The iconic pier reaches far into the Hudson River, like a giant arrow summoning all passersby into the little village wedged between the water and the steep Tallman Mountains. That village, Piermont — (Get it? Pier, mountain… Piermont!) — is a tiny (less than one square mile), hidden Rockland County gem populated by a mere 2,500 people.
The mile-long pier has been Piermont’s lifeblood ever since it was built in 1839 to create a link between ships on the Hudson and the Erie Railroad. Previously, Piermont — then called Tappan Landing — had been a port where the Tappan Indians traded with Dutch settlers. The railroad brought prosperity, but eventually most trains were rerouted to Jersey City. During World War II, the pier was used as an embarkation point for troops heading to the European theater. Piermont then had a second life as a factory town. The last industry, the Piermont Paper Company, closed in the ’70s, and by then the railroad had been abandoned, too. The village had fallen on such hard times that Woody Allen shot his 1985 Depression Era-movie The Purple Rose of Cairo there. The town needed sprucing up to be convincing even as that, or so went the joke among locals.
The pier is also a scenic walking trail
Photograph by Jim Henderson
In the late 1990s, enterprising developers found a new use for the pier: They built an array of condos and town houses, arranged in tidy loops to best take advantage of the panoramic river views. And so Piermont boomed again. “It certainly changed the image of the village a great deal, but interestingly, it didn’t change it,” says Piermont Mayor Chris Sanders. The original population of factory workers was joined by an influx of professionals and intellectuals, who fixed up the dilapidated housing stock; built new homes on the slope with stunning vistas; and opened boutiques, art galleries and upscale restaurants. The town’s well-preserved charm even made it a haven for New York City’s rich and famous: actors Bill Murray, Al Pacino, and Rosie O’Donnell, as well as Icelandic screecher Björk, all live in the area. “We’ve got an interesting, diverse demographic,” says Sanders. “In every case, the new people seem to add to the village and not necessarily change it. It’s a wonderful mosaic.”
This resurgence — which shot house prices and property taxes through the roof, but simultaneously drastically improved the South Orangetown Central School District — came about due to the ideally-situated real estate Piermont suddenly found itself sitting on. As infrastructure developed around it, the town became one of the few places that’s quiet and quaint yet eminently commutable to New York City. Just a few miles from the New Jersey border, Piermont is nestled between the Tappan Zee and George Washington bridges; both are easily accessible. Take the Palisades Parkway and you can be in Manhattan in roughly 30 minutes, barring traffic. A bus gets you to the Port Authority in about an hour. Another bus takes commuters to the Tarrytown Metro-North station in 25 minutes; alternatively, the nearest New Jersey Transit station is a 10-minute drive away.
Noted chef Peter Kelly owns two restaurants in the village
Photograph by Ken Gabrielsen
When the work is done, a functioning hand-crank drawbridge will link Piermont with Tallman Mountain State Park, with its sweeping views of the New York City skyline and hiking and biking trails that attract scads of visitors from the city. The protected wetlands of Piermont Marsh are home to an abundance of wildlife, and the Sparkill Creek, which curls through it, is ideal for kayaking or canoeing. So is the river, of course, where others also go crabbing and fishing. The village itself offers fine dining, including Iron Chef Peter Kelly’s much-lauded Xaviar’s and Freelance Cafe.
Idyllic places such as these aren’t cheap, of course. Piermont has an eclectic housing stock, but at the time of writing, the single family homes with an active listing had a median price of $780,000. Prices ranged as high as $7 million.
Many of those houses and businesses were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy when Piermont was slammed by a nine-foot surge, which sent the marina’s boats floating off into the village, colliding like bumper cars. “During many storms and nor’easters we see flooding in various parts of the village,” says Sanders. “In a sense, we know the drill, how to protect ourselves, and how to pick ourselves up.”
But this was no ordinary storm. “Nobody had seen anything like Sandy,” Sanders says. “Everybody faced a lot of economic hardship.” But now things are mostly back to normal, says Sanders, noting how residents and every department of the tiny village came together. “During one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, it was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”