by Bill Batson
Every July since 2008, Piermont Avenue has been transformed into the Champs- Elysees. This Saturday, visitors will be submerged once again in a sea of francophilic costumes, food, music, and games. Here are some reasons historic and upcoming that make Piermont, especially on Bastille Day, an excellent staycation option.
America Saluted for the First Time in Piermont
The Revolutionary War came to an end in this southeastern corner of Rockland County. In May 1783, George Washington arrived at what was then called The Slote (Dutch for ‘the ditch’) to meet Sir Guy Carleton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America. After resolving matters relating to the cessation of hostilities at the American Army’s Headquarters in Tappan, Washington returned for a dinner on Carleton’s ship, the HMS Perseverance, and a 17-gun salute. The gesture was the first official recognition of the United States of America as a new sovereign nation.
The Name Remains, the Trains Came and Went
The first President of the New York and Erie Railroad, Eleazar Lord, had substantial holdings in what was still called The Slote in the 1830s. It is said that he used his clout to have the terminus of the railroad built on a pier near his land. He also renamed the village Piermont, combining a reference to the pier where his railroad ended and the mountain that abutted his estate.
The fact that this site was the last port before New Jersey and that railroads were prevented by law from crossing state boundaries was probably the more compelling factor for placing the New York and Erie terminus here.
President Millard Fillmore and Secretary of State Daniel Webster traveled to the newly minted Piermont on the steamboat Erie on May 14, 1851, to take the inaugural trip by rail back to Dunkirk on Lake Erie. Although the railroad put the American industrial revolution on the fast track, the fortunes of the railroad in Piermont were more fleeting.
When changes to the interstate regulations that precluded a New Jersey terminus were changed in 1852, the Erie moved their main terminus to Jersey City, New Jersey and closer to Manhattan.
The Fixture Called Flywheel
The unmovable object in my sketch that has become a monument was the part of a steam driven generator called a flywheel. The generator was installed in 1902 by Robert Gair to power the production of paper from his mill that was built on Lord’s Erie Railroad pier.
In an epic example of the phrase, they don’t build them like they used to, the decline of the local paper industry, the designs of luxury real estate developers and the full force of a wrecking ball could not convince this flywheel to budge. So it now stands as a symbol to the durability of American workmanship and provides a place name for a park and an art gallery that have sprung up in its stubborn shadow.
Resilience After Hurricane Sandy
On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy turned the Hudson from mighty to nasty. Northeasterly winds pushed a wall of water into Piermont, destroying property and endangering lives. High tide created a tsunami-like surge that dragged bits of smashed boats and the remnants of docks and homes through the village, breaching Piermont Avenue.
Homes, businesses and neighborhoods were flooded and without power in the wake of the second costliest hurricane in United States history. However, Piermont sprang back to life quickly. By the time United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand arrived to survey the damage with Piermont Mayor Chris Sanders on November 4, the Piermont Volunteer Fire Department and Department of Public Works had turned back much of the tide of debris.
The spirit of unity that rose from the wreckage of Sandy has found permanent form in the recent creation of the Piermont Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber now has 82 members and is committed to helping the village recover and grow. But the business of recovery is not all business. Communities that have this capacity to rally in crisis can usually throw a pretty good party when the coast eventually clears. Piermont Civic Association President Bob Samuels likes to quote his stepmother who says “Piermont has more fiestas than Cuernavaca.”
Bastille Day 2013
This Saturday, July 13, Piermont will celebrate their fifth annual Bastille Day celebration. Originally launched by the owners of the Side Walk Bistro, the concept was more to complement their French cuisine than in honor of the events that brought down the French monarchy in 1789, creating modern France. Whatever their initial intent, the event has caught on: nearly 8,000 people attended last year, strolling down Piermont Avenue sans cars, as if the Hudson were the Seine.
From 12n-10p you can frolick with people dressed in period costumes, enjoy French themed music, food, contests and games. And if you are not feeling the love for France, as you mingle with the Gallic enamored masses in Flywheel Park, remind yourself that without the diplomatic and military assistance of the French during our Revolutionary War, we might not have had the occasion to celebrate our own liberte’ on the Fourth of July, 1776.
For more information on the Bastille Day Celebration visit the Piermont Chamber of Commerce
Turning Point American Roots Festival
On Labor Day, Sept. 2, from 12-5p, the 5th annual Turning Point American Roots Festival to Benefit the Piermont Police Athletic League (PAL) will be held at the Goswick Pavilion /Rittenberg Ball Field.
Food and drink will be available at this is alcohol free event (dogs are also not allowed). Tickets are $20 each for adults. Seniors and students pay $15. Children 12 and under are free. Organizers suggest that you bring a blanket, chairs, and some shade.
Old Number Seven Band and UpSouth Twisters with Big Jim Wheeler are scheduled to perform. Visit Turning Point for more details.
Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign
On August 7, the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign will overnight in Piermont on their way to New York City. The two week river procession commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first treaty between Dutch settlers and the Haudenosaunne (Iroquois) people.
The delegation will land at about 4p on August 7 . There will be a greeting ceremony with Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough nation, elected officials and members of the Sparkill Creek Watershed Alliance. A base camp will be set up on the ball field at the base of the Pier where the group will camp and enjoy Onondaga storytelling.
Organizers hope the event will create a new agreement on living peacefully with good relations with Native Americans and all people, and with the earth.
For more information visit Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign
Piermont Bike Festival
The Piermont Bike Festival will present a day-long bicycle festival embracing families who enjoy riding bikes together on Sunday, October 13 from noon till 6p. Events include an on-site Bicycle Expo, Bicycle Challenges, AAA Bike Safety Rodeo and a bicycle decorating contest.
The festival is dedicated to promoting biking education, excellence and enjoyment for bikers of all types and all ages. A portion of the proceeds from the Piermont Bike Festival will benefit the Piermont Chamber of Commerce
For more information visit Piermont Bike Festival.
Piermont Art Walk 2014
The success of the first Piermont Art Walk, that was held on June 22, 2013 is apparent because a date has already been selected for next year. On Sunday, June 22, 2014, the Chamber of Commerce will once again invite artists to converge on the village to paint, draw and exhibit their work on the walls and in the windows of Piermont businesses and galleries.
Special thanks to the Piermont Library for their comprehensive and well written history of Piermont.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Piermont a la Paris“ © 2013 Bill Batson