Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Glover's Rock on Orchard Beach Road Does Not Mark the Site of the Battle of Pelham

I receive about four or five e-mails and/or letters each week with questions about the history of Pelham and surrounding areas. I try my best to respond to each one. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a resident of the Bronx with a question that I have been asked numerous times during the last several years. He wrote: "I have a question about Glover's Rock that I hope maybe you can answer. Where exactly was the battle fought? Was it behind the rock or across from it?"

The answer, oddly, is that the battle was fought nowhere near the boulder called Glover's Rock despite what the plaque affixed to the boulder says. The story about this mistake is quite interesting in its own right.

Little scholarly attention was given to the battle until 1901 when William Abbatt published a book about the battle. A citation to the book appears below:

Abbatt, William, The Battle of Pell's Point (or Pelham) October 18, 1776. Being the Story of a Stubborn Fight. With a Map, and Illustrations from Original Photographs and Family Portraits. (NY: William Abbatt, 281 Fourth Ave. 1901) (Library of Congress Control Number 01027896, Library of Congress Call Number E241.P3A2).

The contents of the book have entered the public domain and I have transcribed much of its text and posted it on the HistoricPelham.com Web site. Click here to read that transcription.

Although this wonderful book, published in 1901, contains a wealth of historically accurate information as well as interesting photographs, some of the conclusions regarding the location of the battle and the progress of the battle have been shown to be erroneous based on Abbatt's misplaced reliance on the so-called "Sauthier Map" published in London in 1777.

The map, by Claude J. Sauthier, is entitled "A plan of the operations of the King's army under the command of General Sir William Howe, K.B. in New York and east New Jersey, against the American forces commanded by General Washington from the 12th of October to the 28th of November 1776, wherein is particularly distinguished the engagement on the White Plains the 28th of October. By C. J. Sauthier." High resolution images of the map together with a MrSID file to permit offline analysis (see my postings dated Feb. 14, 15 &16, 2005) are available from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection by clicking here.

Today it is widely believed by scholars of the battle that the Sauthier map inaccurately shows a large body of British troops landing at the tip of Pell's Point on October 18, 1776 rather than higher on the point at the location where Shore Road ended at the time. In addition, as others have pointed out, the map is not a particularly accurate depiction of the area and seems to have been intended to serve as a general depiction crafted more to show general troop movements during the relevant period rather than the true lay of the land. As Barbara Bartlett, Pelham resident and local historian has said many times, the Sauthier Map might best be viewed as though it were like a New York City Subway map that intentionally shows some distortions of geography in an effort to simplify the presentation of the truly important data compiled as part of the map: the various subway lines that traverse the City beneath the surface of the land. Below is an image detail taken from the Sauthier Map.

When he wrote his book, Abbatt apparently was unaware of the existence in the collections of The Library of Congress of a map known as the "Blaskowitz Map". The Blaskowitz map was created in 1776 by Charles Blaskowitz. It is entitled "A survey of Frog's Neck and the rout[e] of the British Army to the 24th of October 1776, under the command of His Excellency the Honorable William Howe, General and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's forces, &ca, &ca, &ca." High resolution images of the map together with a MrSID file to permit offline analysis (see my postings dated Feb. 14, 15 & 16, 2005) are available from the Library of Congress American Memory by clicking here. The Blaskowitz Map is widely believed to be a surprisingly accurate depiction of the area in which the Battle occurred.

In his book published in 1901, Abbatt analyzed the letter about the battle written by Col. John Glover who led American troops during the battle. (The complete text of the letter is available by clicking here and scrolling down the page.) Col. Glover provided estimates of the distances that the British and German troops traveled on known roadways before they reached the oncoming American troops and began fighting.

Abbatt attempted to use those estimates to place the site where the battle began. In so doing, however, he measured from the very tip of Pell's Point where he thought the bulk of the British and German troops had landed.

Abbatt's assumption that the bulk of the British and German troops landed at the tip of Pell's Point, however, seems to have been inaccurate. It now seems well-established that the bulk of the troops landed along the side of Pell's Point at that place where Shore Road then ended when it reached the Bay.

In his defense, William Abbatt was not the first to make such a mistake. Earlier efforts to place the commencement and progress of the battle by Henry B. Dawson in his book Westchester County During the Revolution, pp. 233-46 (Morrisania, NY: 1886), made a similar error.

