By Jeff Bahr
REBIRTH ON THE HUDSON
Commuters crossing the Hudson on the Tappan Zee Bridge are often surprised to learn that a genuine tourist destination exists on the river’s western bank, just south of the span. It’s understandable. Piermont, N.Y., hasn’t always been a day-trippers’ haven. In fact, not too long ago, Piermont was just another struggling river community whose best days had apparently passed it by.
But then, as if saved by the hand of providence, gentrification began to occur. Old, sometimes dilapidated homes were renovated; boutiques and art galleries found their way into town; and new restaurants and cafés came along for the ride. Now, rather than just passing through, discerning visitors come to linger for an afternoon, a weekend, or even longer at this delightful hamlet on the Hudson. Can you say “full-circle?”
PUTTING THE ‘PIER’ IN PIERMONT
For newcomers, the reason for the turnaround is obvious. Piermont offers truly sublime views of the Hudson River, surrounding estuaries and towering bluffs. Nowhere is this view more arresting than at Piermont Pier, the town’s namesake – a nearly onemile- long jetty built in 1839 to carry the Erie Railroad to the river. From this vantage, visitors can see the river and its vessels to the east, Tallman Mountain to the south, and the staggering cliff face of Hook Mountain – one of the highest promontories along the Palisades Ridge – to the north. During World War II, some 40,000 troops boarded ships at this deepwater dock – referred to as “Last Stop U.S.A.” – and sailed off for the shores of France. A statue and plaque in town honor these veterans – many of whom paid the ultimate price to help ensure our freedom.
TRAIN BUFF’S DELIGHT
The circa 1873 Piermont Railroad Station, located on a rise just above town, stands as a reminder of the way things were in the days of horsedrawn carriages and hoop skirts. This architectural delight, recently restored by the Piermont Historical Society, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is periodically opened to visitors.
Once a stop along the Erie Railroad’s mainline, the eyepleasing building is the very model of Victorian style and quaintness. Today, the former railroad right-of-way has morphed into a rail trail that sees regular use by hikers and bicyclists.
In a nod to the network of inviting roads and trails that surround it, the village of Piermont features bike rental stands and a well-stocked bicycle store. The 3-mile-long Old Erie Path runs high above town, passing the railroad station as it goes, and links with the Raymond G. Esposito and Joseph B. Clark Trails. This off-road combo creates a 7-mile-long scenic path that features spectacular views of the Hudson River, especially in the fall and spring when obscuring foliage is at a minimum. Road bicyclists also frequent the area, regularly riding into town for a break from their rides along scenic Rt. 9 and other points.
EATERIES, BOUTIQUES AND THE ARTS
While Piermont offers a small assortment of unique shops, mostly situated along Piermont Ave., the town is perhaps better known for its relaxation opportunities. This likely explains why indoor/outdoor restaurants have sprouted here at a level surpassing that of all other businesses.
The Sidewalk Bistro is a Piermont Ave. mainstay, offering the perfect place to dine alfresco while watching the comings and goings of folks at the Community Market, located just across the street. Bicyclists regard the market as something of an oasis and often stop here to refill their water bottles or to nosh on ice cream cones. Then they move along renewed, ready to attack the road once more.
Situated even closer to the river, The Shops at Piermont Landing represent the latest addition to the commercial rebirth occurring in town. Here, visitors will find Slattery’s and Confetti, two restaurants that, in addition to scrumptious morsels, offer a view of the Hudson River to the north and the eclectic parade of humanity that regularly filters through. For dessert, the Flywheel Creamery offers truly tasty hard ice cream in a 1950s setting that recalls the days of sock-hops and drivein theaters. Also featured at The Shops are a handful of art galleries. The works featured here span many different styles and an equal number of price points.
A BRIDGE RUNS THROUGH IT
Piermont features an obscure claim to fame certain to appeal to bridge fans. The Bridge St. Bridge, a handcrank drawbridge crossing the Sparkill Creek, has stood in town since its erection in 1880. It represents an extremely rare example of a manually operated vehicular crossing that used a clever array of drums, chains and counter-weights to get the job done. Back in the day, fisherman in sloops would depart their vessels here, open and close the span to permit their passing, and then continue on their way. Restored to its original grandeur in 2009, the bridge has never looked better.
HOLLYWOOD AND THE FORMER ‘DOWNTRODDEN’ VILLAGE
Movie buffs may or may not recognize Piermont in two movies that used the village for location shots. In 1985, director Woody Allen filmed “The Purple Rose of Cairo” here. At the time, the village was in such sorry shape that the film crew joked they’d need to spiff it up to approximate the Depression-era town called for in the film. In 1999, Piermont was again used as a backdrop, this time for the movie, “At First Sight.” When featured actors Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino walk down Piermont Ave., the-then ramshackle street appears lifeless and dreary- a far cry from what it would become in the not-too-distant future.