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An Era Ends: Cartoonist's House Is Up For Sale

By Tina Traster

April 28, 2007 -- The rambling mustard-yellow farmhouse with green shutters on Thiells Road in Stony Point has been in the Overgard family for more than half a century.

William T. Overgard, the renowned cartoonist, novelist and screenplay writer, and his dancer wife, Gloria, left behind their bohemian Manhattan life in 1954 and relocated to this 17-acre rural respite in Rockland's pre-Tappan Zee Bridge era.

The 1770 farmhouse was rundown and barely inhabitable, lacking both plumbing and electricity, but the couple and their three children spent a lifetime restoring and tending to the house.

In 1990, Overgard died of a heart condition at his home at the age of 64. His son, Matthew, and his wife, Victoria, lived in the house and took care of Gloria until she died in 2000. Two years later, Matthew's brother, Tom, then 50, died of cancer. And in 2003, Matthew, a 47-year-old general contractor, suffered an aortic dissection (a tear in the wall of the aorta) and a major stroke.

Now 50, Matthew and Victoria, 42, treasure the colonial stone-frame farmhouse but can no longer manage it. The estate is for sale for $3.5 million.

"We hope to find the right person to buy the house," says Matthew. "We want the next family to enjoy this house as much as the Overgards have."

You can feel the ghosts at 25 Thiells Road. Matthew recalls the artsy soirees that started in the airy greenhouse and tumbled onto the expansive lawns. He remembers swimming in the three-acre pond aside the house in the summer and ice skating in the winter.

"People thought we were rich and lived lavishly but it wasn't true," Matthew says. "Dad used to put the money he made back into the house." And into his hot rods, including a 1949 Ford, a 1950 Jaguar Mark V, an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire, an Aston Martin DB2 and a 1956 Bentley Continental. He also had a Suzuki street scrambler and a Harley-Davidson Spring.

Matthew's father, who drew the "Steve Roper and "Mike Nomad" comic strip which appeared in more than 200 newspapers nationwide, used to lock himself into his spacious home studio and work from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. After a few hours of sleep, he would spend much of the day woodworking, tending to the land and painting. Much of Overgard's indoor cabinetry, latticework and hand-painted floor murals are in good condition but the barn, gazebos and guesthouse he built need repair.

Gloria tended to the three children but was somewhat of a Dr. Doolittle. The 35-year volunteer at the Bronx Zoo rescued maimed creatures, including a one-taloned crow that became famous, and she took in strays. The family also raised chickens and had a Swiss Mountain goat.

"She used to hold up worms and the bass in the pond would jump up to grab them," says Victoria.

There is still a menagerie at the Overgard property, once called Ice Pond Farm because the pond was used for ice harvesting. Today ducks bask in dappled sunlight on the banks of the pond. Two peacocks sashay around the property. A noisy cockatiel named Larry lives in a cage in the sunny formal dining room and cats slink about.

The original house was built around 1770, with an addition put on in the 1830s. Overgard built a new wing in the same architectural style in the 1970s to house a master bedroom upstairs and his studio downstairs. A spiral cast-iron staircase in the foyer separating the two additions leads upstairs to three sizable bedrooms and a small room that could be used as a nursery, a reading nook or a sewing room.

In the 1970s, Overgard told a newspaper reporter: "If you want to take on a job like this, you've got to have the skill to do a lot of your own work, the ability to supervise or a lot of money."

His advice applies today.

The 3,150-square-foot two-story, four-bedroom clapboard house needs a lot more than a fresh coat of paint. There are signs of wear and tear beyond worn carpets and faded wallpaper. The tight kitchen is dated, though someone might appreciate the 1970s Garland commercial-grade six-burner stove. Outside the kitchen is a brick courtyard patio. The downstairs bathroom has been restored and is handicap accessible. Next to the kitchen is a "keeping room," with a large hearth, low hand-hewn wood-beam ceilings and beautiful wide-plank pine floors. The formal dining room is in good shape. The house has original hand-blown glass windows.

Also downstairs are the rooms Overgard built in the 1970s. The Victorian-style greenhouse, about 500-square-feet, is a sun-filled Eden that leads onto the shore of the pond. On the other side of the house is Overgard's studio which still has the massive U-shaped desk and his draughtsman table. The room is lined with books and memorabilia.

Overgard created two animated cartoon programs for television, "Thunder Cats" and "Silver Hawks." He also wrote screenplays for "Last Dinosaurs," "Ivory Ape" and "Bermuda Depths," among other films, and published five novels. In 1988 he wrote "A Few Good Men," a novel loosely based on facts about the 1931 invasion of Nicaragua by the United States.

Overgard, son of a silent-movie actor, started cartooning during his youth in Santa Monica, Calif., during the 1930s. He was infatuated with the adventure strip "Terry and the Pirates" and sent his work to the strip's creator, Milton Caniff. Caniff corresponded with Overgard through his years at high school and during World War II.

After the war, Overgard spent six months in art school on the West Coast and then headed to New York. He got a job drawing for "Black Diamond Westerns" and "Ben Bowie," adventure comic books. He also did some work for Caniff, ghosting "Steve Canyon."

Publishers' Syndicate needed someone to fill in to do panels for "Steve Roper," a strip about a newspaper photographer, who appeared in the 1930s. Overgard's star was launched. When he took the strip over in 1954, he later introduced Mike Nomad, a hardnosed antihero.

It was Caniff, a resident of South Mountain Road in New City during the 1950s, who suggested Overgard move to Rockland.

"Dad loved his work and his cars but his true passion was this house," says Matthew, who is hoping a buyer will restore the house. "It would be a shame if the house was razed for development."

Beyond the pond, there's a small mountainside graveyard with headstones dating to the 1830s. William Overgard, his wife, Gloria, and son, Thomas, are buried there. No matter what becomes of the property, the family plans to preserve the resting place.

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