BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Piermont Historical Society will formally dedicate the recently created Rockland Road Bridge Historic District with a special ceremony at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 9, the society has announced. The public is invited to attend and participate in the event.
Included in the ceremony will be the unveiling of two aesthetic informational signs marking the historic importance of the new district, which comprises nine historic buildings and seven sites, including the endangered Rockland Road Bridge itself as the district’s centerpiece. A public reception will follow the dedication at the nearby Outside in Piermont flower, craft and antique shop at 249 Ferdon Avenue in Piermont.
The unique single-span arch bridge at the heart of the new district was constructed and opened in 1874, and is built with a combination of stone and brick. The design feature is common to 18th and 19th century bridges, but is rarely seen today, society officials note, adding that it is the only one of its kind remaining in of Rockland County, and one of only three remaining in all of New York State. It is so unique that it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
“Unfortunately time has not been a friend of the bridge, and this valuable and irreplaceable structure is in dire need of restoration,” said Historical Society official Richard Esnard. “The society hopes to draw public awareness to this district, rallying support for raising the needed funds for the bridge’s rescue,” he added.
The bridge crosses the Sparkill Creek in the heart of the oldest part of Piermont, where the village was actually formed nearly 300 years ago. It brings Rockland Rd. down from Tallman Mountain and across Ferdon Avenue and the Creek to its “T” intersection at Piermont Avenue.
The new Historic District surrounds the bridge on all sides, and is significant to the village and the region because of its unique location at the geographic break in the towering Palisades Ridge, which separates most of Rockland and Bergen Counties from the Hudson River below.
The break allowed for the construction of the original Erie Railroad from Piermont to Dunkirk, which in turn led to the development of not only Rockland County but the entire nation.
Esnard notes that three of Piermont’s six structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located within the new historic district. Among the more notable structures that Rockland residents may be familiar with in the district are the old Haddock’s Hall, more recently called the “silk mill” and now converted to apartments by the Pellegrini family, the columned Ferdon Mansion, a carriage house converted to a beautiful residence and two or three 18th century Dutch sandstone homes on the north side of Piermont Avenue.
Just a block away, eastward toward downtown Piermont, is the equally famous iron drawbridge over the Sparkill. Also a designated historic site, it is the only known such drawbridge still in existence in this region. It was restored a few years ago by the Rockland County Highway Department and is today part of a village park in that area, across the street from Kane Park.
The Erie rail-trail now connects with similar trails on old railroad rights-of-way going north to Nyack through Piermont, Grand View and South Nyack; south to Oak Tree Road in Tappan and west to Orangeburg and Blauvelt. The first two follow the roadbed of the old Northern Branch of the Erie, while the latter uses another portion of the former mainline. All of these lines were abandoned in the 1950s and 60s, and have since been rescued by the Town of Orangetown and the four riverfront villages as part of the area’s burgeoning “rail-trail” network.
For those wishing a preview of the dedication, the Historical Society will re-open their Northern Branch station on Sunday, May 20 for the 2012 season, as part of the village’s participation in New York State’s Heritage Weekend celebration. In the event of rain on June 9, Saturday’s ceremony will be postponed to Sunday, June 10.