by Mike Hays
Before the mall, before the NYS Thruway and before there was a West Gate Inn in Central Nyack, there was a bucolic pond at the top of Main Street. Three seasons a year it likely served as the source of the Nyack Brook. When the mercury fell below freezing, it became a community skating pond.
Most early maps show an exit from the pond feeding into Nyack Brook. Was the pond the source of the brook? It’s difficult to say for sure since at least one map shows the source of Nyack Brook at Lydecker Springs just below Highland Avenue. In any event, early settlers undoubtedly redirected or increased flow to the brook to power downstream lumber- and gristmills.
In 1869, Smith Lydecker deepened and cleared the area between cemetery hill and the Nyack Turnpike (Route 59) to form a larger pond. His goal was to be able to farm ice with a side benefit of providing a skating area. Early newspapers mention that it was to be for young skaters of both sexes. Soon the pond became known locally as the Skating Pond (or sometimes the Ice Pond.)
The pond’s exit to Nyack brook was outfitted with floodgates in 1891. Tobias Justrich, a neighbor of the pond, volunteered to lower the gates during storms to prevent downstream flooding. When he died in 1930, no one took over the job. Floods increased as a consequence.
Ice farming was a big business before refrigeration. The icehouse, complete with elevator and storage facilities, was located on the east side of the pond, and run by John Felter until 1921. At some point, houses appeared on the north side of the pond.
Skaters always enjoyed the pond. Old photographs show the frozen pond thronged with skaters. The town seems to have taken it over for back taxes around 1913 and managed the skating, adding floodlights in the 1930s.
Where Was The Skating Pond?
Since the pond went through many changes before it disappeared, it is difficult to visualize exactly where it was. The flat rectangular plateau near the entrance to NYS Thruway Interchange 11, bounded by Route 59 on the south, High Ave to the north, and Highland Avenue on the east, is perfectly situated to collect and hold water runoff from the surrounding hills.
The annotated 1884 map of Nyack shows the pond in blue with the outflow heading downhill to a small reservoir. Main Street, 9W and High Ave are shown in yellow. The large building below the pond is the ice house.
Some speculate that the pond had an exit westward toward the Hackensack River and some early maps do show a brook exiting the pond westward. However, this is unlikely because the ground rises about 80 feet from the West Gate Motel to a point just beyond Mountainview Avenue. Looked at today, it is difficult to imagine a brook being able to work its way through the up slope.
In 1946 the pond was sold. The village administration that had promised not to sell the pond, in its wisdom, did exactly that. Neighbors tried to prevent the sale but as usual were too late and powerless. The pond was drained and became a mosquito-ridden mud hole until 1955 when the Thruway was built. In 1961, the West Gate Motel was built.
The loss of this iconic village park is now memorialized only in old photographs. We can commemorate the loss by going to the Edward Hopper House in Nyack and viewing an early, romanticized painting of the pond by the fifteen-year old Edward Hopper.
See also: Nyack People & Places: Tracing Nyack Brook, 9/20/17
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.