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The Pavilion on Main Street–Nyack’s First Luxury Hotel

The Pavilion, Nyack’s first luxury hotel, boasted a rich history dating back to its inception in 1849 and subsequent expansion in 1875. Founded by Abram P. Smith, a prominent figure in Nyack’s early entrepreneurial scene, the Pavilion quickly garnered a dedicated following among out-of-town summer guests on its extensive grounds between Main and High Avenue near the end of Catherine Street. Smith, renowned as a riverboat captain and owner of several steamboats, alongside his ventures in the lumber industry on Main Street, ventured into the hospitality realm with the Pavilion. This article delves into the history of the Pavilion and its visionary founder.

The only known photograph of the Pavilion, taken in its later days (the sign on the left is for an auction). Photo is taken near Main Street looking northwest. The hotel has two wings, the ornate three-story south wing with a stairway leading up the porch. The building sports a Gothic Revival verge board at its eave, dormers, and a cupola. A shorter two-story wing is attached to the north side. A steep access road passes left to right in the photo. Located on the highest point of land in the vicinity, its cupola must have been visible from miles around. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The Smith Family Legacy

Abraham Petrus Smith, known as Abram, hailed from a lineage of esteemed Rockland County Smiths of Dutch descent. His father, Petrus Isaac Smith, a native of Tappan and descendant of a Revolutionary War Captain, married Chrystenah Demarest. Her sons later honored her by naming Nyack’s most renowned steamboat, the Chrystenah, in her memory. The Smith family played pivotal roles in shaping early Nyack. Abram and his brothers, D.D., Isaac P., and Tunis emerged as key figures in various Nyack enterprises, including a steamboat company, hotels, and Rockland’s largest dry goods store.

The Chrystenah, built by George Dickey at the shipyard near Main Street, plies the Tappan Zee in this photo. With elegant lines, the speedy Chrystenah hosted passengers on daily runs from Peeksill to New York City with stops along the way. Courtesy of the Nyack LIbary

The Smith Brothers’ Ventures in Steamboats

Abram’s foray into steamboats commenced at a young age. He first served as a fireman and eventually ascended to the position of captain. While not directly involved in Nyack’s inaugural steamboat, the Orange, Abram joined forces with his brothers in subsequent endeavors, notably the Arrow and the Warren, later renamed the Swallow. Despite setbacks such as fires and accidents plaguing their ventures, the Smith brothers persevered, salvaging and repurposing vessels like the Isaac P. Smith from the remnants of earlier misfortunes.

A painting by John Eliot in the Nyack Library depicting Hook Mountain and three types of boats, a dinghy, sloops, and steamboats.Eliot mounted a copy of the painting on a brick wall on Burd Street near Main. The mural is much faded today.

Abram Smith & the Nyack Ferry

In 1853, Abram acquired the Daniel Drew, a modest side-wheeler utilized as the first steamboat ferry between Nyack and Tarrytown. Later he purchased a larger steamboat, J.J. Herrick. to meet escalating passenger demand. The steamboat, later named the Union and then the Bergen, continued to serve as the Nyack ferry until the arrival of the iconic Tappan Zee in 1872. Abram divested his interests in steamboats in 1862, selling the vessels to his siblings.

The Mill on Main

1876 ad for A. P. Smith’s mill leased by Joseph St. Piere at the time.

Concurrently with his Pavilion venture, Abram acquired a mill on the property along Nyack Brook near Main Street, initially established by Tunis Tallman in the 18th century, which underwent a transformation under Smith’s stewardship. Originally a grist mill operated by Tallman and later his son Michael, the mill transitioned into a sawmill powered by steam during Smith’s tenure. Known for its pine, cedar, and kiln-dried kindling, the sawmill remained a visible presence along Main Street before its eventual demolition in 1895, leaving behind a legacy commemorated by the eponymous Mill Street.

