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The Winding Saga of River Hook

The Barons of Broadway Series # 6

Welcome to the ongoing “Barons of Broadway” Series. In this episode, we delve into the last of the barons to build a North Broadway estate. William P. Haring erected a new estate house at 626 North Broadway around 1934, which today stands as River Hook: The Hester Haring Cason Preserve, a forever green space owned by the Village of Upper Nyack.

A Short History of River Hook’s Early Owners

River Hook’s story begins with Major John Smith, who owned the most northerly of Upper Nyack’s six farms during the Revolutionary War. As a Major in the local shore patrol, Smith’s riverfront home frequently attracted the attention of British ships bombarding Nyack. Smith’s abode, demolished by British foragers, marked the earliest chapter of River Hook’s saga.

Property map showing Major Smith’s farm at the northern end of Upper Nyack next to Hook Mountain. The left most strip of property just north of Locust Avenue, excluding the segment east of Broadway, became River Hook. Map courtesy of Win Perry Jr.

Theodore Grunenthal, a subsequent owner of a southern strip of the old Smith farm during the Civil War, transformed the land into a thriving farm. Grunenthal cultivated grapevines and fruit trees that adorned the hillsides of his farm, later to be known as River Hook. An early Italianate house on a ledge above North Broadway may have originated with Grunenthal.

Illustration of the extensive holdings of the Dodge Lumber Company before it merged with the even larger Hilton Lumber Company.

Later owners established the property as a summer residence. Judge Edward Owens and Joseph Hilton, a Confederate General and wealthy lumber magnate, savored River Hook’s summer breezes and river views. After Hilton moved to the Moorings estate a short distance away, his business partner Norman Dodge moved in. After Dodge died, George and Augusta Bradley Chapman took over the property until 1934. Augusta was a famous local tennis star.

The house at 626 North Broadway before the new Haring home. In the 1920s it was owned by the Chapman family. The old house appears to be a Carpenter Gothic architectural style from the 19th century, perhaps built by Theodore Grunenthal. The driveway makes the same turns as it does today.

William Post Haring, Jr.

William Post Haring, Jr. hailed from two longstanding families in Rockland County, the Harings and the Onderdonks. Born on September 5, 1896, Haring was raised in the historic 1737 stone Onderdonk house on Piermont Avenue, a residence that had graced his grandmother’s family for generations. Excelling academically, he graduated as the valedictorian of his class from Tappan Zee High School in 1913.

Images of William Haring’s graduating class. Haring is on the right in the photo above right, far right in the lower photo, and third from right in top left photo.

Commencing his career, Haring began working at 55 Wall Street alongside notable financiers Percy Pyne and Henry R. Taylor. Demonstrating his trustworthiness, Haring assumed management of Henry Taylor’s estate following the latter’s demise in 1925, underscoring his stature as an insider in banking circles. As a manager of other people’s money, he survived the crash with enough capital to build a new home.

Haring’s Community Engagement

Beyond his financial pursuits, Haring ventured into the realm of politics. In 1931, he contested the mayoral seat of Piermont, initially under the Democratic banner, although he was a Republican at heart, as noted by the Rockland County Journal. Throughout his life, he remained steadfast in his Republican allegiance, contributing significantly to the Rockland County Republican Committee, assuming roles such as Treasurer and representing the county as a delegate at the New York State Republican convention.

After relocating to Upper Nyack, Haring assumed civic responsibilities, serving as a village trustee and deputy mayor from 1936 to 1950. His commitment to public service extended to philanthropy, notably as a benefactor to Nyack Hospital.

A New Family, a New Home

Haring married Dorothy Folsom in the Onderdonk House in Piermont, and they continued to reside there until 1934 when they acquired property in Upper Nyack then owned by the Chapman family. Named after her grandmother, Hester Clark Haring, their only child, was born in 1931, perhaps catalyzing the decision to construct a new home in Upper Nyack.

At the time, the property comprised an Italianate-style house, a carriage house, and several outbuildings. 

