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The Magnificent Saga of Larchdell

Barons of Broadway Series

Welcome to the first 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.

Circa 1880 panorama of Upper Nyack taken from Hook Mountain. Larchdell is in the foreground. North Broadway runs parallel to the river. Only a few houses populate the area. From 1880 to 1925 the entire riverside will be populated with summer estates.Photo by Nyack photographer Isaac Van Wagner, courtesy of the Nyack Library.

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, Undercliff, and Widewater.

Among these estates, Larchdell stood prominently at the tip of Broadway’s north end, beneath the towering Hook Mountain.

The Original Farmland & Its Native American Legend

Upper Nyack’s seven farm in 1776. Map drawn by Win Perry.

Upper Nyack’s farmland, inherited from Cornelius Kuyper’s original farm, extended from the river to the ridge-top above 9W. Seven farms populated Upper Nyack at the time of the Revolutionary War. The northernmost tract, passed down through Revolutionary War Major John Smith to the Voorhis families, held a special aura, nestled at the base of the Palisades.

Legend spoke of the spirit of the last Native American inhabitant, said to appear during the full moon near the autumnal equinox. This folklore, later immortalized in Maxwell Anderson’s Pulitzer-winning play “High Tor,” added mystique to the land.

Larchdell: Alexander Pollock’s Legacy

Larchdell’s tale began with Alexander Pollock, who purchased the property in 1880 after renting from Jacob Voorhis. He expanded Voorhis’ house into a grand summer residence, naming it Larchdell after the larch trees adorning the end of North Broadway. Pollock, alongside neighbor Arthur Tucker, laid the foundation for Larchdell Avenue (now Larchdale Avenue), connecting Broadway and Midland.

Larch trees line the end of North Broadway. Hook Mountain is in the background. A carriage, perhaps Pollock’s coupe rockaway, appears at the entrance driveway of Larchdell. Courtesy the Nyack Library.

The estate house boasted six acres of lush lawns, gravel pathways, and ornate gardens. A circular driveway, flanked by granite pillars, greeted visitors. The fifteen-room, five bath mansion featured modern amenities, including conservatories, observation balconies, a billiard room, and gas lighting. Stone steps led to riverfront facilities, complete with yachts and bathing houses. Near the entrance, Pollock located an imposing stone stable. Farm buildings, gardener’s cottage, cow barns, chicken houses, piggery, squab houses, corn cribs, ice house, and private lake occupied land across Broadway from the house.

Photo of Larchdell around 1924. One of the conservatories can be seen on thefront (North Broadway-side).

The 79-acre Larchdell farm flourished with orchards and gardens, supplied by a mountain-fed spring. Pollock’s influence extended beyond his estate, as he spearheaded the construction of Larchdell Road and thwarted plans to extend the railroad through Upper Nyack to Haverstraw.

Colonel Alexander Pollock: A Man of Many Feats

A winter view of Larchdell. The estate house is on the very right of the photograph. The building in the center is the stable and carriage house. Larch trees line the very end of North Broadway. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Pollock, a Civil War veteran, played a pivotal role in naval warfare. Pollock served on the staff of John Ericsson, and helped build the first Union iron-clad boat, the Monitor. Drawing on his shipbuilding skills, Ericsson established an extremely successful railroad and steamship supply business in New York City. During the summer he would commute to New York City via train, riding to the Nyack station in a coupe rockaway carriage made locally by the Christie brothers. His summer soirees, hosted at Larchdell, were legendary, attracting socialites and sporting enthusiasts alike.

A photo of a restored rockaway coupe carriage, one of the finest small carriages of its day. Passengers are protected from the elements. The driver has an eave overhead.

Pollock & The Nyack Rowing Association

Pollock became the second president of the Nyack Rowing Association, one of the social and sporting centers of Gilded Age Nyack from 1882 to 1900. Housed in a handsome Victorian building on the Spear Street dock, the club included Julian Davidson, a local painter, Commodore William Voorhis, and Clarence Lexow, State Senator, among its members.

