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Valentine’s Day Delight: Nyack’s Sweet Legacy

Valentine card from the 1890s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In Nyack’s sweet history, Patisserie Didier Dumas, Temptations, and Tree of Chocolate now stand as the torchbearers for Valentine’s Day treats. However, the village has a long legacy of confectioners. As early as 1870, Nyack had four ice cream parlors clustered around the intersection of Main and Broadway. For a period of the next one hundred years, the village boasted four famous confectioners including one husband and wife team. Let’s unravel the tales of these sweet pioneers who united the village in delight.

New York Ice Cream Depot (1875-1897)

John and Olive Fraser, hailing from Ireland and Wales, ventured to Nyack in 1875, bringing confectionery expertise. John, a skilled confectioner, set up shop in the Commercial Building and later the Onderdonk Block before finding a permanent home in the new Voorhis Building on North Broadway in 1880. The Fraser’s magic touch extended to catering, including a village-wide gala in the Tappan Zee House celebrating the launch of electric lights in Nyack.

The elegant New York Ice Cream Parlor, adorned with pressed-tin ceilings and finely furnished, provided a haven, especially for the ladies. With its expansive space, it could accommodate 86 members of the Nyack Rowing Association for dinner after attending a ball upstairs in Voorhis Hall. The parlor, with its charming ambiance, became a cornerstone for numerous events. 

Voorhis Building at the northeast corner of Broadway and Main circa 1910, some fifteen years after the departure of Fraser’s renowned first ice cream parlor that occupied the second store from the right. The signed reads Heilshorn Soda-Candy-Ice Cream in this photo. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

The parlor on North Broadway became so successful that the Frasers opened a second parlor and luncheonette at 70 South Broadway apparently known as Fraser’s Confectionery. Its soda fountain became especially popular. This parlor also hosted numerous meetings. Olive continued the legacy after John’s passing in 1891, expanding the business and leaving an indelible mark on Nyack.

Robert Schmitt Company – Confectionery & Ice Cream Parlor (1888-1958)

Robert Schmitt’s success story unfolded when he arrived in Nyack at the onset of the Great Blizzard of 1888 with only a few dollars in hand.  From selling hot cocoa and soup in the winter to establishing a three-story brick building at 84 Main Street, Schmitt became synonymous with quality.

The Schmitt legacy went beyond confectionery, with Robert’s active role in local politics and business, leaving a lasting impact on Nyack including advocating for the paving of Main and Broadway. He became one of the founders of the Rockland County Trust Company, an elegant bank built just across the street. 

Photo of Schmitt’s on Main Street in 1914 with a delivery truck parked in front. Two workers stand in front of the entrance to the parlor. A Coca-Cola chest is positioned on the sidewalk. Courtesy of the Nyack Library, Win Perry Jr. Collection.

Schmitt’s Passion For Quality

The parlor, spanning the entire width of the block, boasted a marble-topped soda fountain, considered the most elegant in Rockland County. Mirrors adorned the walls, enhancing the spatial depth. Teenagers congregated at the back tables after movies and shows, creating a hub of social activity. The business also housed a luncheonette, and customers could even order home delivery, especially on Sundays.

Schmitt’s insistence on quality ingredients created a reputation for excellence known even outside the region. The use of heavy cream, fresh milk, eggs, and seasonal fruits ensured a delicious array of ice creams, including peach and black raspberry in July. Other favorite flavors included tutti-frutti, biscuit tortoni, and roman punch.

Postcard from the early 1920s looking west on Main Street from Broadway.. Look carefully and a grey sign for Schmitt’s can be seen on the right mid-ground. On the left is the Rockland County Trust Company bank building.

His son, Robert Jr., and Elmer Blumenhauer continued the tradition until 1958, creating a confectionery landmark that evolved into a series of popular dining spots, the Clock Restaurant, Skylark, and today’s Breakfast and Burger Bar.

Eagle Confectionery & Restaurant (1908-1969)

Interior of the Eagle Confectionery in 1914. The ornate soda fountain has a marble top. The candy counter on the right is loaded with all kinds of sweets. A fancy screen separates a rear parlor/lunchionette from the counters. The ceiling is pressed tin with ceiling fans and only a few lights. Courtesy of the Nyack Library from the Win Perry Jr. collection.

Greek immigrants Tom and Chris Vasilow brought the Eagle Confectionery to life in 1908 at 110 Main Street. Known as Nyack’s “Candy Man,” Tom’s craftsmanship in creating chocolate models became legendary. He labored for a week each spring, displaying a model in his store window before Easter. Some of his models included the George Washington Bridge, Nyack High School, and the Parthenon. In 1965, he sculpted a 2-1/2-foot-tall Lincoln Memorial of white chocolate using 200 pounds of chocolate.  Just before Easter he broke up the model, selling some, and donating the rest to needy children.

Vasilow was a unique village figure. He never owned a car and walked to work each day for over 50 years until a tragic fire engulfed his and neighboring businesses in 1971. A Journal News photo shows a forlorn 95-year-old Vasilow standing near his ruined store. In an act of resilience, he donated an antique lamp from in front of his store to the village and deeded the property to the Greek Orthodox Church, marking the end of an era. Afterwards, he moved to Phoenix and lived to the age of 105.

A disconsolate Tom Vasilow looks on from the sidewalk while firemen douse the huge fire that consumed his confectionery. Photo by the Journal News.

A Sweet Valentine’s Day Miracle

These four confectioners, with their iconic ice cream parlors, luncheonettes, candy counters, and soda fountains, defined Nyack’s enchantment during Valentine’s Day and other celebrations. As we indulge in modern-day delights, their sweet legacy continues to linger, transporting us to a time when custom-made candies reigned supreme on Valentine’s Day.

Mike Hays is a 38-year resident of the Nyacks. He worked for McGraw-Hill Education in New York City for many years. Hays serves as President of the Historical Society of the Nyacks, and Vice-President of the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center. Married to Bernie Richey, he enjoys cycling and winters in Florida. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.

Editor’s note: This article is sponsored by Sun River Health. Sun River Health is a network of 43 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) providing primary, dental, pediatric, OB-GYN, and behavioral health care to over 245,000 patients annually.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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