About Piermont – History of the Village

Early Exploration Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would bear his name in 1609. Although there is no record of his crew setting foot here, the Sparkill provides the first natural break in the Palisades and would have invited exploration. This break, and the creek that ran through it, provides a passageway to the interior, making it an ideal place for commerce and trade. The first commercial settlement grew up along the creek, which was then called Tappan Slote . The area around the present day Rockland Road Bridge was the first settlement of a few buildings, including a gristmill. A dam had been built at this location to provide power for the millwheels, and the millpond exists to this day.

Revolutionary Era The Onderdonk House, at the corner of Ritie Street and Piermont Avenue, was the home of declared patriots and was a target fired upon by British ships. In 1783, at the end of the war, George Washington met with Sir Guy Carleton, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in America. General Washington dined aboard Carleton’s ship, the HMS Perseverance, anchored in the river off the Onderdonk House. Upon boarding the ship, Washington was greeted with a 17-gun salute, the first recognition of our new sovereign nation.

Industry Piermont, as we know it, was developed in the 1830s when the Erie Railroad began the project of creating rail service from New York City to Lake Erie. The railroad created a long pier extending almost a mile out to the deep water channel of the Hudson to access barges to NYC. In 1839, Eleazar Lord, owner of the Erie Railroad, decided that Tappan Slote should be renamed Piermont, combining a reference to the Erie pier and the mountain above on which he was building his country estate.

The glory days of the railroad were short lived. As soon as interstate regulations were changed a year later allowing railroads to cross state lines, the Erie moved their main terminus to Jersey City. The population declined by close to half, and the railroad shops were closed by 1869 – left abandoned and ultimately destroyed by fire.

Early in the 20th century, the Piermont Paper Company built a new industrial complex on the old rail yards. In 1920 Piermont Paper merged with the Robert Gair Company of Brooklyn, which had developed new ways of folding paperboard into cartons. The Gair operation expanded, and employment eventually reached 1,200. Gair in turn merged with Continental Can Company in 1957, and in the late 1970’s Federal Paperboard and Clevepak were still operating in some of the original brick and concrete buildings. By the early 1980s, economic and environmental issues had rendered the operations unprofitable, the mills were closed and the property was sold for real estate development. One of the flywheels from the mill’s electrical generating plant was unable to be moved and was left in place as a testament to Piermont’s industrial past.

World War II During World War II, the pier was taken over by the U.S. Government, extended, improved, and used as a principal embarkation point of soldiers heading to Europe. Over 40,000 U.S. troops per month, including many Hudson Valley residents, marched from nearby Camp Shanks out to the end of the pier where ships waiting to take them to France in support of the D-Day invasion forces. Piermont became known as “Last Stop USA” for nearly 1.3 million soldiers, many to never return. After the war was won, over half a million men returned home, setting foot in the US for the first time across the same pier. The Piermont VFW and Vietnam Vets sponsor a watchfire each year at midnight on Memorial Day (May 30th) to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for our country and those that are still missing in action.

Tourism In the late 19th and turn of the 20th century, a growing tourist business developed in the Hudson Valley. People streamed out of the hot and dirty city to find healthful air and tranquility along the banks of the river. The Fort Comfort Inn and Realty Company converted an old mansion along the west side of Piermont Avenue into a hotel. In 1903, a recreational enterprise called “Fort Comfort Resort” or “Old Fort Comfort Park” was situated on the peninsula between Piermont Avenue and the river a short distance southeast of the hotel. It included an ice cream parlor, bathing beach, a merry-go-round and a shooting gallery. Tweed Boulevard, running along the spine of the Palisades in Piermont & Upper Grandview, was planned and developed by Boss Tweed to be a ‘modern’ roadway to access mansions, which would be built for his wealth acquaintances.  The demise of his political career ended this ambitious project. Today, cyclists from as far away as Brooklyn and day-trippers from NYC & NJ visit Piermont to take in beautiful landscape, enjoy the Hudson River, shop the galleries and boutiques on Main Street and the Pier, and dine at its world-class restaurants.

Related Links

Piermont Historical Society

Rockland County History