The development of the Erie Railroad required filling almost 100 acres of the Hudson River to construct a 4000-foot long pier that extended almost halfway across the river.
By 1838, a strong and stable foundation for the railroad buildings and tracks was created. This infrastructure changed the very nature of Piermont, preparing the ground for commercial and passenger use of trains, steamboats and ferries that decades later would lead to Piermont’s industrial age with the construction of the paper mill. More importantly, during WWII, more than a half million soldiers left from the pier for the European theatre from the nearby 1,365-acre Army debarkation camp in Orangetown, Camp Shanks. Soldiers also returned directly from Europe to the pier after the war. Current use of this infrastructure is no less important today, where the picturesque pier houses condos, provides bucolic walks, fishing, cycling, sports events and also serves as a veterans’ memorial and the location of the watchfires every Memorial Day weekend.
The Piermont Historical Society has produced a video, narrated by Tom Chapin, entitled Piermont and Its Role in World War 2: Last Stop USA, It's a compelling and moving look at Piermont's role in World War II. Our Video includes several interviews of local residents and their memories of Piermont during the 1940’s. The video is available for sale at the Piermont Train Station and here at our online store.
It was 1942 and the United States was at war. On the evening of September 25th, Major Drew Eberson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told property owners that under the War Powers Act, the army would be seizing 1,365 acres of land in order to build Camp Shanks, an army debarkation camp. The residents had two weeks to move out.
Troops began arriving by train from all across the nation when the camp opened in Orangetown, Rockland County in 1943. Seven staging areas accommodated 46,000 troops at a time with 2500 buildings providing housing, offices, entertainment facilities and medical services.
By 1944, tens of thousands of troops were being sent overseas from the camp. Most soldiers spent between 7 to 12 days awaiting deployment. Once Piermont Pier was reinforced and wood planking was laid, troops marched and rode trucks 4 miles to Piermont Pier where transport vessels at the newly built ferry slip awaited. From the Pier, the G.I.s were taken to New York Harbor where they were transfered to troopships to serve their country overseas. For many, Piermont was the last time the soldiers would set foot on American soil and became know as “Last Stop USA.”
Servicemen and Women leave Piermont
"Last Stop U.S.A."
At the time Piermont was a small factory town. The paper factory made ration cartons, ammo containers and cardboard boxes for blood plasma bottles.
Haddock Hall made ripcords for parachutes and ribbons for good conduct medals. Rationing became a way of life. Stamps were needed to buy food, clothing and gas. Red, white and blue banners with stars began to appear in the windows of homes indicating the households that had soldiers overseas.
Nervous parents served as wardens enforcing a 9pm curfew for all under the age of 18 to protect their daughters from girl-watching servicemen. In June of 1944, the first POWs arrived at the pier. German and Italian prisoners of war were processed at Shanks and distributed to 150 camps across the US. At the end of the war, many POW’s were returned to Europe by way of the pier. The last German POWs set sail from Piermont on July 22nd 1946.
P.O.W.s at the Pier
G.I.s Arrive Home
Veterans began arriving back to the states as the war ended. For two months after VE Day, 45,484 troops sailed directly from Europe up the Hudson to Piermont on their way home. Piermont had lost 11 soldiers to the war effort : Vincent Bradner, Vincent DeLongis, Richard Fournier, John Galgano, Jesse Goswick, Bernard Haring, Dennis Hogan, Edward Ingram, George Pinto, Peter Sbordone and Peter Scolaro.
Every Memorial Day on the end of the Piermont’s pier, massive logs are piled nearly three stories high and are lit for 24 hours. The ﬁres are lit not only in Piermont, but also along the ridge of the Palisades. They symbolically light the way home for those soldiers who have died in all wars and conﬂicts of the United States. The Rockland County Vietnam Veterans started the tradition of watchﬁres on the pier in 1987.
The use of watchﬁres originated with General George Washington, who would light bonfires along the ridge line of the Palisades to warn his soldiers of the movements of the British Army in the Hudson Valley. He ﬁnally used them to signal the ceaseﬁre at the end of the Revolutionary War.