by Bill Batson
According to Piermont Historical Society President Richard Esnard, the exhibition train has not left this historic railroad station. “Village of Piermont Trustees want to lease the interior of the station for commercial or residential use,” Esnard said. On May 1, the Piermont Historical Society is holding a benefit to secure the funds to derail the plan to rent the station. Esnard believes that with community support, the future of this local history resource will stay on track.
Piermont Village Trustees have proposed renting the publicly owned two-floor 1,000 square foot building to offset the expense for maintaining the property. Esnard and his fellow board members are hoping to demonstrate that they can raise the necessary funds to operate the station as an exhibition space.
The last exhibit on display inside the station contained photos by Sally Savage of the filming of Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Piermont Avenue provided Allen a well-preserved backdrop for his period film that was shot there in 1983. The station also houses the offices of the Historical Society and their archives.
The Historical Society has committed to expand public access to the space, which has been sporadic. “Starting on April 27, the station will be open two Sundays per month at a minimum,” Esnard said. Topics explored in the panels currently being installed include:
- Fort Comfort, a local resort area circa 1880- 1940,
- the Revolutionary War, pivotal events occurred in and around Piermont, and
- Last Stop World War II, soldiers embarked and disembarked from vessels bound for Europe in Piermont.
Esnard is not claiming that the exterior of the building is in jeopardy. After successful restoration efforts involving the Village and the Piermont Historical Society, the building was protected by its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
“I’m not talking about the fate of a pretty building,” Esnard said. “The Society organized the railroad station committee in order to create a museum, exhibition hall, and interpretive center.”
At a recent meeting, the Piermont Village Board agreed to hold off on the rental plan so that the Historical Society could attempt to raise the funds to operate the station as an active historic site.
When Esnard discusses the importance of project, he describes the station as a depot for national historic assets. “The story of Piermont told on the walls of this building is of historic significance to the political and economic evolution of this nation.” Specifically, Esnard is referring to the beginning and the end of two major phases of our nation’s development that happened in Piermont.
Piermont Historical Society
The Piermont Historical Society is located at Piermont’s Railroad Station, 50 Ash Street, Piermont, NY 10968.
In 2007, the society received The Rockland County Historic Preservation Merit Award for its role in the restoration of the historic station.
Their website contains a comprehensive self-guided walking tour of Piermont From the Tappan Slote to Piermont – 1609 to 2009
Although it was ceremonial, the last shots of the Revolutionary War were fired here. In May 1783, George Washington arrived in Piermont 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 was treated with a 17-gun salute. The gesture was the first official recognition of the United States of America as a new sovereign nation.
One of the first locomotive engines that fueled the industrial age in America roared to life in Piermont. On May, 14 1851, President Millard Fillmore, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and 300 dignitaries arrived by steamboat from New York City to inaugurate the next mode of modern transportation technology. Their boat was met at the end of the pier by a train that took them to Dunkirk on Lake Erie. This journey signaled the demise of the Erie Canal and the beginning of railroading. At the time, it was the longest railroad line in the world.
While there may not be a villainous Sidney Whiplash or heroic Dudley Do-Right in this chapter of the story of this Piermont railroad station, there is a damsel whose legacy mightbe in distress. Belle Kelly moved to Piermont from Watkins Glen, NY, and served as a station master, ticket agent and telegraph clerk from 1908 until 1940. For decades, commuters using the Northern Branch Railroad that brought them to Jersey City and then eventually, New York City, were welcomed and aided by Belle Kelly. (The Erie Railroad was not served by this station.)
Three years after the railroad ceased operations in 1966, Kelly’s son, Tom, purchased the station. Belle died in 1976 and Tom continued to live there until his death in 1996, whereupon title eventually passed to the Village of Piermont. In 1975, the railroad right-of-way was deeded to Piermont and designated a public park by the Village of Piermont.
The memories of generals, presidents, industrialists and a dedicated station clerk now occupy this erstwhile waiting room. If funds are not identified, the doors of this station could be closed to the public for good. “It’s not just the history of the building and the railroad that’s at stake,” cautions Esnard, “but it’s the story of the entire Village of Piermont that could begin to vanish.”
The Piermont Historical Society is holding a Save Our Station dinner-dance fundraiser on May 1 at 6p at Cornetta’s restaurant at 641 Piermont Ave. The “Old No. 7 Band” will perform. For more information visit piermonthistorysociety.org. The Piermont Historical Society is not subsidized by local government and relies solely on membership dues and the generosity of the public.
An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Will the History of Piermont Leave This Station“ © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.