The man who built this house, with the benefit of slave labor, laid much of the foundation for the village we occupy. Since his death in 1842, John Green’s house has had many owners and tenants. Because of the neglect of its current absentee landlord, the building might soon crumble into dust.
John Edward Green was born in 1772. After a fire consumed his lumber business in Coeymans, NY, he arrived in Nyack to start from scratch. His first job was as a laborer for the Cornelison family. Soon, he returned to the timber trade, opening his second lumberyard around 1810.
Green built the house that now slumps behind chain-linked fencing and barbwire at the bottom of Main Street in 1819. It still exhibits the distinct traditional Dutch Colonial design with roughly coursed stone walls (now covered in stucco) and a high gambrel roof. The sandstone used for the walls was quarried a few miles North. Some of the original stones are visible through a gaping hole on the Northwest corner of the house.
The Nyack of 1820 was an isolated outpost only accessible by dirt roads or the Hudson. Working with a member of the family that purchased the Tappan patent in 1687, Tunis Smith, Green championed two major transportation and infrastructure projects that literally put Nyack on the map.
Certainly self-interest figured in Green’s construction of Nyack’s first dock, where Hudson River sloops could deliver lumber for his yard. However, guided by a depth map of the shoreline drafted by Smith, Green inspired a transportation revolution when he helped form the Nyack Steam Boat Association. (A photographic copy Tunis’ 1825 drawing, possibly the earliest map of Nyack, can be seen at Hannemann’s Funeral Home.) Steamboats eventually replaced the sloop as the primary mode for passenger and freight transportation until the railroad came to Nyack in 1873.
Nyack was now connected to the world through nature’s mighty highway, the Hudson. But once goods got to our shore, overland transportation was unreliable and arduous. The West Nyack Swamp, which still stymies the efforts of modern engineers, stopped any Western progress. Inland travelers in the early 19th century could only turn North or South on Greenbush Road, which was then known as King’s Highway. There was no way to connect the iron foundry and machine shops of Ramapo to the Hudson River.
Once again the tag team of Smith and Green were called upon to apply their talents. Smith surveyed the route and in 1830 Green joined a state commission to oversee construction of the Nyack Turnpike, a road that roughly followed the course of what is now Route 59.
In addition to these important public works, Green was an early trustee of the Nyack Library and a founding member of the Methodist Church, helping erect the Old Stone Meeting House on North Broadway. Green died on April 10, 1842 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.
In 2010, Nyack resident John Gromada created a Facebook page dedicated to rallying support to save the Green House. ‘€œSaving the building is not an exercise in celebrating the life of one man, but knowing where we came from,” says Gromada. As the threat of demolition has grown greater in recent weeks, so has social media activity surrounding the fate of the house.
When you visit the Facebook page, you will find more than the story of a decrepit building, but a place where generations of families have raised children. People have been posting family photos from 23 Main Street. In one photo three children cuddle under a Christmas tree; in another, a woman is seen standing next to an exterior wall, showing her nephew where she grew up. You can see the sandstone over her shoulder, peeking through the decaying stucco.
As long as this house stands, we can touch this sandstone and have contact with materials that may have been handled by our anonymous slave ancestors. These stones, quarried from our soil, fueled an economy that was made possible by the bounty of our river, transforming a bunch of homesteads into a community that has survived centuries.
This stone house holds together the many complex threads of a history that makes Nyack unique. As the oldest building in Nyack, it is a vessel for our collective memory. Sandstone may be obsolete as a building material, but for the role it has played in the development of our village, it is a precious stone. If the story of how our village came to be truly matters to us, we will find a way to save our Green House.
Special Thanks to Win Perry and John Gromada for their help researching this story.
Artist Bill Batson, an activist and former NYC resident, draws sketches and writes essays curbside in Nyack, NY. ‘€œNyack Sketch Log: Our Green House’€ © 2012, Bill Batson.