Early Nyack Hotels

During its formative years, Nyack emerged as a sought-after destination for summer retreats, catering to a growing influx of visitors seeking respite from urban woes, notably during epidemics such as the 1832 cholera epidemic. The emergence of ornate establishments like the Tappan Zee House, the Prospect House, and the Hotel St. George followed in the footsteps of the Pavilion in attracting New York’s elite as summer guests escaping the city’s summer heat and pollution.

The Elegant Pavilion

Detail from the 1854 map of Nyack shows the extensive hotel grounds to the right of Nyack Brook running alongside Main Street. HIgh Avenue is not yet a through street. The hotel is labeled Cedar Ville House, the only known reference to this name. The mill is the building to the left of the Pavilion. Franklin Street was called “Grove Street” at the time. Courtesy of the Historical Society of the Nyacks.

Under Abram’s guidance, the Pavilion underwent successive expansions and renovations. Nyack historian James Leiner suggested that Theodore Gregory opened an earlier hotel at this location called the Eastern House hotel (so named because its river view was to the east) in 1831. If so, Abram took over what may have been a low, flat structure for about 70 guests. In any event, either Gregory or Abram probably reused stones from the previous owner’s stone house to build the foundation. Even the name Pavilion may have changed over time. An 1854 map names the hotel the Cedar Grove Villa. By 1859, the name Pavilion appears on maps.

A map of the Pavilion in 1890 when it was owned by William Gray. Catherine Street will later be further extended. The mill house on Main is shown just left of the fold. High Avenue now bisects the original Pavilion property, Map courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Abrams biggest renovation occurred in 1875 when a new floor, a roof with dormers, and an iconic cupola elevated the Pavilion to new grandeur. Its expansive porch, offering panoramic views of the Tappan Zee and the nearby tranquil mill pond, became synonymous with leisurely indulgence, complemented by tastefully landscaped cottages.

The Pavilion (in green) as it appears on the 1884 Burleigh map of Nyack. The milll house (in orange) is to its left. Nyack Brook is in blue and the major streets in yellow. Mill Street is so named as a reference to the old mill.

Life at the Pavilion: Entertainment and Opulence

Abram and his wife spared no effort in delighting guests with an array of entertainment, from musical performances to themed masquerade balls epitomizing opulence and charm. Notable figures of the Gilded Age, including prominent bankers and industrialists, graced the Pavilion’s halls. 

It is worth taking a moment to consider the vast wealth and influence of a few of the gentlemen whose families enjoyed the Pavilion during its halcyon days.

  • Morris Ketchum Jesup, a New York City banker and philanthropist who served as President of the American Museum of Natural History and principal patron of Hudson River School painter, Frederic Church.
  • James Constable, owner of the Arnold Constable Company department store chain in New York City with its handsome, mansard-roofed “Ladies Mile District” flagship store at 19th and Broadway.
  • Lucius Tuckerman, a New York iron manufacturer, who moved to DC for his health.
  • William Earl Dodge, Sr., an American businessman, politician, and activist. His company became the Phelps Dodge Corporation, one of the largest mining companies in America. He supported Native American rights and served as a founding member of the YMCA. A statute of Dodge resides in the northeast corner of Bryant Park.

The Decline and Legacy of the Pavilion

Following Abram’s passing in 1886, the Pavilion experienced a gradual decline, eventually succumbing to changing tourism trends and shifting preferences. Despite attempts at revival, the hotel’s allure waned, leading to its eventual repurposing as a retirement home for telegraph operators in 1906. Mazeppa and Highland Hose fire companies used the grounds for carnivals. In 1919, the abandoned Pavilion sat amid a newly plotted subdivision between Main and High Avenue. Demolition soon followed.

This Sanborn Insurance map from 1919 shows the vacant Pavilion surrounded by subdivided plots of land.

With the loss of The Pavilion, along with the equally aesthetically pleasing Tappan Zee House and Prospect House, Nyack’s prominence as a destination during Gilded Age summers has slowly disappeared from the village’s collective memory.

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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