COCHECTON, NY — Since 1879, the red brick pump station building has stood proud, tall and seemingly indestructible at the intersection of State Route 97 and County Route 116. That was the year …
COCHECTON, NY — Since 1879, the red brick pump station building has stood proud, tall and seemingly indestructible at the intersection of State Route 97 and County Route 116. That was the year that John Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company proposed a pipeline that would move crude oil 300 miles from wells in western Pennsylvania to refineries in Bayonne, NJ, thus sidestepping hefty transport fees charged by the railroads.
To safeguard against the possibility of fire, either from combustion of the flammable material being transported or from the eight coal-burning furnaces used to power the oil pumps, the four-story building was framed with nonflammable materials. The walls were brick, the girders iron, the roof sheet metal and the windowsills bluestone.
Visible to travelers on the Delaware River, the highway and in railroad cars running on the nearby track, the building quickly became a landmark. Although Standard Oil stopped operating the facility in 1925, it wasn’t until 1936 that decommissioning plans included demolition of the building. The much-anticipated demolition drew a sizable crowd of onlookers.
What actually happened that day is the stuff of legend. Oldtimers say the late builder Bob White swore that the bricks were so solidly made that the demolition crew couldn’t dent them. In any event, the four walls and chimney were left standing and remain so to this day. But like all manmade structures not continuously maintained, the building’s remains were slowly being reclaimed by nature. Trees and other vegetation began growing within and without the walls.
Enter Dave Lieber, a filmmaker sidelined by the pandemic. Desperate to make a living and entranced by the abandoned building, he and his partner, Jin, started a roadside kebab stand—Dave’s Backyard Skewers—in its shadow. The kebabs sold beyond all expectation, inciting renewed public interest in the old pump station building. Lieber moved into the nearby pump station keeper’s house, dreamed of what he might do with those four walls, and began clearing trash and vegetation away from them.
He has since consulted an architectural firm, and together, they have imagined new uses for the post-industrial building. A glass roof, steel catwalks, a sculpture garden and a pop-up food court have all been proposed and incorporated into the architect’s renderings.
Presenting his plan to the Cochecton Town Board at its December 9 meeting, Lieber also consulted there with code enforcement officer Greg Semenetz and Cochecton Preservation Society member Peggy Richardson. He noted that some concerns about oil residue left in the old transport pipes have been voiced by area residents, but he said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has assured him that the property is not a brownfield site (real property where development or reuse is complicated by contamination).
Responding to a December 23 inquiry into the status of the property, the DEC said, “According to the DEC database, DEC has not received reports of hazardous wastes or spills associated with this site. If public records, excavation, or other work at this or any property indicates contamination is present, DEC would work with the owner to develop a plan that addresses the contamination as needed to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.”
Lieber says the project will be completed in phases. But the next step is Twitchy’s Pump House Café, a food cart coffee shop, opening for business on January 1, 2021. Lieber urges everyone to “stop by and check out the pump house.”