By measuring 1-1/2 miles from the tip of Pell's Point (as suggested by a distance estimated by Col. Glover in his letter), William Abbatt came to the conclusion that the battle began near a spot marked by a large glacial boulder located along what we know today as Orchard Beach Road. He placed a photograph of the boulder in his book (Illustration 1 between pages 4 and 5) and labeled it "Glover's Rock". The name stuck. Below is a recent image of Glover's Rock.

Not long after Abbatt published his book, patriotic citizens placed a plaque on the boulder that adopted Abbatt's conclusions and commemorated the battle that, it said, began "nearby". (That plaque later was vandalized and, in 1960, was replaced by the plaque that remains affixed to the boulder today.)

In 1926, local historian Otto Hufeland released a wonderful book concerning Revolutionary War events in Westchester County. A citation to the book appears below.

Hufeland, Otto, Westchester County During the American Revolution 1775 ~ 1783 (Privately Printed 1926).

Once again, the book has now entered the public domain. I have transcribed the text of Chapter V entitled "Fighting Begins in the County 1776" and placed it on the HistoricPelham.com Web site. Click here to read the chapter. Hufeland noted that Abbatt, Dawson and others had relied on the Sauthier Map but had ignored the Blaskowitz Map. He criticized their scholarship and traced the progress of the troops by comparing Col. John Glover's letter to the Blaskowitz Map. He wrote, in part, as follows (pages 118-19):

"For the details of the development of the battle there is practically but one contemporary authority and that is the letter of the commanding officer on the American side, Col. Glover, dated Mile Square October 22, 1776, to an unknown correspondent which was published in a number of newspapers of the day. This, together with some memoranda in the diary of President Stiles, afterward president of Yale College, who was a chaplain in the army, the dispatch of General Howe, already quoted and the Blaskowitz map is substantially all the contemporary information available. Nearly all the historians treat the matter very briefly with the exception of H.B. Dawson in his Westchester County, New York, During the Revolution, originally written for Scharf's History of Westchester County, and William Abbatt in The Battle of Pell's Point."

"Both writers base the location of the battle on Sauthier's incorrect map. Mr. Abbatt in locating the first clash, intimates that the estimate of distances made by Colonel Glover was faulty. Accepting the landing place shown on the above map would compel the British column to pass through tide marshes that still exist and are shown on the map accompanying Mr. Abbatt's book. Stone walls, which played so important a part in the battle are not generally built on marshes or salt-meadows where there are no stones to build them with. Even today the salt-meadows extend over the whole of this territory except where the roads have been raised above them and the first upland begins several hundred feet west of the Harlem River Branch Road on the Split Rock Road. The maps of the United States Geological Survey show the topography with great accuracy and detail and a comparison of the ground with these maps today, will show that the original topography, except the filled-in highways, still exists."

Hufeland went on to conclude that the Battle was fought nowhere near Glover's Rock. In effect, the place where the battle began is today a rise near about the second tee of the Split Rock Golf Course. The Battle then progressed across the remainder of today's Split Rock Golf Course toward today's New England Thruway, crossing that Thruway where the troops proceeded in the areas along today's Split Rock Road in the Village of Pelham Manor, along Wolf's Lane to today's Colonial Avenue where it essentially ended at the grounds of today's Pelham Memorial High School where the British and German troops camped along the old Boston Post Road known today as Colonial Avenue in Pelham.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Robert A. Bang Publishes New Book on The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company

Author and historian Robert A. Bang has published a wonderful new book regarding the history of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company that is full of photographs of the modern electric commuter line that once ran through Pelham. Numerous photographs show construction of the rail lines and stations in and near Pelham. A citation to the publication follows:

Bang, Robert A., The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Company 1906 - 1946 (Privately Printed, 2004).

Mr. Bang has also created a wonderful Web site devoted to the NYW&B Ry Co. via which visitors can download a form for purchase of the book to be mailed with a check to him. The site is well worth the visit!

This is Mr. Bang's second book regarding the NYW&B Ry Co. A citation to his first book, published in 1987 and also available for purchase from his Web site, follows:

Bang, Robert A., Westchester County's Million-Dollar-A-Mil Railroad - New York Westchester & Boston Railway Company 1912 - 1937 (Privately Printed, 1987).