Nyack Rowing Association building at the end of Spear Street circa 1885. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Pollock, known for his estate soirees, once invited forty rowing club members to an evening party. A local comic and impersonator along with a male choir performed. Dinner began at 11:30pm. Guests dined on boned turkey, pickled oysters, salads and fruits. In the center of the long dinner table, an elegant cake shaped like a rowing barge with six oarsman and a coxswain caught everyone’s eye and tastebuds. Not to be outdone by her husband, Mrs. Pollock wore a diamond necklace and an ecru silk dress with lace.

Larchdell dock and boathouse with Hook Mountain in the background. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

High Society Intrigues

Amidst the grandeur, family dramas unfolded, including the clandestine marriage of Pollock’s son Edward to a household servant. After three years and two children, Edward’s father discovered the secret marriage and insisted on a divorce, soon obtained. Edward Pollock remarried a relative of his father’s Civil War commander, mirroring the intrigues of high society.

James Paul McQuaide: Cable Tycoon and Socialite

Circa 1930 photograph of Larchdell. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

In 1895, Larchdell passed into the hands of James P. McQuaide, a magnate in the utility cable and subway and subway industry. His company, the National Conduit and Cable Company built a huge factory in Hastings-on-Hudson. Like Pollock, McQuade was a sportsman and gentleman farmer. He won prizes at county fairs for his horses and estate-grown Bartlett pears. The McQuade’s put $200,000 (roughly $7.3M in today’s currency) into renovating the Dutch Colonial estate house and its lawns. Shade and ornamental trees, rare shrubbery, plants, and flowers surrounded the house.

Rarely involved in politics, in 1899, McQuaide and his neighbor to the south, Arthur Tucker, brought suit against the nearby Manhattan Trap Rock Company for disturbing the peace. While they won the lawsuit, they lost on appeal. Dynamite blasts continued unabated until 1908 when Nyack Beach became a state.

Photograph of the remains of the quarry after it was acquired by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The building in the foreground was the power house that later became today’s bathhouse. Visitors stand on the pier used to load barges with trap rock. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Family Intrigue

McQuaide upended his staid family life when he met Gertrude Reynolds, a New York City showgirl. Divorcing his first wife, the new couple moved to a former estate of Alexander Pope in England. Soon after, McQuaide died, and Gertrude married into English nobility. In 1919, Sarah, his first wife unsuccessfully sued for control of the estate.

Marydell: A Legacy of Service and Renewal

In 1923, John Whalen, a millionaire lawyer, former corporation counselor for the city of New York, and ex-President of the New York Giants, purchased the estate from Dr. George Helmer who held the property briefly after the McQuaides. Whalen donated the estate to the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine. As it turned out, Whalen died before the mortgage could be resolved. The sisters eventually paid off the mortgage themselves.

Photo of entrance to Marydell Camp circa 1930. The views is from unpaved North Midland Avenue where it ends at Larchdale Avenue.. The cabins appear much the same today. Notice the young campers standing at the gate. Courtesy of the Nyack Library

Renamed Marydell, the estate house became the convent house. Birds once again filled the old conservatories. For over fifty years, Marydell Camp, became a haven for underserved urban children, offering respite amidst nature’s beauty during the summer months.

In 1962, the sisters sold their riverside convent house. Three modern residences replaced the old, aging Larchdell residence. Near the current Broadway turnaround circle and entrance to Nyack Beach a forsythia-lined path led to the Marydell Cemetery. The cemetery was removed around the time the riverfront property was sold. 

After closing the live-in summer camps in 1988, Marydell reformulated as the ten-acre Marydell Faith and Life Center. The new center offers educational and ecological programs for children and adults including gardening and swimming programs. In keeping with their vision of green spaces, the sisters sold 30+ acres just west of Broadway to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission to preserve the land from development.

Comparison of a newspaper photograph of the entrance to Larchdell in 1888 with a photo of the entrance today. The granite entrance pillars with their lamps have survived through the years.

Larchdell’s Legacy

Today, Larchdell’s legacy endures through its transformation into the forever-green Marydell Faith and Life Center, private residences, and natural preserves, a testament to the enduring spirit of its former owners and the community they shaped. From the lavish parties of Colonel Alexander Pollock to the scandalous intrigues of James Paul McQuaide, each chapter of Larchdell’s history adds to its mystique. While the estate house is long gone, the sisters of Marydell have preserved much of Larchdell Farm, reminding us of the indelible mark left by those who once called it home.


An earlier version of this article published on September 30, 2021

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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