Piermont History

300 years of rich history

What is That Piece of Junk in Flywheel Park?

Photo: Flywheel in Flywheel Park, Piermont

Flywheel at the Flywheel Park, Piermont, NY

That is the actual‭ ‬flywheel,‭ ‬really a piece of machinery,‭ ‬which helped provide power for the first factory in Piermont more than‭ ‬100‭ ‬years ago.‭ ‬It was installed in‭ ‬1902,‭ ‬as part of a steam-driven generator,‭ ‬for the Piermont Paper Company.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1924,‭ ‬the Robert Gair Company absorbed the older outfit,‭ ‬and was later itself taken over by Continental Can.‭ The paper industry here kept chugging along until the mid-1980s when the facility, then owned by Federal Paper Board/Clevepak, was closed forever and the land sold for development.

The Flywheel wouldn't budge

Mills of the Piermont Paper Co.

Piermont Paper Mills - early 20th century

When developers of what you now see on this old railroad and factory site attempted to remove the flywheel,‭ ‬it wouldn’t budge.‭ ‬They tried a wrecking ball,‭ ‬which bounced right off.‭ ‬So it was decided that the flywheel would become a permanent part of the park,‭ ‬a sort of public monument to Piermont’s industrial past.‭ ‬Hence the name of the park,‭ ‬the gallery on Ash Street and our street,‭ ‬Flywheel Park West.

Robert Gair and Piermont

Train approaching Gair plant

Train approaching the Robert Gair Co. plant

Robert Gair was born in Scotland in‭ ‬1839‭ ‬and came to the U.S.‭ ‬at the age of‭ ‬14.‭ ‬He served in the Civil War and subsequently started a small paper business in lower Manhattan in‭ ‬1864.‭ ‬This business eventually grew to be one of the country’s greatest enterprises,‭ ‬covering a six block area on the Brooklyn waterfront,‭ ‬and expanding into different regions,‭ ‬including Piermont.‭ ‬Along the way,‭ ‬Gair had developed a new form of packaging after discovering a method used to cut and crease boxboard into cartons in one operation.‭ ‬His carton factory in Piermont was one of the largest,‭ ‬employing at one time up to‭ ‬1,300‭ ‬people.

Working at the Gair Plant

North side of factories - late 20th century

North side of factories - late 20th century

The Gair plant made boxes for well known products such as‭ ‬New Blue Cheer,‭ ‬Tide,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Wheaties‭ – ‬Breakfast of Champions,‭ ‬as well as their Egg-Safety cartons which were in great demand with the growth of supermarkets after WWII.‭ ‬But while the plant produced needed packaging for a growing economy and provided employment for many,‭ ‬working conditions were often bleak by today’s standards.‭ ‬Enduring high levels of heat and noise,‭ ‬employees worked on machines that demanded constant attention,‭ ‬making‭ ‬600‭ ‬boxes per minute.‭ ‬Steaming vats of paper slurry and hot glue pots impacted the air quality.‭ ‬One source reports that the temperatures in parts of the plant could run as high as‭ ‬120-140‭ ‬degrees.‭ ‬There were no air quality standards in those days‭! ‬When it finally closed,‭ ‬a news article reported:

“‬the rooms in the old Gair paper mill on the Pier are enormous,‭ ‬dank and dangerous.‭ ‬Great empty concrete pits,‭ ‬where the block-long Fourdrinier machines once strained the water from paper pulp,‭ ‬gape under stained skylights three stories above.‭ ‬Pipes the size of sewer mains elbow through the concrete floor and end,‭ ‬open-mouthed,‭ ‬drooling a grey froth that has hardened into the texture of abandoned wasps‭’ ‬nests.‭”

Historic Preservation Award

In‭ ‬1993,‭ ‬the Historical Society of Rockland County presented an Historic Preservation Award to the Piermont Commercial Corporation/Piermont Residential Corporation,‭ ‬subsidiaries of Chase Manhattan Bank,‭ ‬for‭ “‬their extensive efforts in preserving the Piermont Flywheel,‭” ‬saying that‭ “‬the overall impression‭” ‬created by the Flywheel,‭ ‬was‭ “‬of a free-standing sculpture,‭ ‬which pays constant tribute to Piermont’s industrial heritage.‭”

More historic photos from the factory site:

Railroad approach to factories

Railroad approach to the factories, c. 1970s

Sheds at factory site

Sheds at factory site with bales of paper (possibly destined for recycling)

^ Top

25 Flywheel Park West, Piermont, NY 10968-1040

On the web: piermontlibrary.org