Nearly a century ago The New York, Westchester and Boston Railway passed through, and provided service, to Pelham. The line – known today as Westchester’s “forgotten railway” – was controlled by the New Haven Railroad. The Westchester opened for service in 1912.

The Westchester started at 132nd Street and Willis Avenue in the Bronx. Its trackage extended nearly a mile to the east where it joined the Harlem River division of the New Haven line near the approach to Hell Gate Bridge. The Westchester followed two tracks leased from the New Haven along this route until it reached East 174th Street and then passed onto its own four-track right-of-way until it reached West Farms Station at East 180th Street. The line continued through a tunnel beneath the Bronx and Pelham Parkway and proceeded northward into the City of Mount Vernon.

The line proceeded through an “open cut” in Mount Vernon and across a viaduct built over the New Haven’s Grand Central division (a continuation of the New Haven’s main line that turns to the west at New Rochelle). At the northern end of Mount Vernon, the four-track Westchester line split into two double-track divisions.

Of the two divisions, the one regarded as the “main line” of the Westchester turned east from Mount Vernon parallel to the New Haven Line and crossed the Hutchinson River on a large viaduct that began just north of Pelham Reservoir. The tracks passed through what was then the Village of North Pelham. There was a station at Fifth Avenue and 3rd Street. The tracks continued across Highbrook Avenue where a concrete overpass that still stands carried them over the roadway. There was another station in Pelhamwood located right at the boundary with New Rochelle. The division continued to North Avenue in New Rochelle.

The Westchester was state-of-the-art and reportedly cost more than $50,000,000 to build and maintain. It became known derisively as Westchester’s “Million-Dollar-A-Mile Railroad” before it was placed in receivership and ceased operations on December 31, 1937.  Remnants of the Westchester may still be found in Pelham, including the most visible relic: the concrete overpass above Highbrook Avenue that once held trackage and allowed trains to pass above. Today, the trackage has been removed and the arch bridge to nowhere stands as a silent sentinel above Highbrook Avenue, a reminder of the grand railroad once known as the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway.

Mr. Bang's excellent book is a "must have" for anyone building a library relating to the history of Pelham. I recommend it highly.

To learn more about The New York, Boston & Westchester Railway Co., see Bell, Blake A., The New York, Westchester And Boston Railway in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 50, Dec. 17, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Building a Basic Library on the History of Pelham, NY

In the last several months I have received several inquiries from people interested in building a basic library on the history of Pelham, NY and asking for recommendations concerning which books and publications should be included in such a library. This post will discuss a few of the publications that might be assembled to create a basic library on the history of Pelham and surrounding areas.

The seminal publication on the history of Pelham is the book published by Lockwood Anderson Barr in 1946. Its name is a mouthful. The full citation to the publication is:

Barr, Lockwood A., A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of The Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Mannour of Pelham Also the Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

Copies of the book published in 1946 are fairly easy to purchase online. For example, click here to see sale listings for copies of the book priced between $22.45 and more than $50.00 from a variety of rare book sellers who participate in Bookfinder.com. In addition, the book is now in the public domain. Thus, the full text of the book (full text searchable) is available on the HistoricPelham.com Web site. Click here to see the text of the book from that Web site. In addition, because the book is in the public domain it has been reprinted by The Higginson Book Company. To learn more about and to purchase a reprint from that company, click here and scroll down (or search) to find the book title (company catalogue reference - NY0326). The reprint costs $29.00 plus tax, shipping and handling.

A more recent book on the history of Pelham during the last 100 years was written by long-time resident Thomas B. Fenlon before his death and published by Klein Information Resources, Inc. The citation for the book follows:

Fenlon, Thomas B., Pelham New York - Memories of a Century After Incorporation (Klein Information Resources, Inc. 1996).

This wonderful paperback publication is still available for sale from Klein Information Resources, Inc. via Maggie Klein at the offices of The Pelham Weekly on Fifth Avenue in Pelham. For more information you can contact Maggie Klein via e-mail or by calling the offices of The Pelham Weekly at (914) 738-8717.

