ONE AFTERNOON in March, 1999 I wandered down the river from my home in Dutchess County, until I ended up at Tarrytown, where one of the largest factories on the Hudson River was then being ripped apart. The General Motors plant actually stood not in Tarrytown but at Sleepy Hollow, about 20 miles above Manhattan on the river's east shore. The village had been called "North Tarrytown" until around the time the plant closed in 1996. It struck me back then as very telling that the plant should be demolished so soon after it closed. It seemed a foregone conclusion that no one would move in to pick up where GM left off.

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NORTH TARRYTOWN'S GM PLANT had its beginnings nearly 100 years earlier, when a large factory took shape here around 1903 to produce automobiles for the Maxwell-Briscoe company. One of the original factory buildings was attributed to the architect Stanford White. In 1913 Maxwell-Briscoe became the Maxwell Motor Company. General Motors purchased the plant in 1916 and assigned the facility to its Chevrolet division, which the plant continued to serve for the next 80 years. Continued expansions transformed the plant into a mammoth installation, straddling both sides of the adjacent railroad tracks. From an early age I can recall passing the factory on trains going to and from New York, brand new cars marshalled neatly near the tracks awaiting shipment out across the continent.

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ALL THAT came to a stop in 1996. GM discovered it was cheaper to build its cars in third world countries than here in the US. The site was slated for residential redevelopment, but a decade later it remained a vast, empty lot, the concrete slab of its old assembly floor studded with the stumps of steel girders, something like a clear cut forest. General Motors meanwhile hasn't fared much better. Despite moving all those jobs to Mexico, the company in 2006 found itself teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, with losses mounting into the billions of dollars. A number of foriegn automakers, such as Toyota, Honda and Daimler-Chrysler, seem to have figured out how to assemble cars here in America and remain profitable. While those steel stumps cast long shadows across the Sleepy Hollow waterfront in the late afternoon sun, GM is still figuring out how to stay solvent, skilled American workers are still looking for full-time jobs and health insurance, and passengers on passing trains still look out across Sleepy Hollow's big empty lot, wondering what comes next.

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© T.E. Rinaldi, 2006