A truck containing hazardous chemicals overturned on 9W around 1975, polluting a natural spring in Grand View that was the source of an 80-year-old bottled spring water business. Cascadian Spring, as it was once known, was never as large a business as it might have been, given the great quality of its water. Started during the Gilded Age when bottled waters flourished in America, the spring added to the idea that Nyack was an excellent summer health and wellness destination for wealthy city dwellers escaping urban diseases. Nelson Puff, a Nyack hat maker, who owned and lived at the north Onderdonk quarry at #35 River Road in Grand View, started bottling the water that flowed out of the quarried sandstone cliffs.
The company, Cascadian Springs Water Company, enjoyed a long history, cycling through many different owners, company names, and bottled products from its small factory with a fountain in front. Adding to the saga of locally bottled water is the story that early movie magnate and director, D.W. Griffith, may have owned and/or lived at the plant while writing America’s most racist movie ever, Birth of a Nation. While moviemaking is long gone from Grand View and the early glass water bottles etched with the image of a gowned woman are distant memories, the old hat factory and bottling plant still stands as a private residence at 35 River Road.
Bottled Water in the 19th Century
Therapeutic natural waters have been valued since the times of the Romans. Many sulfurous spring waters as in Bath, England or in Saratoga Springs, NY drew people for bathing and sampling the waters. Bottled water soon became a big business. By the latter half of the 19th century, Saratoga Springs was selling 7 million bottles of “healthful” water a year. Poland Springs was founded in Maine in 1844 when a landowner on his deathbed discovered the therapeutic properties of his water. The springs became a spa and then sold bottled water. In Europe, Evian, Vittel, and Perrier started at the same time. Pure water is always important, but it was especially true in the age of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid. The natural carbonation of spring water was usually boosted artificially, the first patent for “imitation” spring water was issued in America in 1809.
The Springs at the Onderdonk Quarry
Around 1785, Garrett Onderdonk opened quarries along River Road in Grand View. Sandstone cliffs facing the harder rock face of the Palisades provided easily accessible mining. As a market emerged for sandstone in New York City, some 31 sandstone quarries went into operation in Grand View and Nyack in the early 19th century. Most of the quarries had their own dock so stone could be easily loaded and transported. The Nyack sandstone quarries are no longer visible, but the quarry sandstone faces are readily seen on the western side of River Road, including the north Onderdonk quarry at the spring site. Sandstone quarrying disappeared locally around 1830 as better and cheaper sandstone became available in New Jersey.
Sandstone (and mudstone) are porous. Water channels and reservoirs formed from the run-off from the hard rock of the Palisades create natural springs. During the Revolutionary War, British landing parties sought provisions of fresh water at the north Onderdonk quarry. When a well was dug for an Upper Nyack estate in the late 19th century in similar sandstone, a tapped spring gushed water up some 30 feet. At Cascadian Spring, water flowed from high up on the quarry face forming a waterfall. Today a cement housing sits where the waterfall emerged from the cliff.
Nelson Puff, Nyack Hatter
By 1889, Nelson and his son Nelson II started a soda water business at the location of the hat factory. After Nelson died in 1899, his son continued the business selling bottled Cascadian Spring water that known for its excellence and purity. Puff sold bottled water on site. Also he distributed locally, and shipped to New York City. Horses and wagon carried bottled water to the Burd St. dock in Nyack, loaded it onto the steam freighter Raleigh, and sent it to New York City.
The D. W. Griffith Connection
D. W. Griffith was one of the most famous directors of the silent film era. Oh, What a Grand View, a written history of Grand View, quotes historian Fred Mathias as saying Griffith was the owner of the factory. Griffith did shoot many movie scenes in Grand View and Piermont. Barbara Puff, a Nyack writer, remembers seeing the initials D. W. G. on the mantle of 35 River Road. She was told Griffith rented the building when he was writing the extremely racist 1914 film, Birth of a Nation. Renter or owner, Griffith and his 7-passenger touring car were in some way connected to the springs. The Puff family no longer owned the water works they had started.