In 1991, as part of its Centennial Celebration, the Village of Pelham Manor published a wonderful book filled with photographs relating to the history of the Village. The book was published in hard cover and in paperback formats. The citation for the book follows:

Saunders, James B., ed., The Pelham Manor Story - 1891-1991 (Village of Pelham Manor, NY: 1991).

The book is rather difficult to find these days. Although a copy recently was available from a rare book seller via Bookfinder.com, a search earlier today revealed that the book is no longer available. It appears on the marketplace periodically and a diligent reader willing to search such Web sites periodically likely will run across one or two for sale every few months.

I authored a book that was published last year in honor of the 350th Anniversary of the signing of the Pell - Siwanoy Treaty on June 27, 1654 by which Thomas Pell acquired the lands that became Pelham and surrounding areas. The book deals with Thomas Pell, his treaty and the legend of the Treaty Oak beneath which the treaty supposedly was signed. The citation for the book follows:

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (NY, NY: iUniverse, Inc. 2004).

The book is available from a large number of online booksellers including Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and iUniverse, among many others, for $11.95 plus tax, shipping and handling. It is also available from iUniverse as an e-Book.

A wonderful book relating to the history of Pelham is a book devoted to the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776. The book was published in 1963 but was reprinted in 1975 by The Bicentennial Committee of the Town of Pelham as part of Pelham's celebration of the nation's bicentennial. Citations to both versions of the book appear below:

Franko, Alfred Michael, Pelham Manor: The Forgotten Battle of the Revolution: Near Mount Vernon, N.Y. (Mt. Vernon, N.Y.; s.n., 1963) (67 pp., 12 pp. of plates, ill., 22 cm with bibliographic references, Library of Congress Control Number 89828076, Library of Congress Call Number MLCS 89/13655, also in New York Public Library Collection).

Franko, Alfred Michael, Pelham Manor: The Forgotten Battle of the Revolution: Near Mount Vernon, N.Y. (Pelham Manor, N.Y.: The Bicentennial Committee of the Town of Pelham, New York Oct. 1975) (republication of 1963 publication, revised in 1966; 67 pp., 12 pp. of plates, ill., 22 cm with bibliographic references).

The version published in 1963 and revised in 1967 rarely appears for sale online and is difficult to locate through rare book dealers. The 1975 reprint may be found with much more frequency. Click here and search for "Pelham Manor:  The Forgotten Battle of the Revolution" to see if any copies of the reprint are currently offered for sale by a book dealer via the Web site Bookfinder.com.

There are hundreds of books and publications that deal with Pelham history or that touch upon organizations, events or places important to the history of Pelham. The few listed above are "must-haves" for anyone interested in developing a basic library on the history of Pelham.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Westchester County Historical Society Acquires Records of The Pelham Manor Protective Club From Dealer in Tarrytown, NY

Elizabeth G. Fuller, Librarian of The Westchester County Historical Society, recently discovered a very large leather-bound volume containing more than ten years' worth of handwritten meeting minutes and other records of the Pelham Manor Protective Club -- the precursor to the village government formed when the Village of Pelham Manor was incorporated in 1891. She found the volume among the collections of a dealer located in Tarrytown, NY. There is no record regarding how the materials ended up at that location. Ms. Fuller successfully acquired the treasure for the collections of The Westchester County Historical Society. (Below is an image of the cover of a DRAFT minutes book stored among similar records maintained in the collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.)

The WCHS has made the volume available to a representative of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham who was able to photograph the hundreds of pages of records contained in the volume to permit transcription, study and analysis. The records span the period from 1881 when the Pelham Manor Protective Club was first formed until shortly after the Village of Pelham Manor was incorporated and, consequently, took over many of the functions that had been served by the Club during the previous ten-year period.

The discovery of these records is one of the most significant developments in the study of the history of Pelham Manor in many years. They show the evolution of a so-called "Vigilance Committee" formed to handle policing issues in the area into a political force that grew so unhappy with Town Government that it became an important force in the decision to incorporate the area to form the Village of Pelham Manor in 1891.

In the early 1880s, a group of local residents formed a “Citizen’s vigilante committee”. That committee, in turn, created an organization known as “The Pelham Manor Protective Club.”

The Pelham Manor Protective Club was formally organized on December 15, 1881 – ten years before incorporation of the Village of Pelham Manor. Indeed, the Club might be viewed as a precursor to the organization of the Village because it was an important cooperative body created for the protection of the local citizenry.

