to its current location from across the street (where the Nyack Post Office is now located).
The Art Café, previously known as the Stevenson House
Nyack Library History Room librarians still call the Art Café the “Stevenson House.” Its first inhabitants were the Stevensons, a well-to-do Nyack family, back when the house was located on the other side of Broadway. Back in those days, a home owner might sell the land but not the house.
The 2 ½-story house was built around 1871 in an asymmetrical Italianate style with a bay window and steep pitched gables. The 1884 Burleigh lithographic map of Nyack clearly shows the layout of the house facing S. Broadway across from where it is now, situated in a large plot of land bounded by S. Broadway, Hudson Avenue, and Liberty Street. To the north, the lovely Court Mansion (still standing) occupied the remaining end of the block. The large Stevenson lawn included a few trees and a semi-circular driveway up to the front door. Summer tea parties were once held on the front lawn. Across Broadway, the Stevensons had a carriage house and stables.
William G. Stevenson was born in 1839, in Ohio, but he would later attend medical school in New York City. Remarkably, he served in both the North and South armies during the Civil War. Stevenson was in Tennessee at the beginning of the war and was pressed into Confederate service where one of his positions was as a railroad engineer. He crossed lines to the North and became a scout. He was wounded while serving with the North, spending the rest of the war out west, then heading to Canada where he became a Great Western Railroad conductor. His Civil War adventures are chronicled in a book, Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army.
After visiting his sister, wife of the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Nyack, Stevenson, reported by the Nyack Evening Journal to be “one of the most prepossessing men in appearance,” fell in love with Nyack and with Elsie, of the wealthy Nyack DePew family. Elsie DePew was a widow when she met Stevenson. At age 21 in 1864, she married a 55-year old Nyack doctor, Frank G. Hasbrouck, who passed away five years later. Soon after his passing, she met Stevenson; they were married by his brother at the DePew home on October 9, 1869. Elsie’s father, Peter DePew, was the wealthiest man in Nyack and owned some 70 acres of prime Nyack real estate. He was an acute businessman. He raised grapevines, roses, mushrooms, and cherry trees in his greenhouses on Piermont Avenue. He was also president of the West Shore Railroad and sold the land for the Nyack station on Depot Street. Later, the family donated land for the Nyack Library and Memorial Park.
The Stevenson family prospered. William Stevenson built up a large medical practice in Nyack and was elected coroner. The house they built on DePew land in 1871 shortly after they were married may have been a wedding present from the family. In the 1875 state census, taken soon after the house was built, the house was valued at $14,000 and was occupied by William and Elsie along with their Irish domestic servant, Minnie Foley. Stevenson was known to spend more time on literary pursuits than on his medical practice as he got older. He died a young man in 1888. Elsie was again a widow. No mention of children is made in his obituary.
The Stevenson House moves across the street
After William’s death, Elsie moved back in with family at the DePew home on Piermont Avenue (still standing). The tenure of the Stevenson family in the house was done after less than 25 years. In 1910, the Stevenson property was sold for $15,000 to the Federal Government as a site for a new post office. It took the government a long time to act; the post office wasn’t built until 1932. The house was moved across the street and turned 180 degrees on the land that had once been the stables. Just to the north, where their carriage house had once been, was the brand-new Nyack Library. The south side of the Stevenson house was empty until 1924 when the synagogue for the Congregations Sons of Israel was built. The synagogue is now the home of the Berea Seven-Day Adventist Church.
The Art Café takes the space of former art and gift shops
The story of the Stevenson house grew dim for much of the 20th century. But the first floor did house gift stores in the 1980s. The Country Charm gift store was one store that occupied the first floor during this time. The Klay Gallery, an art pottery store, occupied the location from the late 1990s to 2010, sometimes using the whole first floor and sometimes only half the first floor. Cat Bamboo, a gift shop, shared the first floor at the turn of the century. In 2004, the Nyack Library acquired the property, along with the old Tunis House on Piermont Avenue, for its expansion. Soon after, the Kramer family started the Art Café on the southern side of the building, with the Klay Gallery in the northern part.
Art Café was an instant success. In 2011, the Kramer family, who own and operate it, expanded the Art Café by purchasing the Klay Gallery lease. Art Café expanded its menu and hours at the same time coinciding with the expansion. And it became easier to utilize the space for regular events, like Art Café’s live music series and monthly artist and photographer shows. Soon, the Kramers expanded into the surprisingly-private front yard café where guests can view the distinctive blue house with red trim, the bay window, and the tall gables. The Kramer family, who also own Bari in another historic location on Main Street, are respectful caretakers of the Stevenson House.
Countless villagers have crossed the front steps of the Stevenson House, including Civil War veterans, gilded age house guests, gift shop browsers, antique hunters, and, now, coffee shop denizens, artists, and hungry foodies. The Art Café nee Stevenson house remains in good hands.
- Nyack People & Places: From Bakery to Bari
- Nyack People & Places: WPA-era Post office Murals
- Nyack Sketch Log: Art Café
Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army Being a Narrative of Personal Adventures in the Infantry, Ordnance, Cavalry, Courier, and Hospital Services; With an … Despotism, and Demoralization of the South, William G. Stevenson, 1862
Photos of Art Cafe by Mike Hays. Two historical photos courtesy of the Nyack Library.
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.