The Story of Larchdell
by Mike Hays
The barons arrived like a flock of hungry migrating birds devouring Upper Nyack’s farmland by building large riverfront estates from the 1880s to the 1920s. Nyack, and especially Upper Nyack, was still mostly farmland, with many properties of 70 acres or so. But Hudson River Valley farming was not as successful as it had been due to better railroad transport from more productive western farms. And at the same time, American industrialization and waves of immigration spawned an era of ultra-wealthy people not unlike that of today. Farmers were ready to sell and the rich, eager to build quiet riverfront properties near the city, were perfect suitors.
Who were these barons? A catalog of Broadway barons and their homes is actually quite long. The barons of Broadway came from many walks of life: real estate magnates, quarry owners, airplane designers, oil company owners, and Wall Street lawyers and investors. Like gated communities of our era, they built Broadway homes, which mostly served as summer homes. Their names were artfully regal: Larchdell, Undercliff, Widewater, Miramere, Belle Crest, Glenholme, and Shadowcliff.
Each estate has a story to tell. What follows is the story of Larchdell, the dramatic farm located at the tip of Broadway’s north end, just beneath towering Hook Mountain.
The Original Farmland & Its Native American Legend
Upper Nyack farms were strips of land running from the river to the ridge-top above 9W. The strips were inherited parts of Kuyper’s original farm. The northernmost was passed down through two families over time, the Smiths and the Voorhis. The land has always had a special aura, being positioned at the base of the Palisades.
One legend of the property is that the spirit of the last American Indian to live in the area appears at the full moon close to the autumnal equinox. It is said that Mother Marianne of the Marydell Institute spoke of the legend and that the legend became a key dramatic moment in Maxwell Anderson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, High Tor.
The story of Larchdell begins with Alexander Pollock. Having rented a farm from Jacob Voorhis next to Hook Mountain, Pollock purchased the property in 1880 and greatly expanded Voorhis’ house, using it as a summer home. The house was so named for the larch trees that grew on both sides of Broadway. The trees and the farm are memorialized now in the street named Larchdale Avenue, built between Broadway and Midland by Pollock and his neighbor, Arthur Tucker.
The house was surrounded by six acres of shaded lawns, gravel walks, flower beds, and roses. The wide, circular driveway entered the estate from Broadway through four granite pillars that still stand today. The house had conservatories, a billiard room, bathrooms, electric bells, and gas, and was decorated with carved and molded plaster ceilings and walls. From the rear piazza facing the river, stone steps and gravel walks led to the boat and bathing houses with a wharf 120 by 13 feet. Pollock owned several steam-powered yachts, one of which he sold to the president of the company building the Panama Canal. The nearby stable and carriage house were of Swiss design. The stables were finished in hard wood with box stalls and chandeliers.
Across from the house, a farm of 50 acres ran from Broadway to what is now 9W between Larchdale Avenue and Hook Mountain. Bartlett pear and peach orchards filled the hillside, along with apples, plums, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, and vegetables. In the center of the farm a spring, fed by mountains, was conducted to the house to furnish a stream of cold, sparkling water. The May 15, 1880 Rockland Country Journal reported that the spring, when tapped, shot a stream of water some 30 feet in the air. Traces of the well and springs may still be found on state land acquired from the Marydell Faith and Life Center.
Broadway was a dead-end street at the Pollock estate. In 1886, Pollock and his neighbor Tucker, a rose grower, built a road that connected Broadway and Midland at their own expense, naming it Larchdell. At the same time, the two men built the road, Pollock and his neighbors put the kibosh on a plan to extend the railroad from downtown Nyack to Upper Nyack.
Colonel Alexander Pollock
Pollock served in the Civil War on the staff of John Ericsson, and helped build the first Union iron-clad boat to fend off the South’s Merrimack. The Union went on to build many types of Monitor-like craft throughout the war, forever changing naval warfare from wooden to steel boats. Drawing on his shipbuilding skills, Ericsson established a large business of railroad and steamship supplies on West Street and Cortland Streets in New York City. During the summer he would commute to New York City via train, riding to the station in a coupe rockaway carriage made locally by the Christie brothers.
Social Life at Larchdell
Stories of social life at Larchdell filled the local newspapers. Pollock was the second president of the Nyack Rowing Association, one of the social centers of Belle Epoch Nyack. The club was housed in a handsome Victorian building on a downtown Nyack dock.
Known for his large parties, Pollock at once invited 18 members of the Piermont Rowing Club for a social that numbered some 40 people at Larchdell. A show was put on by a mimic and impersonator from Piermont who did imitations of Mark Twain and Germans attempting to speak English. A male singing group added to the festivities, along with songs from the Rowing Association.
