through Mike Hays

Below Elms  is the fourth version of Nyack Folks & Puts’ Barons of Broadway collection, tracing how Higher Nyack farmland used to be transformed to very large estates through the nouveau riche of the Gilded Age. The collection appears to be like on the estates alongside the Hudson River and the individuals who constructed them.

Below Elms circa 1925, Nyack and Neighborhood in Footage. Courtesy The Nyack Library

A number of the richest barons ever to survive N. Broadway in Higher Nyack used to be Wilson P. Foss, a self-made, Gatsby-esque presence who constructed a big riverfront chateau referred to as “Below Elms” in 1908.

Foss used to be an entrepreneur, a dynamite salesman, a producer of nitroglycerin, a quarry proprietor, an American novice billiards champion, a golfer, boxer, yachtsman, and alderman. He served as Mayor of Haverstraw. He had an outstanding artwork assortment. And he survived two deadly explosions, and in addition a stabbing. Maximum attention-grabbing guy on the planet? Possibly.

His 21-room Below Elms mansion, so named for the massive elm timber close to the home, stands nowadays at 531 N. Broadway, a lot because it did when it used to be constructed, a testomony to a person who used to be company in his convictions and would battle to the sour finish if he concept he used to be proper.

Foss used to be aggressive, a pushed guy whether or not he used to be preventing for his industry in court docket, surroundings the novice report for collection of immediately pictures made in billiards, or writing a letter to Theodore Roosevelt.

Some battles he misplaced. Whilst Vice President of the Rockland Believe Corporate, he advocated for making the brand new development on the nook of Major and Broadway six flooring prime (it might be 3). Extra ceaselessly, he received. At age 74, he took on his chauffeur in court docket for harmful his Cunningham limousine in Flushing whilst Foss used to be at his Big apple condo. Foss sued for $2,000, the chauffeur countersued for $75,000 for the humiliation of being jailed. Foss’s talent in court docket received the day, and he used to be awarded a complete of $613.36.

Foss: Youngster entrepreneur

Son of a cigar field manufacturing unit proprietor, Wilson Perkins Foss used to be born in Fairfield, Maine in 1856. At age 16, he left house with the Portland Hearth Division to help on the nice fireplace of 1872 in Boston. Foss stayed on, operating in a ironmongery shop that specialised in dynamite and black powder whilst taking chemistry categories at night time at MIT.

An explosive guy

Wilson P. Foss in 1903 whilst Mayor of Haverstraw (Rockland County Occasions)

Finding out that the West Shore Railroad used to be being constructed from Weehawken to Albany, Foss moved to Haverstraw for a task the use of his wisdom of nitroglycerin, a really perfect explosive to “blow the tunnels.” He used to be employed to construct the 1,600-foot Haverstraw tunnel. He would make the nitro at quite a lot of puts alongside the river and shipping it through boat to the paintings web page.

He took his first of many steps in purchasing and promoting firms when he bought his nitroglycerin works to DuPont for money plus an entire life annuity. He additionally took a task with them as a dynamite salesman in Mexico. Inside of a 12 months, he returned to The us for a stint making explosives for an iron ore corporate in Plattsburgh.

An twist of fate modified all that, and he returned to Rockland County, organising the Clinton Dynamite Corporate in Haverstraw with a manufacturing unit close to Snedeker’s Touchdown. His first contract used to be with the Rockland Lake Lure Rock Corporate positioned on the foot of the clove main from Rockland Lake to the Hudson River.

Lure rock mogul

Big apple Lure Rock Co. quarry at Nyack Seaside, circa 1910. Picture courtesy of the Nyack Library

In only a few years, Foss purchased the lure rock quarry and modernized it to supply lure rock quicker, serving to meet an greater call for to be used in street paving and development as NYC grew unexpectedly on the flip of the century. Lure rock is difficult, igneous rock, and the Hudson Palisades used to be a really perfect supply. The cliffs had been dynamited, the rock used to be overwhelmed, after which loaded into barges, which Foss additionally owned. Foss started purchasing up different quarries within the area forming the New York Lure Corporate that ended up with a controlling passion within the Big apple Lure Rock Corporate that used to be busy blowing the face off Hook Mountain on the finish of Broadway in Higher Nyack.

Different “barons” of the age dwelling close to the Palisades had been disenchanted. Weschesterites just like the Rockefellers had been unsatisfied that their view of the Palisades used to be being ruined. Colonel Pollock and Arthur Tucker, who owned mansions close to Hook Mountain, sued at the foundation of noise and dirt. Somewhere else, a preservation motion used to be underway, and the Palisades Interstate Park Fee (PIPC) used to be shaped to shop for outdated quarries. Foss fought them within the courts for a decade. One in every of his warring parties,the pinnacle of the PIPC board, used to be Justin DuPratt White, who lived only some homes south of Foss. In 1917, PIPC condemned the Rockland Lake quarries, paying Foss $2.4M.

By way of 1921, Foss used to be again as CEO of a brand new company, the New York Lure Rock Company, which owned a lot of houses, together with the mine on the clove in Haverstraw, and bought others, such because the Tomkins Cove Stone Works. 

Two fatal explosions, a stabbing

North aspect of Below Elms inn 1925. Elm timber are rising at the proper aspect (northeast) of the development.

Like a cat, Foss used to be a person of many lives. Other accounts exist of Foss’s survival from the primary of 2 fatal explosions in Plattsburgh in 1886. Foss used to be within the nitro manufacturing unit when an twist of fate brought about 900 lb. of nitro to blow up, demolishing the development, killing two staff, and blowing Foss out of the development onto a frozen river. In a single account, he used to be discovered shirtless with two damaged legs and a damaged arm. In every other account he walked again around the river to greet rescuers unharmed.