The ornate, one-of-a-kind carriage house/stable at River Hook made of fieldstones dates back to the horse-and-buggy days.

An S-shaped road wound its way from Broadway, around the house and up to Midland Avenue. Opting to build a new home, the Harings commissioned New York architect Julius Gregory to design a new structure. Gregory specialized in Tudor, Medieval, and Colonial style architecture, particularly in custom-designed homes in Riverdale, Bronx and Scarsdale. He conceived a fine example of blended Colonial, Craftsman, and Georgian design for the Harings, featuring prominent chimneys and a multi-layered roofline.

Image of the back side (Broadway-facing) side of the Haring estate house showing the multi-level roof line, slate roof, and large chimneys anchored on each side of the main house. The brick wall in the foreground conceals the garage.

The Estate House

The “front” of River Hook faces the west. A small circular driveway is in front of an unassuming front door. One of River Hook’s sculptures can just be made out in the center of the driveway circle. A second door under the porch roof on the left is between the house and the garage. The open area on the right must have been a screened-in porch at one time.

Surprisingly, the house faces an uphill meadow to the west rather than towards Broadway and the river. A circular driveway fronts a rather unassuming front door. Also surprising is the narrow nature of the approximately 4,000 square foot, two-story brick building. Massive fireplaces flank both ends of a slate roof. On the Broadway side, a three-bay garage lies concealed behind a brick wall along with a patio. A screened-in porch on the south end once offered views of the fieldstone carriage house, a meadow, and in winter, the river.

The first-floor hallway features an elaborate wood stairway. The dining room boasts wallpaper adorned with historic scenes. The parents’ bedrooms overlooked the river, while Hester’s bedroom faced west. Servants’ quarters were situated at the north end of the house. Although the interior of the house has not aged well, the basic structure remains consistent with the original.

The caretaker’s cottage near North Midland features the same brick as the main house. An antique farm haying tool can be seen in at the lower front left of the structure.

The Bars on Hester’s Room

An early memory of Hester, as recounted by her future husband Jim Cason, was that her parents installed bars on her windows. While putting bars over a daughter’s windows may seem medieval, the Harings were not attempting to prevent Hester from escaping; rather, they aimed to keep intruders out. The Lindbergh kidnapping case was at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the time. Charles Lindbergh, a famous American figure, re-entered news headlines with the kidnapping and murder of his child in 1932. Reporters followed the story over the years with numerous false leads until the kidnapper was apprehended around the same time the Harings moved into River Hook. The trial commenced in early 1935, and the perpetrator, Hauptmann, was executed in 1936.

The view from Hester’s bedroom with the horizonatal bars in place. A recent clean-up unovered the bars that fit exactly in place in Hester’s bedroom proving the veracity of the story. Photo courtesy of the Friends of River Hook.
The security alarm system that is still in place shows that the “nursery” was well protected.

The gruesome story would naturally concern any parent, especially those with a small child who had just moved to a relatively remote area far from police protection. In addition to bars, the Harings installed an alarm system in the master bedroom specifically to alert them to any breach of the nursery windows or door. According to Cason, Hester was thrilled at age 16 when the bars were removed, affording her an unobstructed view of River Hook’s animals and hay fields.

Riverhook meadow with Hook Mountain in the background.

The Naming of River Hook

The name River Hook likely predates the Harings, although it first appeared in print in a 1937 newspaper article about a wedding reception held there. The estate house was well-known in the Nyacks. It served as the venue for many community meetings, including those of the Nyack Garden Club and the county fair group, which convened to decide on exhibits to send to the 1939 World’s Fair. One of the items to be displayed was a British cannonball owned by Haring that was unearthed from the yard of the old Onderdonk property in Piermont, where it had been fired by the British in 1777.

The name Riverhook Farm can be seen on the side of one of Cason’s abandoned pick-ups at River Hook just before the Village of Upper Nyack assumed control of the Preserve. The abandoned vehicles are long gone.

