This Week in Rockland: Newspaper Excerpts: Flashback Friday: Week of February 17

2023-02-17 TWIR Image-Jazz

February 15, 1873 – 150 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Journal

EXPLANATORY — A gentleman who is intimately acquainted with the machinery of our State, or Turnpike road, since it was first chartered, called upon us this week and informed us that, owing to the very thinly settled district through which this road passes, and the limited amount of taxes that can be collected to keep it in a passable condition, it has been found by long experience, that it is an absolute necessity to have a gate on it, so that the tolls shall go toward keeping the road in order. If, as we now believe, this is the case, we have not a word to say against extending the charter, but we would much rather that it were otherwise.

    The latest addition to the census of Rockland County, was a baby which weighed, at birth, one and a half pounds. It and the mother are doing well.
    Last week, while Smith Lydecker was engaged in teaming between Nyack and Tarrytown, one of his horses broke through the ice, but was got out again without much trouble.
    We hope our worthy postmaster’s patience will soon become exhausted at the rabble of boys which infests the post-office on the arrival of the evening mail. The nuisance is becoming insufferable.

February 16, 1933 90 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Journal-News

       When radio fans of Rockland County hear the familiar “Hey Skippy!” emanating from their loudspeakers, there are probably very few who know that the rollicking kid who answers is the child of a former resident of Bricktown.
       He is “Sonny” Donnelly, eleven-year-old son of Andrew Donnelly, formerly of Haverstraw, and Mary McFadden Donnelly, a former resident of Stony Point, who have resided in Ridgefield Park, N.J., for a number of years. “Sonny,” however, is well known here for he pays many a visit to his uncle “Don” Hafele, a reporter on the Haverstraw Times.
       Probably it was because uncle “Don” is a newspaper man that “Sonny” Donnelly has made a big hit via the NBC-WJZ, hookup, for he is fast becoming one of radio’s outstanding characters as the “editor-in-chief” of that amazingly frank kid’s newspaper published on those “Maud and Cousin Bill” programs, the author of these skits being Booth Tarkington.
       Last week’s issue of the Radio Guide carries quite an entertaining article about these “enfants terribles,” comparing their work with those other Tarkington characters, of which “Penrod” is best remembered.
       “Sonny” comes by his talent quite naturally, for his dad has written many songs, some of them having been hits in their day, the most outstanding having been “Baby Your Mother.” Other songs written by the senior Donnelly included “It’s Your Wife,” “I Tore Up Your Picture When You Said Good-bye,” and many more. Song writing, however, is not a business with Donnelly—merely a hobby upon which he does not depend for a living.
       There are two other sons in the family, James, 7, and Thomas, 9, and both of these have had small parts in radio sketches and are now rehearsing for a special St. Patrick’s Day broadcast similar to that of last year. One of them also played in a picture with the Four Marx Brothers not long ago.

February 17 & 19, 1973 50 YEARS AGO
The Journal News

       Bill “Baron” Starks, tickles the ivories and Neris Flowers sings during Black History Week program at Upper Nyack School Friday. Starks’ topic was Afro-American influence on jazz.

       Frances Bell, who from 1967 was sole registered owner of the lounge bearing her name, opened her first place back in 1960. For seven years she had the gay bar business in Rockland all to herself and developed quite a following.
       In recent years however, notoriety and changing customer habits began to have an adverse effect: Her business suffered. According to friends, Ms. Bell herself began to slow down.
       A series of feuds with women who had been some of her best customers lost her some lesbian business. New gay bars opened, one (now known as the Porthole) just down the highway from her lounge catering to gay women. Gradually, Fran Bell’s became more of a gay bar for men only, but Mister G’s had opened in the meantime, and the competition stiffened.
       Some say Fran began to be lax about decorum inside her place, that certain indiscretions were overlooked so as not to antagonize any customers. Others say her feuds had earned her some bitter enemies. Probably the pornography book store that opened next door to her lounge in the spring of 1971 angered too many Congers residents who may have thought Fran was in some way connected with it. In any case, one summer evening that same year state police at the Stony Point substation, acting on two anonymous phone calls complaining about obscene behavior at Fran’s, sent over four plainclothes detectives to do undercover surveillance.
       Within half an hour an arrest was made. Fran was convicted and fined by the Town of Clarkstown. She subsequently won a reversal of the conviction in appellate court, but a year later the New York State Liquor Authority, unaware of the reversal, canceled her license on the basis of the original charge.
       Ms. Bell appealed the cancellation and largely through the efforts of her attorney, Aaron Finkel of Nanuet, won a reduction of the cancellation to a 50-day suspension. Her lounge reopened last November, but the experience left Fran somewhat embittered.
       In spite of her reputation as the operator of a bar and night club that attracts gays, Ms. Bell, for her own reasons, disliked having her lounge lumped together with the other gay establishments, and just last month desperately tried to change her image. She placed advertisements in the newspaper billing her bar as a place where “the swingers of every life now meet.”
       Last week Fran Bell’s luck seemed to have run out completely. Attorneys for a Westchester County creditor notified Sheriff Ray Lindemann to execute an outstanding judgment against Fran’s lounge. Sheriff Lindemann closed the lounge and the furniture and fixtures were sold out—lock, stock and barrel. Sheriff Lindemann said that Fran could conceivably re-open under a new name and license at another location, but it is doubtful—considering her fight with the State Liquor Authority—that securing a new license in New York would be easy for her.
       For all her vicissitudes Frances Bell deserves some credit for “breaking the ice,” providing gays in Rockland with a place to congregate at a time when there was nowhere else to go. Proud, quick—called ruthless by her enemies, generous by her friends—this alert blonde woman had become a Rockland institution. If she leaves the county now, some of its color will have certainly gone with her. —JOHN DALMAS

This Week in Rockland (#FBF Flashback Friday) is prepared by Clare Sheridan on behalf of the Historical Society of Rockland County. To learn about the HSRC’s mission, upcoming events or programs, visit or call (845) 634-9629.


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