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Revisiting Underclyffe–A Lost, Gilded Age Mansion

Barons of Broadway Series #2

Welcome to the second installment of our series, ‘Barons of Broadway,’ where we delve into the opulent world of the elite who once ruled the riverfront estates of Upper Nyack. From the 1880s to the 1920s, wealthy barons descended upon Upper Nyack like migrating birds, transforming its farmland into grand riverfront estates. The lure of quiet retreats near the city drew these ultra-wealthy individuals, who eagerly purchased properties from farmers ready to sell.

These barons hailed from diverse backgrounds – real estate tycoons, quarry owners, oil magnates, Wall Street financiers, and even airplane innovators. Their opulent summer homes dotted Broadway, bearing names like Larchdell, Underclyffe, and Widewater. 

Undercliff

Undercliff, or Underclyffe as it was styled in 1885, was an estate house named for its presence near or ‘under’ Hook Mountain, just south of Alexander Pollock’s Larchdell. Built for the young, but wealthy Arthur C. Tucker family at the height of the Gilded Age, Underclyffe stood as one of the most ornate Victorian houses designed for summer entertaining and leisure. Located at 649 N. Broadway, the 22-room home boasted a 65-foot octagonal tower, a kitchen capable of cooking for 200 people, and modern utilities like steam heat and gas lights with electric starters.

Underclyffe was the epitome of Queen Anne Style architecture. Composed of many different elements, the whole makes for a pleasing appearance. This view is from the Broadway side with a semicircular driveway..

The farm, purchased from the Snedeker family, flourished with crops and fruit trees, featuring barns and large greenhouses on Midland Ave. at the corner with Larchdale Ave. Tucker cultivated roses for export to New York City. Underclyffe became the center of a social whirl that lasted for just one generation, making way for a new house at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.

Arthur Currie Tucker (1859-1917)

Arthur C. Tucker, son of George Washington Tucker, a commodities trader with an office on Pearl Street in New York City, found himself drawn to Nyack in his youth, perhaps due to his attraction to his first cousin, once removed, Estelle Chappell (1859-1903), who lived in Nyack. Estelle, raised by her aunt and uncle Susan and Charles Tucker after her parents died, was the daughter of a master stone mason. Arthur and Estelle tied the knot in Nyack on July 8, 1884, in a “flower-bedecked mansion” at the corner of Broadway and Voorhis Ave. A special morning train transported 150 wedding guests from New York City to Nyack. Over 200 potted palms and roses graced a bay window, with calla and Easter lilies and lilies of the valley in profusion. The honeymoon extended to five weeks in the “West”, likely as far as St. Louis.

Photo taken of Arthur Tucker and daughter in a carriage on one of Underclyffe’s driveways. The river and the Tarrytown hills can be seen in the background.

The Tuckers raised six children; five of which survived infancy. Their oldest, Gertrude, was born in 1885, followed by Edith in 1888, Katie in 1890, Arthur Currie Jr. in 1893, and George in 1894. Underclyffe was staffed by 3 to 4 resident servants at a time, indicating the wealth the Tuckers  enjoyed. The upkeep of the farm, the greenhouse, and the stables surely required many more employees who may have lived in a barn on Midland Ave. or in the carriage house.

An Ornate Mansion

A view of Underclyffe from the south east. The large piazza can be seen as well as the terraced landscaping. Hook Mountain in the background is a dominant feature.

Underclyffe, designed by William H. Smith, was constructed and landscaped in less than a year. The house itself was built for $25,000, an amount equivalent to nearly $8 million in today’s currency. Annual wages of most Americans during the Gilded Age ranged from $200 to $400.

On the first floor, a dining room with a view of the river faced east. A billiard room, along with an adjoining private office, graced the south side of the dining room. The parlor boasted a cherry-wood mantel and a French beveled plate mirror. A library filled with hard-cover books completed the first floor.

Underclyffe’s library.

Bedrooms, some finished in mahogany, and the butler’s pantry were situated on the second floor. Servants’ quarters and storage found their place on the top floor. The house was illuminated with gas using electric starters. Water, sourced from artisanal wells on the farmland, provided 16,000 gallons a day. 

