Wait a minute. Isn’t River Hook the name of the Hester Haring Cason Preserve, a public preserve owned by the Village of Upper Nyack and supported in part by the Friends of River Hook? Isn’t River Hook the name of the estate and farm built by William Haring in which Hester Haring Cason lived for some 65 years? Why does the name River Hook School appear on an antique postcard? Are the places related?
The post card shows a bucolic shaded three-story brick building with a wrap-around front porch and glassed-in porches in the rear. This doesn’t look anything like the Haring House and estate once known as River Hook. It’s a brick building also on Broadway but at that the comparison ends. The Haring house is a much smaller, two-story, Georgian-revival estate They are not the same. Then what was River Hook School and where was it located?
The story is a unique one for the property numbered 336 N. Broadway. The location morphed from the Nyack Country Club to the River Hook School to the Clarkstown Country Club and to the Upper Nyack Elementary School in the space of 60 years.
River Hook School for Girls
Nyack has a long history of schools for women the Rockland Female Institute opened in 1856 as a private college for women with a goal to be another Bard College. Housed in a large riverside building in South Nyack, the ambitious college lasted only a few years. Other schools, like the Rutherford Institute on upper Sickles Ave. came and went.
Shortly after World War I, Sister Beatrix, a retired Episcopal nun started a college in Nyack called the River Hook School for Girls at the old Nyack Country Club clubhouse. The Club with its tennis courts, 9-hole golf course, and archery range gave up its lease from the Rossiter estate in 1918 moving into the now vacant Rockland Female Institute, a building that itself had gone through several changes since its origin. The large Country Club clubhouse was vacant and large enough for Sister Beatrix’s small and elite college.
We don’t know much about Sister Beatrix. She is mentioned in Robert Love’s book, The Great Om as being one of the people caught in the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation of Bernard’s yoga school in the spring of 1918. Her school is mentioned in A Handbook of Private Schools for Girls and Boys 1919-1920 as a 4-year school costing $1200 per year. Its curriculum focused on home life, cooking, sewing, and handicrafts. According to the Los Angeles Times, in writing about the investigation of Bernard, Sister Beatrix “renounced her vows, embraced the Yogi cult of the Hindus, leased her boarding school for girls, and disappeared.”
From Girls School to Yoga College
As it turns out, River Hook School was to prove pivotal in bringing Pierre Bernard’s famous yoga college to Nyack. Blanche DeVries, Pierre Bernard’s consort and later his wife, who was the first yoga teacher in America, commuted from Manhattan to Nyack to teach deportment at Sister Beatrix’s school. DeVries fell in love with Nyack especially the sprawling estates. Land was cheap and virtually tax free. Nyack was convenient to reach by train, car, or ferry, and was the perfect weekend retreat for wealthy urbanites. It was a perfect location for a country club-academy for yoga, an American ashram, later named the Clarkstown Country Club.
When the school ran into financial troubles, DeVries brought Bernard to see the property and he immediately bought it. For many years the country club clubhouse and the old school were the main building for Bernard’s Clarkstown Country Club before he acquired land in South Nyack. It served as a school for the teaching of yoga and gymnastics. Bernard held on to the property until it was demolished and replaced by the Upper Nyack Elementary School.
River Hook & Upper Nyack’s 150th Anniversary
River Hook, the Hester Haring Cason Preserve is just up the street from the former Nyack Country Club and River Hook School for Girls. River Hook was the name of the estate built around 1934 by John Haring and family. Hester Haring who was born in Piermont in 1930, lived in the house until her death in 2013. She married Jim Cason and they raised sheep, poultry, and vegetables on what they called River Hook Farm. The village of Upper Nyack acquired the remaining 12 acres of the farm from Jim Cason in 2018.
Today the preserve is a beautiful space open to the public. The preserve has a poetry walk, sculpture garden, beehives, composting operation, and wildflower restoration. The main house is open during some public events. The attractive carriage house and stable is under renovation.
River Hook will serve as a location for many events scheduled to celebrate Upper Nyack’s 150th anniversary. A web site, Facebook and Instagram pages have been launched to tell of the history of Upper Nyack and to list upcoming events from spring to fall 2022.
The Two River Hooks
We are left to guess why Sister Beatrix named her school River Hook. It seems be an appropriate and obvious name for any location in Upper Nyack, as it combines the two key geographical features of Hook Mountain and the Hudson River. Curiously, the term does not appear in the written literature prior to the school. Why not? Was Sister Beatrix the first to coin the term? We don’t know the answer.
Did the Harings who lived in Piermont copy the name of the old school when they built River Hook? It’s possible but unlikely. However, isn’t it curious that two iconic locations separated by less than a mile and by 15 years in time seem to have spontaneously spawned the name River Hook.
Michael Hays is a 35-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.