Visit to Tarrytown was a Trip to Yesteryear

Dominick Minotti met friends from Washington Irving High School in Tarrytown last month for their 60th reunion weekend. Amazed at the area’s transformation, they spent Saturday afternoon at the Outreach Center learning about the state’s project and reminiscing about their old neighborhood pre-Tappan Zee Bridge.

It’s a wonderful bridge, and was a terrific presentation with lots of information. I was particularly moved by photos showing the place where I lived for 10 years.

Thea Cunitz, Lee Nemlich, Herb Cunitz, Peggy Speir (in front), Jeanne Nemlich, David Johnson, Janis McLean, Andy O'Rourke (NNYB), Dominick Minotti/© Janie Rosman 2014

Thea Cunitz, Lee Nemlich, Herb Cunitz, Peggy Speir (in front), Jeanne Nemlich, David Johnson, Janis McLean, Andy O’Rourke (NNYB), Dominick Minotti/© Janie Rosman 2014

My family moved to the David Luke estate when I entered second grade; that would have been in 1943. It was bought by the Tarrytown Hospital Association with plans to build a new hospital there, using the Georgian mansion as part of it. That would have been quite spectacular. But this was not to be.

My father was hired as the resident caretaker, and we lived in what was once the servants’ quarters. The kitchen (which is the mainstay of an Italian family) was huge — measuring a good 30 by 20 feet or so, and larger than many places I have lived since! But it was great for all the relatives to gather, for my father and cronies to play cards, and for holidays.

Minotti's father, Pasquale Minotti, caretaker of the Luke estate, looking toward the river/Virtual Archives

Minotti’s father, Pasquale Minotti, caretaker of the Luke estate, looking toward the river/Virtual Archives

The mansion was wonderful. It had a huge library at the curved southern end of the building, and it had a majestic staircase that went up three stories. For a party one Halloween (I am amazed that my father actually gave me permission to do this!), we would wait at the top of the stairs and drop a skeleton down in front of each entering group.

Next to the main reception room was a music room with a pipe organ that I never got to play. Overall, it was also a scary place to live with all the empty rooms, dark basement (which I never fully explored) and far way from the street.

Garage and barn at Luke Estate/Virtual Archives

Garage and barn at Luke Estate/Virtual Archives

I was given the job of mowing the lawns — nine hours a week on a riding power mower. I could never figure out what my two older sisters, Valia and Wanda, did as their part of chores. I am sure they did a lot. The driveway circled the front lawn and was where I learned to drive in a 1935 Plymouth coupe, taught by my sister Val.

There were greenhouses on the estate, four of them attached in a row with a bowling alley alongside. My father was very strict and careful about the property and would not let us explore or use things. He reported to a Mr. King, who lived on Sunnyside Lane in Irvington and was apparently the Board member of the hospital association responsible for overseeing the estate and my father’s work.

Looking east to big house, barn/Virtual Archives

Looking east to big house, barn/Virtual Archives

My father used the greenhouses to develop a nursery business, planting seeds for starter plants that he would then sell to the neighbors and community residents. He was one of the earliest organic gardeners, not using any chemicals or commercial fertilizers for his plants in 1944 and thereafter.

One of the photos we saw on out recent visit was taken from the terrace of the mansion overlooking the river. It shows one of the bridge people talking with my father and elicited quite an emotional reaction in me.

Dominick Minotti looks at picture of the Luke Estate, where he lived in high school, before the TZB/© Janie Rosman 2014

Dominick Minotti looks at picture of the Luke Estate, where he lived in high school, before the TZB/© Janie Rosman 2014

But about the bridge itself: I was not in attendance on opening day. I think by that time I was attending Columbia University, and the family had moved to the Stearns Estate in Irvington, now the site of Irvington High School, where my father again worked as caretaker.

I remember warm spring and early summer days sitting in classrooms at WIHS listening to the pile driver. The loudness of the bridge work contrasted with the soft voice of Miss Gates, our Latin teacher, whose room was on the second floor on the river side. Cicero’s orations read out loud by us were punctuated by the thunk of the pile driver. The sounds and sights of Ancient Rome and modern technology blended in a sleepy afternoon.

Pond, upper photo, and Pasquale Minotti at Luke Estate, lower photo/Virtual Archives

Pond, upper photo, and Pasquale Minotti at Luke Estate, lower photo/Virtual Archives

The ferry: yes, it was a passenger ferry, but earlier there was a car ferry that went across the river to Piermont, I believe. I remember as a very young child going with my father on it to visit “paisani” and “parenti” (friends and family) in Nyack and Piermont. I remember standing at the front of the ferry and looking out seeing some ice floes on the river. Old-timers used to tell of the days when the river froze over completely and people could drive their cars across.

Eventually, the work was completed. I have driven over the bridge many times. Each time I pay the toll at the booth I know that I am passing through the house where I did so much of my growing up from age 6 to almost 17, a place that now seems a fantasy to me, and many memories of the Luke estate and of family that color the wonderful childhood I spent in Tarrytown and at WIHS.

Mansion at Luke Estate looking west/Virtual Archives

Mansion at Luke Estate looking west/Virtual Archives

For the record: Not only was there a major traffic accident four days after the bridge opened — four cars traveling from Rockland to Westchester at dusk bumped into each other, and caused the first backup — one driver thought the new bridge was fare-free.

“Within a day or so of opening day, the local paper reported a female driver went thru the toll booth without stopping,” WIHS classmate Peter Hall said. When she was pulled over by police and questioned, the woman said the light was green.

I’d like to know what you think.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2014

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