Garnerville Arts & Industrial Center Gets Landmark Status

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Rockland County Times: The Garnerville Company Town

All of Rockland’s downtowns are products of this fervent economic growth. Nyack had its mills and shipyards, Piermont its railroad terminals, Haverstraw its brickyards. The last remaining and intact 19th century company town is Garnerville, known for brothers Thomas and James Garner whose wealth steadily grew from the power of the Minisceongo Creek.

S.W. Johnson S.F.E. Fire Company, firehouse built in 1876

S.W. Johnson S.F.E. Fire Company, firehouse built in 1876

A dam was built on the creek at Bridge Street in Garnerville and progress began. John Glass constructed immense brick mills in a campus of several buildings on the site of an 18th century grist mill. A major calico textile printing plant sprung up. The creek’s hydro energy drove leather drive bands and rope that in turn spun large printing presses and other equipment. When Mr. Glass was killed in a steamboat boiler explosion offshore of Haverstraw, the Garner brothers stepped in to grow the business.

The Minisceongo would run with bright magenta, cerulean blue or mustard yellow on some days, before the advent of environmental protection. The booming business required hundreds of workers at hand to toil at the mills around the clock. A rail terminal at Bridge Street and Railroad Avenue allowed trains to whisk newly dyed and printed products to market.

Longview of Garner Arts Center

Longview of Garner Arts Center

Surrounding the mill complex was a hollow of worker houses, nearly all of which exist to this day. The homes are modest and all alike. They comprised a densely packed village that began to feed its own economic growth.

The Garners even built their own state-of-the-art firehouse at Bridge Street as an insurance policy against losing their massive mill investments. Railroad Avenue was the commercial corridor where workers and their family ran errands, dined and were entertained. Most of the Railroad Avenue commercial district has been destroyed in Garnerville; however, the commercial district east of Route 9W is still largely intact in West Haverstraw.

Garnerville residents could catch a train for downtown Haverstraw or head in the opposite direction to Spring Valley and on to Hoboken, Jersey City and Manhattan.

Arts Center bustling, making a post-Irene comeback

Arts Center bustling, making a post-Irene comeback

It is probable that local currency or company scrip was in use in Garnerville. Workers could use the currency at company stores or elsewhere within the local economy. Scrip and local currency was in wide circulation during the late 19th century and early 20th century, and it remains legal to this day. Haverstraw Village had several local currencies established at each of the powerful banks, the buildings of which still grace the corner of Broadway and Main Street.

To say Garnerville was bustling is an understatement.
While Garnerville no longer functions as a self-sufficient community, the Garner Arts Center, as the terminal and mills are now known, has become a hive of artists and craftsmen. Set designers, cabinet makers, sculptors, dancers and painters inhabit the nooks, crannies, and hidden passageways that wind through brick and timber caverns.

The Center is now widely known among art circles in Manhattan. The Minisceongo still babbles its way through the complex after pouring over the dam as a picturesque waterfall. The creek has not spared the Garner Arts Center its rage. Flood waters from Hurricane Irene proved too violent for the Center’s main gallery space when a support wall failed and took with it much of the trussed roof and timber floors.

Since that time the rest of the building was shored up, but remains a shell of its former glory. Plans are in place to rebuild, but local government has yet to get behind a vision for moving forward.

The complex is a new center of economic activity in North Rockland and has all the ingredients in place to sow a vibrant, mixed-use arts district. Visions of artist lofts, breweries and busy cafes have been floated by Arts Center leaders. There is a strong precedent for this kind of successful redevelopment and adaptive reuse of historic buildings at similar mill complexes across the U.S.

Before that can happen, the Village of West Haverstraw must approve zoning and ordinance changes. Once again, regulation stands in the way of a growing and robust local economy. Let’s break that unfortunate trend in Garnerville.

Take a look at for some more information.

Seven to Save

Preservation League adds Garnerville Arts Center to Seven to Save list of endangered places for 2012-13

ALBANY, April 23, 2012 – The Preservation League of New York State has named Garnerville Arts Center located 30 miles north of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley to its list of the Empire State’s most threatened historic resources, Seven to Save.

