After an exhaustive search with the town historian through the archives of the Town of North Salem, it seems there are no exciting pirate stories, tales of prohibition-era bootleggers, noted stickup men or verified paranormal experiences associated with the Lift Trucks Building. But there’s still plenty of time. This structure, built in 1922, housed a feed, grain and hardware store when Route 22 was just a farm road. Tractors filled the place later as it became a John Deere factory outlet but this went under and the building was left abandoned during the fi rst Great Depression. B. Hawley Smith took over in the 1940s and opened up a fork lift sales, service and repair operation with 17 employees punching in on the time clock still working upstairs. The cement-block, poured- concrete floor and massive I-beam structure at one time supported over 75 fork lifts, each weighing in at an average 8,000 pounds. The ranches and orchard’s in the area became the first customers, and the new enterprise boomed. Mr. Smith was an inventor as well as an entrepreneur, coming up with many ideas, one being a patent for a gun system to shoot rope from Navy vessels docking at port.
Electricity was unreliable as Croton Falls was one of the last towns in Westchester to have its own power company. Mr. Smith’s “can-do” attitude prevailed as he installed a large propeller on the roof to harness wind and provide electricity. As the place was already stacked floor to ceiling with nickel-plated Thomas Edison batteries used to power the trucks, he found that if he ganged them up in series, the batteries could store enough juice to fully power the building. Today these batteries are back again in demand for folks from Alabama to China wishing to “go off the grid’ and escape the tyranny of the municipal power company. In time, the fork lift business changed. Lower demand, coupled with the impossibility of finding anyone capable of working on the two-ton beasts, collapsed the once thriving business.
A few years ago, some artists noticed the vine-covered, almost abandoned building. Being driven out of just about everywhere else, they landed here. The red enamel Lift Trucks lettering on the outside wall was left up as they were too lazy to think of a new name and so began what we have today, working artist’s studios and an ongoing exhibition space. As a PR man might say, ” A new enterprise sprang to life out of the ruins of an old industry ,” or something like that. In an uncharacteristic dose of sanity, common sense and a desire to get along (also in compliance with town code) the artists live well out in the country. But they love crowds of company and that great space in the building solved their social problem.