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Unveiling Water Crest

Barons of Broadway #7

Welcome back to the illustrious world of Upper Nyack’s riverfront estates in the seventh installment of ‘Barons of Broadway.’ From the late 19th to early 20th century, affluent individuals transformed the area’s farmlands into opulent retreats. Today, we explore the lost world of Water Crest and the Jewett family at 619 North Broadway.

Aptly named for its location on the crest of a hill overlooking the Hudson River at 619 N. Broadway, Water Crest was built by Major R. Dickinson Jewett, a prominent lawyer and industrialist. Unfortunately, in 1957, an uncontrolled fire destroyed Water Crest, one of the largest Upper Nyack estates.

The Jewett family, with a rich history in Nyack, held significant prominence in the community. Tracing their roots back to the 1630s in America, the Nyack branch of the Jewett family encompassed an amazing array of individuals.

The fieldstone wall at 619 N. Broadway is covered with a patina of early 130 years. Hook Mountain is visible just to the north.

A.D.L Jewett, Patriarch of the Nyack Jewetts

A.D. L. Jewett.

Reverend Augustine David Lawrence Jewett, known as A.D.L., arrived at the Piermont Dutch Reformed Church in 1857. His parents, David Lawrence Jewett and Eliza Lawrence McTier, were esteemed figures in their own right. David Jewett, born to a Connecticut captain, embarked on a naval career at 19, eventually commanding the USS Trumbull in 1800. Notable for his successes in the West Indies, he later served as an admiral in the Brazilian Navy during the Falkland Islands dispute with England. His privateering ventures proved highly lucrative. During one of his rare visits to America, he married Elisa Lawrence McTier, the daughter of a prominent alderman from a distinguished New York City lineage. The combined wealth of the two families was considerable.

Admiral Jewett

During the Civil War, A.D.L. Jewett served in hospitals. Subsequently, he ministered in New Brunswick, NJ, and Throgs Neck, LI, retiring in 1874.

Mont Lawn

The Jewett family returned to Rockland County around 1890, residing at the Prospect House initially. They later acquired substantial property on the border of Valley Cottage and Upper Nyack, which came to be known as Mont Lawn. Renowned for his generosity, A.D.L. Jewett leased his estate and eventually sold it to Louis Klopsch, owner of the Christian Herald newspaper, in 1898. Mont Lawn was transformed into the Christian Herald Children’s Home, a summer day camp for inner-city children. Today, Mont Lawn houses Camp Ramah.

Postcard showing Mont Lawn in its early days. A.D.L. Jewett’s house is in the center. Mont Lawn after it became the Christian Herald Home for Children added many new buildings to the campus over. Photo, circa 1920s, is by a a local photographer, William Bugbee. Courtesy of the Nyack Library..

Sarah & Richard Dickinson Jewett, the Second Nyack Generation

Reverend A.D.L. Jewett and Elizabeth Jewett had two children, Sarah and Richard Dickinson Jewett, representing the 9th generation of Jewetts in America. Richard, also known as Major Dickinson, was born in Piermont. Sarah remained unmarried and became her father’s steadfast companion.

R. Dickinson Jewett obtained a law degree from Columbia in 1880. In 1883, he married Elsie Melinda Schmidt, and the couple had six children. The two eldest, Elizabeth and Augustine David Lawrence (named after his grandfather), were born in Manhattan. A.D.L Dickinson Jr. later became vice president of the Manhattan Trap Rock Company. Elizabeth died a victim of the Spanish flu in 1918.

Gertrude was born in 1890. Elise Bache, George Parbury Pollen, known as Pollen, and Richard William Dickinson (1899-1997) known as Dick, were born after the family relocated to Upper Nyack.

A family photo at Water Cress, one of the estate’s cottages. The boy on the left is H.D.L. Jewett, his sister Elizabeth sits on the pony, sister Gertrude has a hand on the carriage, and baby Elise is in the carriage. The man in the straw hat is a caretaker who lives in the cottage, his son is next to him with a hand on the pony, and the standing woman is a maid. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Major Jewett

R. Dickinson Jewett attained the rank of Major in the New York National Guard, retaining the title even after his service. The family spent winters in Washington, D.C., where they constructed a grand estate near Dupont Circle. R. Dickinson, among the first car owners in Nyack, purchased a six-passenger Cadillac touring car in 1903. Additionally, he possessed talents as an amateur photographer and astronomer, though tragically, a brush fire destroyed the observatory on West Hook Mountain.

Ironically, Jewett founded the Defender Engine Company No. I in Upper Nyack in 1895, following another village fire.

Photo of the Jewett estate in Washington, D.C. In 2020, the Wall Street Journal stated the house, then on the market, the highest priced home in D.C.

Richard William Dickinson Jewett

R.W.D. Jewett, known as Dick, was deeply engaged in his community. He served as an Upper Nyack village trustee and as mayor from 1959-1977. Jewett played active roles in the YMCA, serving several terms as president, and was a founding member and president of the Historical Society of Rockland County. He also held memberships in the Sons of the American Revolution, the Nyack Field Club, and the Society of Mayflower Descendants. Alongside his community contributions, he excelled as a world-class photographer and real estate broker. He married Marion Chapman Drowne, daughter of the Chapman family, prominent estate owners on North Broadway in Upper Nyack. 