Rocklyn Mineral Water
From 1918-20, the water was known as Rocklyn Mineral Water bottled by the Rocklyn Mineral Water Company. They also distributed Brooklyn ginger ale and Hires root beer by the case.
Cascadian Products Company
In 1920, the management of Rocklyn Mineral Water, Co, Inc. recognized the growing demand for pure food products and the opportunities for expansion of the water and soda water business. Cascadian Products Company took over the business. The bottling plant expanded to include a food distribution business. A. D. Bott, chemist and manager of the Rocklyn Company, ran the water department. Their new “pure food” line of coffee, teas, spices, jams, and Russian salad dressing were marketed along with “famous” Rocklyn Club ginger ale, sarsaparilla, cream soda, orange soda, and water.
Grand View Bottling Company
By 1924, the Cascadian Products Corporation had declared bankruptcy. Grand View Bottling Company took over the business until 1960. The plant and product mix expanded beyond its own brand by also making Orange Crush and Clicquot Club brands of flavored sodas. Clicquot Club was one of the soda giants at the turn of the century. Their national advertising featured the character, “Kleek-O the Eskimo Boy”. “Kleek-O” appears in Grand View Bottling ads. Clicquot Club bottled ginger ale and touted their Jamaican ginger and Cuban pure refined sugar. In addition to ginger ale, Grand View also made raspberry, black cherry, and orange flavors along with sparkling water.
Over they years, ownership changed hands several times. Bott, a Nyack resident, is listed as an owner as is Chris Vasilow in the 1940s. Vasilow and his brother, also a Greek immigrant, ran the popular Eagle Confectionary Store on Main Street in Nyack. Vasilow died of a sudden heart attack in 1947.
Cascadian Spring Bottle
Each bootle of Cascadian Spring water came with an etching of a woman dancing in front of the columned front of the bottling factory. The story goes that Carl Augustus Heber, an American sculptor known for his public monuments, was hired to create a statue to stand in the waterfall cascading down the cliff. He completed the sculpture but there was a dispute about payment. Heber took the sculpture back to his studio and smashed it. Someone had photographed the statue and that was used as a basis for the bottle etching.
The Puff family continued to live next door to the water works. Nelson Puff II died in 1927. His son, Nelson Puff III was an irascible presence. Apparently, the Puffs never built their own driveway. They used a ten-foot strip of the water company’s property to access River Road. As the company expanded on land behind the Puffs, they built a wooden fence. A gate in the fence allowed the Puffs access. In 1928, Puff apparently trimmed trees on property claimed by the company and in retaliation the company nailed the gate shut. An enraged Puff attacked the fence with an axe. The police were called. Eventually, the Puffs sued, claiming they owned the 10-foot strip of property by adverse possession. The case was decided in the company’s favor in 1932.
Much later, when the village of Grand View created Hader Park along the old railroad line around 1970, they sought to use Puff Lane for public access to the trail from River Road. When villagers showed up to discuss the matter, Nelson Puff III greeted them with a gun and said, “anybody who steps across this line gets shot.” That was the end of the idea of public access to the park from River Road.
The Raso Corporation, a beer distribution company in Nyack, purchased the company in 1960 and renamed it Spring Valley Bottling Company. Advertised locally as a place “where soda is made from spring water” the company invited consumers to “feel the difference, taste the difference, It’s the water that counts.” The plant was run by a staff of 2.
The Canady Spring Water Company purchased the company in 1968 bringing back fresh, non-carbonated water. They shipped seven, 2,500-gallon truck tanks of water to NYC every week for use in office water coolers.
The End of an Era
Sadly, a chemical spill around 1975 on 9W above the spring polluted the water so badly that the spring closed forever. The plant became a private residence, and it has been a private residence ever since. Until a recent gut renovation, the spa-style factory front with columns and a tile roof has been preserved and artfully painted over the years. The fountain in front of the building is still present as reminder to a time when, given the right set of circumstances, the Nyack/Grand View area could have become a health spa rivaling Saratoga Springs.
Oh, What a Grand View, 3e, Terry Talley, 1989.
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.