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Creative Exchange

The building was originally a barn, built in 1876 by David W. Kipp, a successful grocer and tenth generation resident of the area, for use as a livery and carriage house. In 1899, a catastrophic fire at St. Agnes Convent and Orphanage brought home to Sparkill the necessity of having its own fire company, as did Tappan, Nyack and Piermont; thus, in 1901, the John Paulding Engine Company #1 was formed and subsequently incorporated in 1912. The carriage house was purchased in the same year from Donald Kipp’s estate. Its first truck was a horse-drawn, hand-powered pumper and then the building was upgraded in 1914 to accommodate a new motorized hose truck.

Even from the beginning, the engine company, when not fighting fires, made the building available for community events such as dances, weddings, minstrel shows and vaudeville. In 1906, it organized a circus to benefit victims of the San Francisco earthquake. The engine company, the building, and the community continued on in this way until 1970, when the engine company moved to its present location on Rte. 340. The next twelve years saw a series of short-lived businesses take up residence in the empty building: dress assembly and manufacturing, toy and statue manufacturing, an environmental safety laboratory and a vitamin store.

Then in 1982, the Firehouse Craftsmen acquired the building and established an arts and crafts cooperative based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, the founder of The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Its members studied craft and its relation to self-knowledge. On the lower floor, they engaged in fabric design, woodworking, weaving, ceramics, stained glass and toy design and on the upper floor they practiced movement exercises designed to heighten self-awareness and vitality.

In 2011, the Craftsmen left and the building was acquired by Piermont resident Simon Basner. From 2011-2012, the building went through a massive transformation under Simon’s direction. At first, Simon was unsure what the space might become, but knew it had potential. Simon continued to enjoy leading the painstaking renovation and as a result of the process, the building became The Union Arts Center.

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