On the southeast corner of Flywheel Park is the flywheel. It was scheduled to be demolished along with the factory that housed it, but it was built too well, and the wrecker’s ball just bounced off.
Workers installed the flywheel here in 1902 as part of the Piermont Paper Company’s steam driven electrical system. Company founder Martin R. Williams decided to make the village into a cardboard manufacturing center because the nearby Sparkill Creek could supply fresh water to process the paper, and there was an existing railroad to carry supplies in and out of the plant. It was a wise choice. For the next 80 years, the flywheel helped power a succession of mills that recycled wastepaper into paperboard for cereal boxes and other cartons.
Inside the Mill
The Box Shop
The wheel kept spinning through two World Wars and the Great Depression. Fondly called “The Twin” because of its two large steam-driven pistons, which are still partially visible, the flywheel was a critical cog in the paper making process.
The steam that powered it also heated the 93 rollers that dried the paper pulp for the two paper making machines. These behemoths, each longer than a football field and weighing hundreds of tons, were among the largest in the world. Some say on stormy nights you can still hear the thunderous din of the 25-cycle generator.
“Keep it on the iron!” the paper-makers would often yell to the incoming crew at the change of a shift. They were warning them not to let the paper break and slip off the iron rollers. If it did, it would pile up in the pit under the rollers, making a terrible mess and halting production. In the early days Piermont Paper’s principle customer was The Robert Gair Company.
By 1919, Gair decided that it could make more money by moving its operations from Brooklyn to Piermont. A year later, Gair bought the mill. It eventually became the largest of Gair’s plants, employing some 1,300 people. Since more than 85 percent of its $1.25 million yearly payroll went to employees living within 6 miles of the plant, local grocers, butchers, doctors, banks and other businesses also prospered.
Packages Made in Piermont
Gair Paper Brooklyn, NY
Paper Mill ca. 1910
Back in 1879, Robert Gair found a way to cut and crease paperboard in one operation, making paperboard cartons easier and cheaper to manufacture. The discovery led to a revolutionary new product - the world’s first affordable cardboard box. It was now also possible to make water resistant paper, bags and cups.
These innovations helped improve public health by reducing food borne diseases and profoundly affected distribution methods and retailing. Toward the end of World War II, the plant’s peak production years, it churned as much as 480 tons of paperboard a day. The mill remained unchanged until 1956 when the Robert Gair Company merged with the Continental Can Company. The Federal Paper Board Company leased the mill from 1971 until 1973, when Clevepack bought it.
The mill closed permanently in 1982, saddening many Piermonters. Over eight decades, the hulking, sprawling complex, with its steam and smoke billowing stacks, had dominated the village landscape, employing many residents and enriching Piermont’s tax base. After a fruitless search for a replacement industry, the village moved to revitalize this valuable riverfront property with a mixed commercial-residential development.
When demolition began for the present day Piermont Landing, workers struggled to remove the flywheel, but the wrecking ball just bounced off it. Leave it, they were told. Let it stand as a monument to Piermont’s industrial past and to the hard working men and women who were a part of it. That’s why you see it here today.