Haverstraw

a novel by Margaret Williams
ISBN 0-9725078-1-7
softcover      $12.95

An historical novel set at the turn of the twentieth century in New York’s Hudson Valley.  When duty to her father reduces Anne Beauvois, a sophisticated young Canadian woman, to farm drudgery, she escapes into a loveless marriage to an illiterate Irish brick-worker, Liam O’Connor.  In Haverstraw, a town on the brink of disaster, she finds friends and discovers her inner strength.
 

This quietly beautiful novel tracks the fortunes and misfortunes of a young woman in search of selfhood. After her mother unexpectedly dies, Anne Beauvois must leave her aunt's elegant home in Quebec City to keep house for her brutish, illiterate father on his hardscrabble farm in New York State. Severely limited by early-twentieth-century gender constraints, she realizes her only escape is marriage. Hastily accepting a proposal from a callow young Irish bricklayer, she moves to the bustling river port city of Haverstraw, determined to forge a new life for herself. Having made a bad bargain in the marriage department, she pursues her own dreams and desires despite her husband's provincial ideas. When tragedy strikes the town, Anne's options are extended far beyond her initial expectations. Williams manages to effortlessly conjure up the tenor and the timbre of another time and place in the powerfully evocative debut novel.
For both YA and M audiences: for high-school students looking for a gentle historical read.                                                    
Booklist 2004

How vividly Margaret Williams re-creates the world of shops and boarding houses, clay pits and brick ovens that was Haverstraw, NY in the early 1900's!  And she has a wonderfully compelling story to tell -- of deception and loss,  self-discovery and love. You won't want to put it down.
                          Gladys Swan  CARNIVAL FOR THE GODS

An impressive debut for first novelist Margaret Williams.  Haverstraw braids an achingly truthful tale from the strands of time, place, and the constants of human nature.  Both lyric, accurate, and finely tuned, the story of Haverstraw is a vital one, one we all know and must be reminded of the verities of history and love, those rivers that run through us all.
                         Renée Ashley  
                         THE VARIOUS REASONS OF LIGHT
                         and THE REVISIONISTS DREAM

HAVERSTRAW BRICKMAKING HISTORY
By NANCY CACIOPPO
THE ROCKLAND JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: March 28, 2004)

Margaret Williams of Pearl River didn't grow up in Haverstraw. But for 20 years, she was fascinated by stories of the Great Haverstraw Landslide.
The cave-in, which killed 19 people and destroyed as many as 21 homes, is now a dramatic point in Williams' historical novel, "Haverstraw," recently published by Avocet Press.
On Jan. 8, 1906, a landslide at a clay pit on the edge of Haverstraw village undermined a residential area. It started a fire as coal stoves and lamps ignited. In addition to the loss of life, the landslide destroyed a half-mile portion of the village near Division, Rockland, Clinton, Jefferson, Allison, Liberty and Front streets, and left eight houses dangerously perched near the abyss.
For many years, the Haverstraw Fire Department would commemorate the landslide on each anniversary by throwing four wreaths into Bowline Pond — formerly the bottom of the crater — in honor of the four firefighters killed in the landslide.
Williams, a retired social worker who is now active with the Haverstraw Brick Museum, said her interest in the landslide gradually led to her interest in the history of the entire village. And she found in the area's clay, which provided the raw material for making bricks, a perfect metaphor for the lives of the brickworkers.
"I learned that Haverstraw was a thriving, bustling, prosperous, colorful, hard-working, blue-collar town," she said. "Brickyard owners, like the DeNoyelles who had a land patent, were considered royalty. But many others fought their way up in the business, raising enough money to start their own brickyards."
Although Williams' tale focuses on three characters in particular — a French Canadian woman, her Irish brickworker husband and the man who eventually wins her heart — the broader sweep of her narrative captures the life of the brickworking families who lived in Haverstraw at the turn of the 20th century.
While the characters are fictional, revealing details of their lives are true to the village's history.
For example, prior to the landslide, as cracks started to appear along some streets, villagers had been warned to find other lodgings. "As if people can just up and move," a character says in the novel. "Where are they to go? You know how hard you've looked for a place."
Williams said that after the landslide, children were brought to safety and the adults returned to find survivors.
"A woman who was trapped in the debris of her house was saved by a man from the utility company," Williams said. "And the entire community opened its arms and took everyone in."
The first brick-manufacturing facility in Haverstraw was established in 1771 by Dutch settler Jacob Van Dyke. All operations were done manually, with the help of oxen. In 1815, Englishman James Wood improved the brick-making process by using a vented mold and introducing coal dust to the clay and sand combination.
From 1800 to 1941, the brick industry along 15 miles of the Hudson River employed 3,000 men from Long Clove in Haverstraw to Jones Point in Tomkins Cove in tedious, exhausting and often dangerous work. But Irish immigrants weren't the only ethnic group to find work there. In his 1968 article "Bricks Without Straw," historian Dan DeNoyelles noted that between 1850 and 1900, the brickyards also employed French Canadians, Poles, Hungarians, Italians and blacks.
Soon, brickyards were evident all along the Hudson River, from Haverstraw to Stony Point. An automatic brick machine perfected by Richard A. VerValen in 1852, which streamlined the laborious process of making brick by hand, is credited with bringing real prosperity to north Rockland for 75 years.
In its heyday, the $2 million-a-year Haverstraw area brick industry produced from one-third to three-quarters of the bricks used in the construction of New York City. By 1883, 42 brickyards were shipping half a billion bricks a year to the New York market under 148 brands.

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