The Garner Print Works was built in 1828 on the site of a former 1760s grist mill and is named after the Garner brothers, the second owners of the calico printing plant. At one time, the plant employed some 800 workers and grew to include the printing and dyeing of wool, cotton and linen.  A once-prolific plant, it manufactured uniforms for the Union Army during the Civil War and in its heyday produced enough dresses to clothe every woman in America. The plant closed during the Great Depression but was brought back to life in 1934 by the Garnerville Holding Company, the current owner of the complex, which offered the textile industries free rent to return and reopen.  Reminiscent of a small village in a Dickens novel, the facility includes more than 30 buildings of 19th century industrial-age architecture on a 14 acre site that spans both sides of the Minisceongo Creek, the water source that once powered the mill.

By the late 1980s, the complex was in a state of extreme disrepair as the textile industries closed their doors one-by-one, abandoned their equipment and left the northeast mills altogether. The complex was again in danger of closure.

In the mid-1990’s, the Garnerville Holding Company began to make space in the underutilized industrial center available to artists. With its close proximity to Manhattan, more than fifty artists and artisans soon established studios there. The not-for-profit GAGA Arts Center was incorporated in 2003 and over the next 8 years sponsored the creation and celebration of art at the Garnerville complex through events, festivals, student educational opportunities, open gallery space – one of the largest in the northeast – and a creekside sculpture trail. New life was breathed into the complex and it was becoming known throughout the region as an artists’ mecca and growing cultural center.

In late summer 2011, arts and industry at Garnerville faced perhaps the greatest challenge to date.  Heavy rains from Hurricane Irene and overtopped upstream lakes forced a huge volume of water and debris down the Minisceongo Creek through the mill raceway at the core of the complex. The Art Center’s Main Gallery and many warehouses and studios sustained serious damage. Numerous businesses were put out of work and the Art Center’s programming came to a complete halt. Once again, the future of this historic complex was seriously threatened.

“Since 1999, Seven to Save has mobilized community leaders and decision-makers to take action when historic resources are threatened,” said Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League. “A Seven to Save designation from the League delivers invaluable technical assistance, fosters increased media coverage and public awareness, and opens the door to grant assistance for endangered properties.”

The League’s Seven to Save designation focuses on the site’s historic importance and the Garnerville Arts Center’s commitment to rebuilding. Many historic downtowns and centers of light industry lost their very lifeblood as a result of damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The difficult choice faced by the Garnerville Arts Center and its tenants is emblematic of challenges faced by many around the state following the tropical storms in late August and September, 2011. The Preservation League will work with the Garnerville Arts Center to highlight the innovative model of adaptive use in this historic mill complex and spread the word that the Arts Center remains open for business.

“We are pleased and so very grateful that the Preservation League, in designating Garnerville Arts Center a Seven to Save site, recognized not only the historic value of the Garnerville complex but the energy, passion and devotion of so many who have worked together to create a thriving cultural and small business environment here”, says Robin Rosenberg, President of Garnerville Arts Center.  “It is our hope that the Seven to Save designation will open a new chapter in the history of this 200 year old complex, and that the greater preservation-minded community and art-loving community will join with us in our efforts to rebuild and recreate ourselves into a regional center for culture and commerce while helping to preserve our “diamond in-the-rough.”  The inclusion of Garnerville Arts Center on the Seven to Save list provides the opportunity for the League to work with local advocates to protect the complex. “With this program, we provide targeted support to seven of New York’s most important and endangered historic resources,” said Erin Tobin, the Preservation League’s eastern regional director for technical and grant programs. “Whether sites are threatened by insensitive, ineffective or insufficient public policies, general neglect, or, in some cases, outright demolition, we have a proven record of working with community advocates to save a number of significant properties.”

Since 1999, publicity and advocacy resulting from Seven to Save designation has led to the rehabilitation and reopening of the Oswego City Public Library, the rebirth of Montauk Manor on Long Island, and the rededication of the once-abandoned George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton along with successes at several other locations.

The Preservation League of New York State is a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1974. The League invests in people and projects that champion the essential role of preservation in community revitalization, sustainable economic growth, and the protection of New York’s historic buildings and landscapes. It leads advocacy, economic development, and education programs all across the state.