The river, the railroad, the pier and the mountains: Some notes on the picturesque village of Piermont, New York

April 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 25, 2015

A few times a year, my parental unit, the parental unit’s dog and I will pile into a car and drive to Piermont, a picturesque New York village on the western shore of the Hudson River a few miles north of the New Jersey border.

The community was originally known as Tappan Slote. In 1839, residents renamed the place Piermont after its most prominent, and newest, manmade feature — a roughly mile-long pier extending toward the deep center channel of the broad Hudson.

The pier, built in 1838, was meant to serve as the eastern terminus for the New York and Erie Railroad. Upon its completion in 1851, the line was the longest in the nation. Passengers and freight could transfer to boats for a 20-mile river cruise to New York City.

Once new laws authorized the Erie railroad company to operate in New Jersey, the brief era that some historians call Piermont’s glory years was bound to end. Passenger trains soon began traveling along lines that bypassed the community, which allowed them to save time on their journey to New York City.

Freight trains continued loading and unloading at the pier, but even this ended by the close of 1861. The railroad’s repair shops and other facilities were abandoned; ultimately, they were destroyed by fire.

A commuter railroad built in 1870 connected Nyack, a much larger village about three miles north, to Jersey City, which is a short ferry ride across the Hudson from Manhattan. Piermont got a stop on this railroad in 1883. This line, along with regular steamboat service, helped spur tourism in the Hudson Valley. Piermont’s Fort Comfort Resort, also known as the Old Fort Comfort Park, began catering to visitors in 1903.

A very different group of people with very different aims began passing through Piermont after the United States entered World War II in 1941. “It was in Piermont that Army personnel and their massive equipment lined up to board Hudson River boats that would bring them to New York City and overseas carriers,” local columnist Art Gunther wrote in a 2011 D-Day commemoration.

The pier played a role in welcoming troops back to America, too. Kathleen Sykes wrote the following last year in a history of nearby Camp Shanks:

After VE Day in May [1945], half a million veterans began arriving back in the U.S. They were transported back to Camp Shanks by train after docking at piers in New York and Staten Island. By late June the Army decided the trains were too crowded, and that it would be more expedient to unload troops off the Piermont dock. The water was too shallow for large transports to dock, however, so small harbor boats carried the troops over to the pier. During the next two months 45,484 troops sailed direct from Europe up the Hudson to Piermont.

Today, nothing so dramatic takes place at the pier. The village library is located about half a mile west of where the pier merges with the original shoreline. Just east of this are a park and shops, restaurants and parking, along with a private health club.

This spot has an interesting history: The shops and restaurants occupy factories that once made paper, cardboard boxes and containers. According to the village’s website, the property was sold for real estate development after economic and environmental issues rendered the manufacturing activities at the site unprofitable. However, an enormous flywheel at the complex’s electrical generating plant proved resistant to demolition. The machine occupies the southeast corner of what is now known as Flywheel Park.

East of the shops and health club, a fancy housing development sits on the north side of Ferry Road. On the other side of the road are a youth baseball field, a dog run and Piermont Marsh, which is part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

The spot where the housing development ends is where the manmade pier really begins. It’s a spit of land, not too much wider than the road. On nice days, it’s an easy walk to the far end of the pier. (On windy, rainy or chilly days, the walk is not nearly so pleasant.)

The views along the pier are quite scenic. To the north, one can see the Tappan Bridge reaching over the Hudson from Nyack to Tarrytown in Westchester County. The town of Irvington, N.Y., lies on the eastern shore of the Hudson, almost directly opposite Piermont.

Piermont itself, of course, lies to the west; rising above it is Clausland Mountain Park, which leads into Tackamack Park and then its neighbor, Blauvelt State Park. These are largely undeveloped mountainsides and mountaintops; the parks contain very little besides trees, gravel parking lots and a few walking trails. From the pier, one can see a few houses — not many — peering out from amid the forested slopes.

To the south, the view is commanded by Tallman Mountain, which itself is the site of a state park bearing the mountain’s name. This “peak” — it’s more of a mound — is not noticeably taller than its neighbors; nor is it all that tall, moniker notwithstanding.

Gazing past Tallman Mountain, the onlooker can see…

Ah — but I’ll leave that for another post!

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