Upper Nyack Mayor Dick Jewett presents a plaque to Joe Newman, Superintendent of Streets. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Water Crest

Line drawing of the Brush estate house on the west of North Broadway. Major Dickinson Jewett bought the entire Brush property from the river to 9W. This charming mid-19th-century Italian style house no longer exists.

In 1892, Major R. Dickinson Jewett purchased the 40-acre estate once belonging to Charles A. Brush in Upper Nyack for $20,000. Four years later, in 1896, Jewett oversaw the construction of a new residence, situated opposite the old Brush house along the scenic North Broadway riverside. Collaborating with Nyack’s DeBaun brothers, Jewett assumed the role of architect, imbuing the house with a colonial aesthetic. The first floor boasted wood clapboards, while the second-floor showcased wood shingles. Spanning 62 x 30 feet, the house featured a basement, where Jewett installed a fire-proof office fortified with steel beams, iron shutters, and stone walls. Broad verandas connected two wings facing the river, while cypress and Georgia pine adorned the interiors.

The unique walls created by Major Dickinson on the road leading to the river.

Celebrating the New House

Completed within a swift four months, the construction was commemorated with a lively housewarming celebration, attended by approximately 50 workers who contributed to the project. The festivities included copious servings of ice cream, lemonade, salads, and grand cakes, all accompanied by the melodies of the Chyrstenah Orchestra, a nod to Nyack’s iconic steamboat. The joyous occasion coincided with the birth of Jewett’s son, George Parbury Pollen.

One of the cottages behind the former estate house. Courtesy of Bill Batson.

Three years later, Major Dickinson expanded the residence by adding a 20 x 70-foot extension to the front. This extension featured rustic stone walls adorned with bluestone trim and pointed with black mortar. Furthermore, Jewett extended stone walls along North Broadway and the road leading to the Hudson River, employing fieldstones collected from the property, a pastime of Major Dickinson’s. These enduring stone walls, along with several cottages and a carriage house, remain part of the estate’s legacy today.

Fire Consumes Water Crest

In the early hours of October 24, 1957, Upper Nyack witnessed a devastating inferno that consumed the historic dwelling known as Water Crest. This once-stately house, now divided into apartments, was filled with occupants at the time of the blaze. Fortunately, amidst the chaos, the only casualty was a wild rabbit that had been sheltered by the children of the Pollen Jewett family, yet tragically eluded their search amid the thick smoke.

Photo of the burning house by the Journal News gives a sense of the large size of the estate. Author’s note, I have been unable to find a photo of the house before the fire.

Among the myriad treasures lost in the conflagration were numerous paintings belonging to Mrs. Cory Kilvert, a tenant esteemed for her collection, as well as priceless porcelain pieces and cherished Jewett family portraits.

The fire’s origins were traced to the basement, where conflicting accounts attributed it to either a malfunction in the gas hot water heating system or a fault in the oil furnace. Ironically, a mere week prior, a delivery mishap resulted in 500 gallons of fuel oil spilling onto the basement floor, possibly setting the stage for disaster. 

Mrs. Cory Kilvert, widow of the renowned American painter, B. Cory Kilvert, ,was among the first to detect the encroaching danger, rousing her neighbors to the impending peril. With the assistance of Mrs. Casse, a neighboring tenant, and the timely intervention of the Pollen Jewett family, the alarm was sounded at 2:18 am by Mrs. Jack Garnant, a resident of one of the property’s cottages.

Arrival of the Fire Companies

Miraculously, all occupants managed to evacuate the premises unscathed, including Mr. and Mrs. Pollen Jewett Jr. and their children, as well as Mr. and Mrs. John Knox and their two young ones, who resided in the basement apartment.

Children watch the fire. Photo by the Journal News.

As the fire raged unabated, the arrival of fire companies heralded a frenzied battle against the relentless inferno. Despite their valiant efforts, the flames proved elusive, shrouded in billowing smoke that obscured their location. Brave firefighters from Empire Hook and Ladder, equipped with air packs, valiantly ventured into the fray, only to be repelled by the oppressive fumes.

The onslaught intensified as the fire mercilessly consumed the heart of the structure, devouring the ornate porch and encroaching upon neighboring cottages. Desperate measures were employed, including the deployment of aerial ladders and a concerted effort to bolster water pressure. Assistance was sought from neighboring fire departments, with West Nyack and Congers rallying to augment dwindling resources.

The rooftop of a cottage. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Amidst the chaos, acts of heroism emerged, exemplified by the timely intervention of Hugo Kolb, who delivered much-needed fuel to sustain the exhausted fire trucks as dawn broke on the smoldering ruins. Despite the valiant efforts of all involved, little remained of Water Crest save for two solitary chimneys, a fragment of the basement, and a solitary safe, standing as silent sentinels amidst the charred remnants of a bygone era.

Jewett estate garage stands today near the driveway entrance to the cottages at 615 N. Broadway

Jewett Legacy

The location of the former Water Crest is now occupied by a 4,000 square foot colonial style building with a columned, wide front porch reminiscent of southern architecture. The house on one acre with a large riverside veranda is currently for sale in 2024.   Several of the estate’s cottages remain, along with the original garage. A private road named Jewett Drive, running north from Midland Avenue in what was once part of the Jewett estate recalls the immense influence the Jewett family had in Nyack.

Photo of house at 619 North Broadway today.

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

#6 The Winding Saga of River Hook

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.

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