In 1891, the nitro works of the Clinton Dynamite Corporate exploded at Snedeker’s Touchdown on the Clove in Haverstraw. Foss used to be in his downtown administrative center on the time, which used to be fortunate as a result of all 5 other folks on the works had been immediately killed, close by homes had been blown aside, timber had been uprooted, and home windows had been blown out for miles round.

In 1902, whilst operating within the Rockland Lake quarry administrative center, an ice barge tied up on the quarry docks. William Sands, the captain of the barge, refused to transport additional down the dock. Foss took issues into his personal fingers, jumped at the barge, and began to loosen the strains. A battle ensued through which the novice boxer Foss decked the barge proprietor. After finishing the transfer, the barge proprietor got here after Foss and stabbed him within the leg with a knife. Erickson jumped in a row boat to flee move river to Sing Sing. Foss chased him in an organization skiff, catching him and knocking him out with an oar at the state detention center seashore. Sands used to be to serve 10 months for attack.

Foss purchases the valuables for Below Elms

2019 view against Hook Mountain as noticed from the previous location of the dock at Below Elms.

In 1908, Foss bought 37 acres in Higher Nyack, a slender strip 600-feet vast fronting the Hudson River and operating west all of the method to the highest of the mountain. The eponymous Foss Power that starts at Midland nowadays runs during the heart of the unique belongings. Foss had the prevailing space at the belongings moved around the road to the highest of a upward thrust that might later transform the house of considered one of his daughters; it nonetheless stands nowadays overlooking Broadway.

The builder of Foss’s new house, E.E. Waite of White Plains, who had constructed a lot of mansions and resorts in Westchester, estimated the home to price $117Ok and through including the solid, storage, lawn partitions, pergola, a brick herringbone-patterned driveway, and boat space, the sum can be $250Ok, virtually $7M in nowadays’s forex. Maximum barons of Broadway constructed street-side brick or stone fences in entrance in their mansions. Foss decided on Indiana limestone as the principle development subject matter, uploading Italian masons to construct it.


1930s view of rhododendrons at the river aspect of Below Elms. Courtesy of the Foss property.

The completed space used to be large, with 21 rooms, seven baths, 3 small flats, an elevator, a three-car carriage space, a boathouse, a dock, all in moderation manicured.

River aspect in 2019, what’s now referred to as River Area


Charles Leavitt, Below Elms architect and well-known panorama dressmaker

Leavitt’s design for the again patio and stairway main down from Below Elms.

Charles W. Leavitt, who referred to as himself a panorama engineer, used to be employed to design Below Elms and its grounds. Leavitt designed Forbes Box in Pittsburgh, the grandstands at Saratoga Racetrack, and the Untermeyer space and gardens in Yonkers, amongst many different structures.

Leavitt got here to Foss’s consideration since he had simply designed the gardens of his next-door neighbor, Leroy Frost. Sarcastically, Leavitt were employed in 1901 as a panorama architect for PIPC, which Foss used to be preventing to forestall his quarries from turning into parkland.

Foss dies in 1930

Foss died in September, 1930 in his Higher East Aspect condo the place he used to be staying whilst seeing a consultant. Some obituaries listing pneumonia because the purpose, some center failure, and in a single case that sickness used to be attributable to a fall whilst analyzing considered one of his mines. His spouse, Ana Debaun Foss, and daughter, Ruth Foss, endured to reside in the home till Ana’s loss of life in 1940. Two different daughters had already constructed houses on a part of the valuables alongside Midland Ave. His son, Wilson P. Foss Jr., used to be named executor of the property.

New house owners

In 1945, Below Elms, on its landscaped four-acre riverside plot, used to be bought to William Perry. Below Elms used to be subsequent auctioned off in 1949, even though no longer for the most efficient because the space reverted by the use of foreclosures to W. P. Foss Jr. in December, 1949. In 1951, Below Elms used to be bought to Daniel Kalina, who made the home into one of the crucial first assisted dwelling houses in The us, promoting within the New York Occasions and preserving the title Below Elms. A lot later, Kalina transformed Below Elms right into a luxurious apartment advanced referred to as River Area, because it stays nowadays.


Foss’s son and grandson carried at the circle of relatives custom as CEO of the quarry, proceeding to increase its presence in the community in West Nyack and Haverstraw. In 1965, the corporate used to be bought. After passing via a number of house owners it become what’s nowadays: Tilcon. The sons carried on amassing oriental pottery and artwork, and so they donated to many house museums, together with the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork.

Sarcastically, the grandson of the person who fought tooth-and-nail to take care of regulate of his Hook Mountain-eating quarry became out to be an ardent environmentalist and conservationist in Nantucket and the Katonah house, the place he donated 47 acres to ascertain the Marion Yarrow Nature Keep.

However Foss’s biggest legacy? His stately house that blends so naturally into the shady slopes of the Hudson River.


Particular because of Tom Englert and Marie McGuire for his or her footage and belongings historical past; the privately dispensed River Area Historical past, Beth Potter, 2007.

See additionally:

Michael Hays is a 30-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He has just lately retired from an extended profession in tutorial publishing with Prentice-Corridor and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid bike owner, novice historian and photographer, gardener, and canine walker. He has loved extra years than he cares to rely together with his gorgeous significant other, Bernie Richey. You’ll apply him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

HRHCare Community Health logoNyack Folks & Puts, a weekly collection that includes footage and profiles of voters and scenes close to Nyack, NY, is dropped at you through HRHCare and Weld Realty.

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