What now includes Pearl River was originally part of the Kakiat Patent granted to two Irish businessmen, Daniel Honan and Michael Hawdon, in 1696. In 1713, their lands were split into north and south moieties (portions of land) and divided, sold, and bequeathed to others in the decades after the Revolution.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a region of farms, mills, and peaceful everyday life. In 1870 Julius Braunsdorf, called the “Father of Pearl River,” donated the land that brought in the New Jersey and New York Railroad, and money for the rail station that, although renovated many times, remains today.
Thanks to Braunsdorf — and the railroad — this became known as a company town. In 1872 he opened the Aetna Sewing Machine Company to produce his patented home sewing machines. That same year he established the first post office here, and from then on, the hamlet was known as Pearl River. Independent of Edison, Branusdorf invented a carbon-arc light bulb in 1873 and designed generators, one of which powered the first electric lights in the nation’s Capitol.
Over the 20th century, two more inventor/scientists came to Pearl River. In 1894, Talbot C. Dexter moved his Dexter Folder Company into Braunsdorf’s factory. His automatic folding machines changed the way newspapers, books, and magazines were folded and assembled. In 1906, Dr. Ernest Lederle established the Lederle Antitoxin Laboratories on Middletown Road. In 1930, it became Lederle Laboratories, a division of American Cyanamid, and during World War II, Lederle was a major supplier of blood plasma. By 1994, it became American Home Products and employed over 3,000 people. It was acquired by Pfizer, another pharmaceutical company in 2009.
From the 1870s into the early 1920s Pearl River was a major source of fresh flowers for New York City, and its rural charm attracted tourists to health spas and summer homes. In the 1930s, Pearl River was branded as “The Town of Friendly People” to promote businesses and commercial construction. Today it’s known for the New York’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and a spirit that makes it “Still the Town of Friendly People.”
The Pearl River Pearls - No one can say for sure how Pearl River got its name. Some contend that it came from the small pearls found in mussels that thrived then in the Muddy Brook. Others believe that the railroad created the name in order to make its station stop here look more appealing on passenger schedules. Still others maintain that Braunsdorf himself insisted on Pearl River to enhance the hamlet’s business image. (Courtesy Pearl River Library, Photo by Joseph Barbieri)
Evans Real Estate, ca. 1910 - W.M. Evans’ Real Estate and Insurance Company was located on the corner of William Street and Central Avenue. His home was right next door. His office building was later moved several yards north to become Herb Peckman’s first liquor store. When Peckman eventually built a new store, this original Evans structure was moved to Pomona where today it is part of Gilligan’s Clam Bar and Grill Restaurant. (Courtesy Robert Knight)