Hester Haring & Plate Tectonics

Hester Haring worked as an assistant at Lamont-Doherty after earning an M.A. in arts from Bennington College in 1954. One of her responsibilities was to assist Maria Tharp in plotting depth points from soundings of the Atlantic Ocean floor. Hester meticulously marked recorded soundings with an old-fashioned ink pen. Although it might seem like a mundane task, the results would revolutionize scientific understanding. The final maps clearly delineated the ridges and valleys formed by tectonic plates grinding against each other or moving apart. 

Maria Tharp at her work table at Lamon-Doherty

As a result of this mapping, continental drift, once regarded as a fringe theory, became widely accepted. Hester played a significant role in this ‘earth-shattering’ period, according to local resident Bill Ryan.

Tharp’s map clearly shows the deep rift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where the continents once joined.

A Generational Change at River Hook

Both of Hester’s parents passed away by 1960 and she lived alone at River Hook. The property shrank to 12 acres as the upper two-thirds were sold off in 1960, a process initiated by her mother before her death. The small suburban enclave around Kuyper Ave. today occupies the upper two-thirds of River Hook.

The Cason Era Begins

In 1968, Hester embarked on Lamont-Doherty’s annual spring marine expedition aboard Duke University’s marine research vessel, the Eastward. At the time, James Cason served as the marine supervisor at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C. They met onboard, and by 1971, they married and resided at River Hook.

The Sheep Farm

A few of the Cason sheep crop the meadows

On the remaining 12 acres of River Hook, there was ample space for two people to raise animals and maintain a market garden. They raised chickens, ducks, geese, white turkeys, and Hester’s pony. They established a pet cemetery on the hill, as their animals became cherished pets, and they couldn’t bear to sell or slaughter them. Managing the farm was a significant undertaking for two individuals, supplemented by a part-time caretaker. According to Cason, “River Hook farm was beautifully landscaped, and we would work until 9:30 each night mowing, trimming, planting tomatoes, corn, and other fresh kitchen vegetables, and caring for the land.” The meadows, once potato fields, were converted into hay fields.

Hester feeds a lamb

While tending to their suburban farm, Jim began his collection of cars, including a blue Corvette with wool seat covers. The Harings old Bentley and Rolls Royce became a part of his collection.

In 1979, they serendipitously adopted a black ewe they saw at a wool-spinning demonstration in the Paramus Mall. They later acquired Pudge, their best ram. The herd grew from that point onwards, numbering a total of 35 in 1984. For Jim, managing the sheep was easier than mowing; once the back meadow was cropped, they were released into the Broadway meadow. Passersby on North Broadway would stop and rub their eyes in amazement. For those unfamiliar with the name River Hook, it became known as the sheep farm.

River Hook: The Hester Haring Cason Preserve

Jim Cason on his tractor

As the Casons aged, the farm fell into disrepair. Hester passed away in 2013 at the age of 83, having resided at River Hook for 79 years. In 2018, Jim Cason, then in his 90s, sold the farm to the Village of Upper Nyack. As a condition of the sale, the property was to bear the name of Hester Haring Cason. 

New entrance and driveway at 626 North Broadway

River Hook: The Hester Haring Cason Preserve has seen much activity since the property purchase. Landscape work throughout the property focuses on pollinator-friendly native plantings. In 2024, a pedestrian friendly gravel surface replaced the broken blacktop driveway. The driveway, now called the River Hook Multi-Use Trailway, forms a part of both the Hudson River Greenway and the NY-NJ Trail Conference system. The addition of a small parking lot at the North Midland entrance enhances the Preserve’s accessibility.

Riverhook ice house currently under renovation as a natural playground

Those interested in volunteering or donating should visit

Also in Barons of Broadway series:

#1 The Magnificent Saga Of Larchdell

#2 Revisiting Underclyffe–A Lost, Gilded Age Mansion

#3 The Adriance Era At Underclyffe Manor

#4 The Flying Dutchman Lands at Underclyffe Manor

#5 The Saga of Rivercliff”s Storied Resdents

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.

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.

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