Spring Valley, N.Y. — Over on Alturas Road, between Cole and Summit avenues, on the hill once called Red Brick, many deep inches of asphalt are the burial cover of a long-gone era, one that saw much less traffic on the original Nyack Turnpike, on the Alturas Road section in this once summer resort village north of New York City. The Turnpike is now part of Route 59, a state highway that runs from the old Nyack port on the Hudson River to Suffern and the foot of the Ramapo Mountains.
Once, it was the main route for overland goods and people on their way upstate, until the Erie Railroad came through in the late 1840s. The Midwest and the West fueled their building via the Erie and its railroad and canal, helping forge an ever-expanding American frontier with people and goods that put in foundations and roots everywhere.
For a long time, from the later 1800s until about 1968, the Nyack Turnpike was a busy enough local road, usually called Alturas or simply the Turnpike and not by a route number provided by the state. Now few recall the original name, and the highway is a ribbon of the suburbs, flashing with neon and lined with one shopping strip after another. Though the state, in a bit of welcome wisdom, provided a median of beautiful trees in its widening of Route 59 in nearby Nanuet, most of the highway today is what you would expect of one anywhere. Check into a motel off this road, and you could wake up thinking you were in many parts of the United States, so similar the look and the growth.
But once, until the later 1960s, Route 59 had its quiet passages, especially the Red Brick Hill between Cole and Summit. It was classic Rockland County, once the nation’s brick-making capital, with its many Hudson River yards providing the building block for 90 percent of New York City’s tenements.
Some of that brick, a longer-fired variety, found its way to the steep hill at Alturas and was hand laid against wide cement gutters on each side, a very efficient drainage system that worked for decades. Decades, too, would the red brick lie in its clay sister earth, offering the sleepy toddler on his way to Gramps’ house a reassuring bump-bump sound off the tires, a welcome to a bed soon warm.
Red Brick Hill, covered with packed snow and light in traffic, was a popular sledding route when adjacent Dunlop’s Hill was crowded with youth who took delight in activity that cost nothing and which brought laughter and memories.
In the march of progress and the ever-thickening book of rules for standardized highway surfacing, Red Brick Hill was paved over by Albany. And then paved again. And again, until the red bricks are hardly recalled today.
Today most “natives” of the Alturas Road area of Spring Valley are perhaps 10 years there, certainly the elders of ever-newer people, but without a whit of a clue that the hill they now speed along was made of brick. Once, you had to slow down for the ascent and the descent, maybe not enough to smell the flowers — the black-eyed Susans — on Dunlop’s Hill, but with sufficiently lessened pace to feel the history of a road once trod by horses and wagons. Now progress rides in a SUV.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org