Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

History

Atlas Acres–The Botanist in Under Elm’s Garage

Barons of Broadway #11

In a stunning twist in 1958, the carriage house at Under Elms, Wilson Foss’s grand estate, became the home of the Flemings, a botanist and entomologist couple. The narrow 1 1/3-acre property at 535 North Broadway included a steep hill leading down to the Hudson River. Named Atlas Acres after a large blue Atlas Cedar growing near Broadway, the Fleming family hosted parties attended by composer John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham. Future owners re-landscaped and tripled the size of the home, now called Steep Hill.

The Foss Garage and the Fleming house in 1959.

Mary Fleming

Born in 1920, Mary Fleming attended Hunter College and Columbia University, studying botany, entomology, and medical mycology. She worked as a hospital historian at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital until 1950. In 1957, she joined the New York Botanical Garden as a specialist in mosses, lichens, and fungi, traveling the world to study plants. Fleming became the director of the American Rhododendron Society and started a local chapter. A family friend named a new rhododendron after her, Mary Fleming, a two-toned flower of yellow and salmon.

Mary Fleming Rhododendron

Henry Fleming

Henry Fleming, born in 1913, was the son of a New York policeman. Initially employed as a banker, he began working for famed naturalist William Beebe, conducting tropical research for the New York Zoological Society (Bronx Zoo). He made numerous visits to South America, collecting insects, snakes, and butterflies.

The Renovation

Black and white view of Atlas Acres landscaping in 2003.

The Flemings hired Grandview architect Wallace Heath to convert the carriage house into a home. Heath transformed the three garage doors into bay windows. The house contained five rooms with one bathroom, a fireplace, and a small kitchen, totaling 1,370 square feet for the Flemings and their three children. A carport was added in 1968.

A view of the estate in 2018 during the fall season. The Hudson River and the Tarrytown Hills can be seen in background. The renovated Foss garage, is seen on the left.

Landscaping

None of the formal landscapes from Charles Leavitt’s design for Under Elms survived. Henry Fleming hauled boulders from the old Cascadian water works in Grand View to terrace the steep hill leading to the river. They added red and white azaleas to the north side of the house. Wild dogtooth violets competed with a mass of color on the hillside from small trees and rhododendrons. A tall clump of bamboo created a private fence near the river. They had a small dock and a boat. Nine cats and a collie mix completed the scene.

River view from Atlas Acres circa 1960

Social Life

Atlas Acres contained a piano at which Henry played “Moonlight Sonata” endlessly. The Flemings often threw cocktail parties featuring scotch, their favorite drink. Composer John Cage and his partner Merce Cunningham frequently visited, making the short drive from Cage’s home in Stony Point. Cage, an avid mycologist, related the story of a mushroom hunt with Henry Fleming in his book,”Indeterminacy,” where Fleming caught a copperhead and brought it home in a paper bag attached to his belt.

New Owners with Big Plans

After Henry died in 1979, Mary continued to live at Atlas Acres until her death in 1991. The three children sold the house in 1999 to the Kramers for $615,000. They added a two-story addition to the old carriage house, expanding it to 4,379 square feet.

View of Atlas Acres from the river front in 2018. No wonder the estate is now called Steep Hill.

Garden Makeover

Along with expanding the house footprint, the owners completed a significant makeover of the steep hillside leading to the river. Jon Feldman of G. biloba Gardens built 12 new terraced gardens. Feldman lined the terraces with bricks from the carriage house floor, arranging them in the same herringbone pattern visible in the River House driveway next door. Wilson Foss had imported the bricks from Italy. Hand-cut stones from the original house lined the walkways. Feldman constructed the terraces using more than 300 tons of bluestone. Low-maintenance shrubs and perennials filled the terraces. The gardens opened to the public in the 2003 biennial Edward Hopper House Garden Walk.


Steep Hill

Today, the property’s narrow frontage on North Broadway belies the hidden, terraced gardens that give rise to its new name, Steep Hill.

View of the entrance to Steep Hill in 2024.. Note that the herringbone brick pattern is the same pattern of the driveway into Under Elms.The gateposts are original to Under Elms dating back to 1910.

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

#7 Unveiling Water Crest

#8 The Legacy of Belle Crest: From Clockmakers to Tennis Champions

#9 Greenland In Upper Nyack

#10 The Wonders of Widewater

#11 The Dynamite Baron – Wilson Foss’ Legacy at Under Elms


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.


Nyack Farmer's Market


You May Also Like

The Villages

This week in the Villages we look at the rumor-filled and then abrupt ending of Starbucks in Nyack and what it means.

The Villages

This week in the Villages, we look delve into all the empty storefronts downtown and look back at St. Patrick's Day festivities through the...

The Villages

This week in the Villages, we take a closer look at Nyack's school board election and more.