History of the Garden
The Nyack Community Garden’s History
Founder Barbara Gilman and her son in the Garden. Newspaper clipping from Journal News, Collection of Nyack Public Library.
The Nyack Community Garden is very much a part of the national community garden movement in the 1970’s described in our July-August 2018 newsletter. Around 1974-75 the land along Franklin Street between Depew and Hudson was vacant and considered undevelopable. Local people lead by Barbara Gilman and including Dan Rogers and Farrell Freeman, who worked on the effort as part of his Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer commitment, pushed for a community garden on the site.
In addition to the typical benefits to the community of a garden, the Nyack one was also viewed as a means of promoting community within Nyack’s diverse community and as a complement to the adjacent housing being constructed by the Robert Martin Company. The Robert Martin Company agreed and offered the space for a community garden beginning the long and productive sponsorship of the Nyack Community Garden by the real estate investment, development and management firm. It is not exactly clear when the first plot was planted at our garden.
1976 may be the date as Barbara Gilman in 1994 thought the photograph of her breaking ground was taken that year. The Nyack Library has a newspaper clipping with a photograph of garden with the date 1979. 1979 seems to be the year when the garden was fully functioning community garden. The process to turn the overgrown vacant lot full of coal dust, cinders, and other remnants of its past railroad facility into the splendid community resource has spanned more than 40 years.
Initially the overgrown vacant lot, with a good crop of bamboo, did not have very many gardeners and plots were located at the north section. Gradually through outreach to the community the number of gardeners increased and the quality of the gardening experience improved. The garden received a boost in 1979 when Grand Union, who was building a store at the Hub shopping center, donated soil from their excavation. This probably was the beginning of the soil improvement that continues to the present when every 4 to 5 years compost is spread on the garden.
Plots at the time were 10’ x 10’ and the fee $3. Groups involved with the garden included Rockland County Cooperative Extension Service, Nyack High School Interact Club, Rockland Community Action Corporation, and Nyack Rotary. Problems included vandalism of hoses and theft of vegetables. In 1978-79 the Boy Scouts had a plot and in 1980, three and four year-old children at Nyack Head Start had three plots. In the early 1980’s Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardeners visited the garden regularly to answer questions and give tips.
Our mid-1980’s logo. In 1986 gardeners could purchase a T-shirt with this logo on it.
In the early years the garden was enclosed by a snow fence. In 1983, in 1994 and again in 2000, the gardening community successfully advocated that the property not be developed for other uses. In 1985, the garden had its own “Grow Your Own” logo. In the mid-1980s, the garden contest began. Early categories included largest vegetables and most variety of vegetables in addition to most categories that we have today. Some years the contest was not held.
Early photograph of Garden when surrounded by snow fence. Probably taken around 1980. Collection of Nyack Public Library.
By early 1990’s the garden had the general layout that it has today. Annual plot fees were $10 for a full plot and $5 for a half plot. The garden welcomed a lot of improvements in the 1990’s. In 1989/90 Robert Martin Company put up a chained link fence, which was later replaced by a higher one. The following year the gates were locked to prevent theft and vandalism. Rules at the time included must plant by and must clear plots by dates, control weeds on the path, turn off faucet, no sunflowers or dogs, keep gates closed. Until 1992/3 the Nyack Recreation provided administrative support, mowed the grass, and rototilled. Since then the garden members have handled paperwork and other activities. Over the years the Garden has received support from many businesses and civic organizations in Nyack.
Fortunately, Robert Martin Company, in concert with the Community Housing Management Corporation, continues as our best friend, allowing us to use the land, has the surrounding grass mowed, and provides much other generous support. In 1993-94, Robert Martin Company arranged to have water brought directly to the garden. Previously obtaining water was cumbersome. First, water was transported in buckets, then a hose was run across Franklin Avenue, and then a hose was run over the creek to a spigot outside the Nyack Plaza apartments. In 1994 the Garden hosted ARC workers with disabilities in a community work program.
As early as 1993, gardeners made donations of vegetables to local soup kitchens. Our more formal participation in the Plant a Row for the Hungry began around 6 years ago. Around 1995, our first newsletter was published. In the mid 1990’s an annual rummage sale to raise funds coincided with Nyack Street Fairs. In 1996, a new waterline was installed, and our current walk-in shed, so beautifully painted this summer, was erected. In 1998, the garden had 62 members in 35 full plots and 24 half plots. Today, we have 87 members in 68 plots (30 full and 38 half plots).
Improvements and new programs were added in the 2000’s. In 2009, the central walk was handsomely paved. Our website manager Brian Osborne published our first website in April 2010. The colorful sign in the central Franklin flower garden dates to 1912?. In 2016 we added the wooden bench near the shed. In 2017, the flower garden at the corner of Hudson and Franklin became an official Monarch Butterfly Waystation.
Since we have always been a volunteer group, the garden’s success is credited to all its members. Special mention has already been given to the key founders. Other standout people are Ward Feirer, chairperson from 1981-92, assisted by secretary/treasurer Edna Matthews. In 1991, Christine Adams was chair, and in 1993-4 Angela Mathews was chair. From 1994- 2013, Sallie Mae Porter, Bill Weisgerber, and Zsolt Takacs were our chairs. Since 2014, John Dunnigan and Lynda Grant are our co-chairs.
Information for this article is primarily from the Local History Room in the Nyack Public Library. Many thanks to Carolyn Kent and Mary Ann Goddard, members in the late 1970’s, John Dunnigan, Marie Dilluvio, Pauline Heckstall, Dianne Macpherson, Brian Osborne, and Jennifer Rothschild of the Historical Society of the Nyacks for help and recollections.
Chairperson Sallie Mae Porter at the garden in 2000 after leading a successful effort to preserve the Garden. Journal News, April 15, 2000. After Sallie died in 2002, we had a memorial Sallie’s Garden.
If you have memories or facts about our garden that you want to share, please send your comments to email@example.com for inclusion in future newsletters.
This article is taken from the Newsletter October-November 2018