At 11:30p guests were shown into the dining room . A long table was set up, loaded with boned turkey, pickled oysters, salads, and fruits. In the center of the table, on a confectionery pedestal molded in sugar, was an elegant barge containing six oarsmen and coxswain pulling as in a race. Mrs. Pollock wore an outfit of diamonds with an ecru silk dress tastefully mixed with lace.
Pollock was a sportsman. In the summer of 1888, he was the timer and a judge for a two-mile Hudson River rowing contest featuring two skilled oarsman; the victor was the senior long-distance sculler of the rowing club. At his estate, Pollock hosted a summer gathering of marksmen to break glass balls on the ground with the base of the river as a background. Each person shot at 25 balls, with the winner breaking 18.
Pollock Family Drama
The super-wealthy seem to have their special soap opera dramas, and the Pollock family was no exception. A son, Edward, secretly married a servant in his father’s household and fathered two children. Alexander Pollock, discovering the pairing after three years, broke them up. Edward got a divorce in South Dakota, apparently the Nevada of its day. The divorce was later disputed in court by his wife, and while she lost the case, she was awarded alimony. Edward went on to marry Miss Florence Ericsson, a “typewritter.” Is it possible that his second wife was a relative of John Ericsson, the designer of the Monitor and his father’s former boss?
James Paul McQuaide
In 1895, James P. McQuaide purchased Larchdell. McQuaide made his fortune with the National Conduit and Cable Company, which made cables for utility companies; it later expanded, becoming a one-stop shop for building new subway systems in America, complete with tunnels and the necessary wiring. The factory in Hastings-on-Hudson stayed in business until 1929 when it was sold to Anaconda and then to ARCO in 1975. The ruins of the factory were only torn down around 2010.
McQuaide was a local socialite and enjoyed showing off his horses and Bartlett pears at county fairs. Rarely involved in local politics, he did bring suit with his neighbor, rose grower Arthur Tucker, against the Manhattan Trap Rock Company in 1899. The quarry at what is now Nyack Beach State Park dynamited the Palisades to create construction stone for New York City. The neighbors sued for disturbance of the peace from frequent booming noises.
McQuaide Family Drama
McQuaide must have had a mid-life crisis. He led a staid family life until he met Gertrude Reynolds, a “showgirl” in New York City. He soon divorced his wife in Florida and married Gertrude. They moved to England, to an estate that was once the Alexander Pope estate in Twickenham-on-Thames, then just outside London. The new life might have been too much for McQuaide, as he died shortly after, in 1915.
Six months later, Reynolds went on to marry a nephew of the sixth Earl of Guilford. In 1919, Gertrude Reynolds McQuaide North became headline news in the local paper by suing the first wife claiming that she held a 1913 will as executrix of the estate. The estate was known to have an annuity of $25,000 annually, equivalent to $623,000 in purchasing power in 2019, along with stock valued at $46,000 and other assets. The Nyack Evening Journal claims the first round was won by the second wife against Sarah McQuaide, who was then living in the Pepperday Inn in New Rochelle.
Dr. George Helmer & Rumors of Pierre Bernard
Soon after McQuaide’s divorce, Larchdell is acquired by George J Helmer. Helmer was a New York City osteopath. He died in 1917 at age 51, two years after acquiring Larchdell. He left a wife and six children.
The property was on the market for a long time. In 1921, the Rockland News reported that Dr. Pierre Bernard, Nyack landowner and founder of the Clarkstown Country Club, is the rumored buyer or leaser of the 63-acre estate. Neither arrangement came to fruition, and Bernard went on to buy the Moorings and other estates in Upper Nyack along with his “campus” from the Missionary Alliance on the hills above South Nyack
In 1924, Larchdell was sold to John Whalen, a resident of New York City, for an unknown amount. In turn, Whalen gave Larchdell to the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine, then headquartered on the Lower East Side in New York City. The sales price was $1.00.
Larchdell, renamed Marydell by the sisters, became their convent house, and the Larchdell farm was renamed Save-A-Life farm. The story of Marydell is an important one and a fit conclusion to the barons who previously owned the property. The sisters, with a vow of fighting poverty, supported summer camps for needy immigrant urban children to experience nature and fresh air. Marydell’s cabins carry native American names, a symbolic return to the land’s roots.
The sisters sold the riverfront portion of the property in 1962 to the Raso family. The convent house was removed and three modern houses were built on the estate grounds. The carriage house remains as a residence. The carriage house and the sister’s chapel house has been recently renovated during which the the chapel bell was removed. The four granite gateway pillars built by Pollock still line the property entrance. The Marydell sisters split the remaining part of Larchdell in 2017, ensuring that some 30 acres would remain natural in perpetuity as a part of Nyack Beach and Hook Mountain State Parks.
Historical Photos courtesy of the Nyack Library
Michael Hays is a 35-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.