by Mike Hays
“Fore!” yelled a golfer as the shot faded right off course, bouncing on the tennis court, onto Broadway Avenue, and landing near the Old Stone Church. The Nyack Country Club was a social and recreational center for Nyack from 1890 to WWI (1914 – 1918). Host to a number of golf, tennis, billiard, and card tournaments, along with dances and dramas, the country club was a noted presence on N. Broadway. Little remembered, the site where the clubhouse once stood is now the site of Upper Nyack Elementary School. The cheers of the horse and carriage set at competitive tennis matches have been replaced by children’s laughter at recess.
The club was formed in 1890 when it acquired rights to the home and property of the Hugh Maxwell estate, approximately 90 acres that ran from the riverfront to Rte. 9W. Maxwell acquired the property in 1838 and soon after built a three-story brick home called Braeburn near Broadway. Van Wyck Rossiter purchased the land from the Maxwell heirs in 1902. The Country Club was leasing the land. Rossiter went on to build a house on the flat land near Midland that still stands and is clubhouse for the Nyack Field Club. Baseball and football fields were built along Midland Avenue.
The clubhouse was inaugurated in June, 1891. The club colors of gold and white were reflected in the renovation of the Maxwell home. The interior was typically Victorian, with wood floors and antique oak furniture highlighted by palm trees. The first-floor reception walls were hung with over 30 engravings by Charles Frederick William Mielatz, a well-known New York artist of the time. The artist may have been recommended by a noteworthy Nyack artist, Julian O. Davidson, who surely knew Melitz as a member of the New York Etching Society.
The house was magnificent. The robin’s egg blue-colored music room was next to the reception room, and it contained an antique oak piano. A kitchen and terra cotta-decorated dining room completed the first floor. The second floor had pool and billiard rooms, four card rooms, and a women’s dressing room. The third floor had four dressing rooms for men. The house was lit by electricity with golden-hued globes, electricity being a new phenomenon in Upper Nyack.
The club had four grass tennis courts south of the clubhouse ready for its opening. The golf course, behind the clubhouse, was initially six holes, but later expanded to nine.
The opening lasted all day with a party at night. Gentlemen wore full evening garb and women wore elegant dresses. The supper was furnished and served by women of the club. Music was provided by Prof. Rosenkranz of New York City. Arthur Merritt was president of the club at the time.
The club was so successful that a 35 x 50-foot casino was added to the north end to provide more space for dancing, theatrical performances, and other entertainment.
Tennis at the Country Club
The United States Lawn Tennis Association had only recently been formed in 1881; it was a new sport. The Nyack Country Club was listed on the regular circuit of the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association. Many greats of the era played in Nyack, including Bill Tilden. One of the famous women tennis stars of the early 20th century, the Norwegian Molla Bjursted Mallory, played regularly at the club; she won the U.S. championship six times. She is remembered as a women’s rights supporter who hung out at the club drinking and smoking cigarettes. A former president of the Lawn Association said, “She walked around in a manner that said ‘You’d better look out or she’d deck you.’ She was an indomitable scrambler and runner. She was a fighter.”
The Chapman family of Upper Nyack became a main force in women’s tennis at the club at the turn of the century. Marion Chapman and her mother Mrs. George Chapman won many of the tournaments. After the demise of the club, Mrs. Chapman donated the land across from their home on N. Broadway, which remains as the Upper Nyack Tennis club today.
The tennis tournament in drag
In October, 1891, a “tennis extraordinary” tournament was held at the club. Six gentlemen played a tournament in drag. J. DuPratt White, a famous local lawyer, was dressed as a Grecian girl; William Mars was a Turkish maid; Clarence Boyd represented Carmencita, a Spanish vaudeville star of the 1890s; and Alfred Mars was also dressed as a Spanish beauty. A number of spectators attended the tournament that was won by Carmencita and the Spanish beauty 6-5. The tournament judges were three young women. An autumnal ball was held that evening in formal dress. The “extraordinary” tennis players didn’t count as ladies on this occasion.
In August 1892, a Complimentary Cotillion was held in the new club casino sponsored by the women of the club, including Mrs. Clarence Lexow, wife of soon-to-be state senator and reformer Clarence Lexow. Carriage after carriage arrived between 9p and 10p. Fairy lamps adorned the paths leading to the entrance and the verandas were hung with Japanese lanterns. Inside, potted ferns adorned the fireplace, and the ceiling was trimmed with goldenrod.
Dancing began at 10p, and among the dancing couples listed in the Rockland County Journal article were a number of unmarried women. Admirers of the dancers sat on the veranda and the east side of the casino. Music floated out the open windows and doors. Party favors included silver coffee spoons for the women engraved with N.C.C. and the gentlemen received hatbands with individual names of each.
Dinner was prepared by Favier, the club chef, and served at midnight. Rich salads and creams were laid out for 80. Delightful promenades followed supper, and dancing continued until light’s out at 2:20a.
In 1902, the club took up the difficult issue of whether to provide liquor and wine at a café. The Board of Governors voted 7-4 in favor of alcohol. Four men of prominence within the church were the dissenters, and when the measure passed they promptly resigned their position.
In 1904, the club took up the issue to protect Hook Mountain from further defacement by the Manhattan Trap Rock Works in Upper Nyack. At a meeting, it was decided to form the Palisades and Stony Point Driveway Organization with members from Westchester. At the time, there was talk of building a roadway from Nyack along the shore to Stony Point.
End of the club
WWI changed so many things. The Nyack Country Club merged with the Nyack Arts Group in 1917 to form the Nyack Club. They purchased the old Tappan Zee House and grounds for the new club. Tennis continued there for some time, but golf was forever gone in Nyack.
Rossiter retained control of the property, except for the section east of Broadway that was acquired by club member and famous lawyer, Justin DuPratt White. The old Nyack Country Club property was acquired by Pierre Bernard, the Omnipotent OM and founder of the Clarkstown Country Club in South Nyack. The clubhouse was renamed The Brick House by Bernard. Photos show the casino turned into a gymnasium with 60 foot tumbling mats. After Bernard sold the property, the now desolate property became famous as a lovers’ lane.
When the Upper Nyack elementary school on School Street burned, a decision was made to relocate the school to the site of the Nyack Country Clubhouse. The clubhouse was demolished in 1958, eliminating all traces of the Nyack Country Club but for the remaining Upper Nyack Tennis Club.
The gracious era of the Nyack Country Club; the horse and carriage days, teas on the lawn, tennis tournaments, and the gatherings of the elite to dance and play cards in the evening was lost forever. The era of automobiles and the advent of WWI ripped the old social fabric. Nyack was no longer an isolated village, but a community in a fast globalizing world.
- Nyack People & Places: The Night Nyack Lit Up
- Nyack Sketch Log: the Nyack Field Club
- Nyack Sketch Log: Yoga Reborn Here
- 100 Years ago this month: Nyack’s National Tennis Tournament
Photos courtesy of the Nyack Libary
Michael Hays is a 30-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays 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. Hays 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.