By Arthur H. Gunther III
There’s a smallish village near me, and, of course, there is one by you, anywhere, that has its charm. You may have to look beyond the new, in this case the paint, restored Victorian and earlier 20th century facades and weekend tourists to find that, unless it is the present look that satisfies most.
In the little village near me, I was on a visit to see 30-year-old photographs from a movie set shot on location there. Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” was filmed in Piermont, N.Y., and local professional photographer Sally Savage made her own stills of the shooting. Her exhibit at Village Hall was not only fascinating, but the Depression-era look of the movie set reminded older area residents of Piermont back when.
This was a proud industrial town, with paper, cardboard and aluminum can factories on constant, clanking-noise shift, great smokestacks pushing whitish plumes against the moonlight over the Hudson River. The factories employed generations — one after another — with many Italian and Irish immigrants among them. Their wages paid for simple houses, and in those homes dreams of betterment for children were begun in cookie jars filled with weekly savings.
During both world wars, men of the factories left, and some never returned. In 1944, as the Allies began nearing the D-Day invasion date, some 1.3 million U.S. Army troops from nearby Camp Shanks marched and were transported through Piermont, past the factories and onto the Hudson piers to begin the ocean voyage to their — our world’s — destiny.
A favorite recollection of that time is the soldier who, marching down Piermont Avenue, and unable to tell his village parents that he was moving out or even that he was at Camp Shanks, spotted his ma on the porch, she searching every soldier’s face for her son. They found each other in a millisecond, and then the soldier waved as he moved on.
After the war, the factories were re-energized by the post-war American boom. And just as surely, this nation’s later manufacturing decline would see the businesses close and the Village of Piermont fall on times as difficult as the Depression.
Yet the decades would force even more change, and now the factories are gone and in their place expensive housing with river views. The downtown, just 18 miles from New York City, has trendy restaurants and shops, and tourists love the “charm.” Cyclists also come by the hundreds on their way to nearby Nyack and upstate. Thousands will probably arrive once the two new Tappan Zee bridges open up across the Hudson, with pedestrian and bike paths.
The walk taken in Piermont this past Sunday had me thinking about all the change, the factories, the war times, the great growth of a village, of a nation, of family hopes and achievement. I paid little attention to newer trappings. I had found my charm in the strength of a people who built a community.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org