A large piazza overlooked a terraced lawn descending to a dock on the Hudson River. A large stable and carriage house, designed similarly to the main house, complemented the estate. A crushed white stone driveway traversed the property, while granite columns on Broadway flanked the entrance to a semi-circular driveway leading through a porte cochere on the southwest corner. An ornate fence adorned Broadway, lined with rows of larch trees turning a brilliant shade of gold in the fall.

The ornate Underclyffe carriage house mimics some of the architectural features of the estate house.

Social Life at Underclyffe

Wintry view of a sleigh at the gates to Underclyffe. The barn is to the right.

The Tuckers were prominent Nyack socialites during their summer stays at Underclyffe. Like many barons of Upper Nyack’s North Broadway, they wintered in the city. They frequented parties as members of the Nyack Country Club, Nyack Rowing Association, and other clubs. They often hosted the Nyack Married Club at Underclyffe, where about twenty couples would gather for an evening of cards, usually euchre, and refreshments.

Tucker & the Nyack Trolley

Interior view of Underclyffe showing a small dining table and a parlor in the back. The use of multiple styles of wallpaper and fabrics is characteristic of the era.

Arthur Tucker, Upper Nyack’s second-longest-serving mayor, held office from 1894 to 1911. His term was largely devoid of major conflicts, save for decisions regarding a proposed trolley line.

Nyack villagers were eager to join the list of towns with electric trolley lines. South Nyack and Nyack had already granted licenses to a trolley line when the matter came before a crowded Upper Nyack village board meeting chaired by Tucker in 1897. NIMBYs argued against it, some suggesting placing the trolley on N. Broadway instead of a north/south route between Broadway and Midland Ave.

After extensive debate, Tucker convened a private executive board meeting. Behind closed doors, the executive committee authorized a grant of a license to the Nyack Traction Company. However, for various reasons, the trolley line never materialized in the Nyacks.

Lightning Fire at Underclyffe & a Lawsuit

1890s map of Upper Nyack showing the full extent of Tucker’s property. Note the greenhouses at the corner of Larchdell and Midland and the extensive driveways on the property.

In July 1895, during Tucker’s first term as Upper Nyack President, lightning struck a barn near Tucker’s greenhouses on Midland Ave. The ensuing fired destroyed the barn along with four tons of hay and oats, a sleigh, and garden implements. Martin Grady, an employee, and his wife, who were downtown when lightning struck, resided in the barn and lost their furniture. A nearby house occupied by Garret Brady and his wife suffered charring, with their furniture damaged by rain.

Though fire trucks arrived after the alarm, Upper Nyack’s Empire Hook & Ladder’s water pumper failed to make it. Fire Chief Haines cited difficulties in pulling the engine up the steep road and deemed the barn unsalvageable.

Tucker lodged charges of incompetency against Haines at a Village Board meeting attended by R. Dickinson Jewett, a neighbor and the town attorney. Tucker argued for utilizing a nearby reservoir on Pollock’s property, but Haines defended his response. The Town Board found Haines in violation of fire company laws but opted not to terminate him.

A driveway along the river leading from a pier to the right uphill to the house. This views shows what became Nyack Beach State Park before quarrying.

The End of Underclyffe

Arthur Tucker resigned as Upper Nyack President due to illness in 1911, passing away in 1917 at his Pelham residence. A new ‘Baron of Broadway’, Colonel Benjamin Adriance purchased Underclyffe but soon passed away. His young second wife, with modern architectural sensibilities, replaced Tucker’s fantastical estate house with a more sober, Neo-Georgian estate. We will explore these developments in the next installment of the Barons of Broadway.

Underclyffe’s Legacy

The demolition of Underclyffe after a mere thirty years of existence strikes as odd. Fortunately, we possess a good photographic record of Undercliff, serving as a reminder of what was lost with its demise. Underclyffe stood as an apt symbol of Gilded Age Nyack, serving as a social center for the new breed of summer estate owners.


An earlier version of this article published on April 14, 2022

Photographs courtesy of the Win Perry Collection at the Nyack Library.


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.


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