Monsey Memories: When Automobiles Frightened the Horses of Nyack

Monsey Memories: When Automobiles Frightened the Horses of Nyack

By Yitzy Fried

It is difficult to imagine today, but at the turn of the twentieth century, the sound of automobiles was so rare in the backwoods of Rockland County that the horses were frightened by the noise—often with fatal results. One such a case was reported in the pages of the New York Times in the year 1902:

“New York automobilist on trial in Nyack. Testimony on the accident near Spring Valley. Edward G. Lovatt, the injured man, tells of his efforts to have the machine stopped. 

“The trial of Edward Copeland of New York, who, while speeding through Rockland County with his automobile last week, frightened the horse of Edward G. Lovatt, a lawyer of Spring Valley, and caused serious injury to Mr. Lovatt and his wife, was begun before Justice Charles H. Fisher in Nyack today.

“Mr. Lovatt limped painfully when he appeared as the principal witness. His wife, who has a broken arm and many severe bruises, was unable to leave her house. Mr. Lovatt has his interests looked after by Congressman A. S. Tompkins.

“Mr. Wallace arrived in his automobile, accompanied by a young son. C.N. Bovee of New York is his lawyer. As soon as Mr. Wallace entered the court, he was served with papers in a suit brought by Mrs. Lovatt for $25,000 in damages. Mr. Wallace did not appear to be surprised.

“Mr. Lovatt testified that on the afternoon of May 29, with a horse and buggy and accompanied by his wife, he left his residence at Spring Valley to drive to Nyack, where his daughter and son-in-law live. While driving up a long hill about a mile west of this town, he sighted an automobile, he said, coming over the hill and rushing at a rapid rate of speed down toward him. As the auto approached, he saw his danger, and rising to his feet in the wagon, he held the reigns in his left hand and waved his right hand above his head, at the same time shouting to the people in the automobile to stop.

“No attention was paid to his cry, he said, and he arose again, waved his hand, and shouted, “For G-d’s sake, stop! That, said Mr. Lovatt, did not have any effect, and he cried: “Please stop,” but the automobile hurried on. Mr. Lovatt said that the horse started to run up an embankment at the side of the road, that the wagon was overturned, and that he and his wife were thrown out.

“Mr. Lovatt testified that the automobile was running at the rate of fully thirty miles an hour and that it did not slacken its speed, but sped on. The automobile was stopped at Spring Valley. David Summer, a grocer of Central Nyack, and his wife, who live near the scene of the accident, corroborated the testimony of Mr. Lovatt regarding his waving a hand and crying to the automobilist to stop. The defense is to be heard two weeks from today.  

120 years have passed since this incident, and much change has come over this area. Horses are practically nonexistent in the area, and the cars make far less noise than they did at that time—but this is a true account of a time when the two collided on the roads of Nyack.    

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