Nearly the entire adult male population of the area – 52 local residents – subscribed as members of the Pelham Manor Protective Club. The list of subscribers reads like a “Who’s Who” of early Pelham, including such names as Robert C. Black, Robert Bolton, Benjamin Corlies, Henry W. Taft, Silas H. Witherbee and many others.

The sole purpose of the Club was “to assist the public authorities in maintaining law and order within a radius of one mile from Pelham Manor Depot . . . and to prosecute all persons committing any crimes or misdemeanors within said district.”

Given the importance of its work, the Protective Club was able to raise a substantial amount of money. Upon “subscribing” to the Club, each new member was required to pay an entrance fee of three dollars and, thereafter, to pay “such dues, not exceeding fifty cents a month, as the Executive Committee shall determine.” In addition, the “Articles of Association of The Pelham Manor Protective Club” authorized the five-member Executive Committee “to levy assessments for any legitimate object of this club, provided that assessments levied by the executive committee on any one member in any one year shall not exceed in the aggregate the sum of NINE DOLLARS over and above the regular dues.”

Over the coming months I will be transcribing, annotating and analyzing the records of the Pelham Manor Protective Club as a consequence of the kind and gracious courtesy of Katie Hite, Executive Director of the Westchester County Historical Society and her talented colleague, Elizabeth G. Fuller. I will report here on the status of the project and significant discoveries as I review the records.

To learn more about the Pelham Manor Protective Club, see Bell, Blake A., The Pelham Manor Protective Club Founded in 1881, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 24, June 11, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham

Many might be surprised to learn that New York State's "Arts and Cultural Affairs Law" provides that a "local historian shall be appointed, as provided in this section, for each city, town or village". The law further provides that:

"It shall be the duty of each local historian, appointed as provided in the last section, in cooperation with the state historian, to collect and preserve material relating to the history of the political subdivision for which he or she is appointed, and to file such material in fireproof safes or vaults in the county, city, town or village offices." See N.Y. Laws 1983, Ch. 876 §§ 1, et al.

The law has been in effect in one form or another since 1913. For its derivation, see Education Law § 150, added N.Y. Laws 1947, ch. 820; and repealed by N.Y. Laws 1983, ch. 876 § 4. Said § 150 was from Education Law of 1910 § 1199-a, formerly § 1198, added N.Y. Laws 1913, ch. 424, § 1 (renumbered § 1199-a, N.Y. Laws 1919, ch. 181, § 2).

Pelham has complied with what is called the "Historian's Law" since the law was first enacted. During the last 92 years, eight local residents have served as Town Historian and have collected and maintained material in accordance with that law on behalf of the residents of The Town of Pelham.

Today the Historian's Office is a small room located in the basement at the rear of The Richard J. Daronco Town House located at 20 Fifth Avenue. The principal archives of the Office are located in steel cabinets in that room.  [Editor's Note:  Since this posting was first published, the office has been moved to a second floor office with storage of material in the old choir loft of the Daronco Town House.]  

The office maintains an extensive index card catalog that cross-references the Town's historical collections. The card catalog was created by Susan Swanson and Mimi Buckley when they served as Town Historian and Deputy Town Historian, respectively. There is a steel five-drawer flat case in which maps and other over-sized items are stored. There are building files in which folders keyed to building addresses throughout the town contain information for many, many of the structures in town. There are artifact files in which items related to the history of the Town are filed. There is a standing file cabinet containing photographic prints of historical significance as well as bibliographic and obituary files for prominent residents in the Town's history.

There is a four file cabinet containing the Town's "clippings files" in which thousands of newspaper and publication clippings regarding historical developments in the history of the Town are maintained. Standing cabinets contain microfilm, video and film collections as well as glass negatives, photographs and artifacts related to the history of the Town.

The collections include hundreds of books that relate to the Town's history. Though crowded, the office constitutes the principal collection of material assembled by Town Historians during the last 92 years.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Presidents Day Post: American Presidents and Their Connections To Pelham

As today is President's Day it seems appropriate to address American Presidents and their connections to Pelham. There are at least four American Presidents who have some form of relationship with the history of Pelham and surrounding areas. They are George Washington, Martin Van Buren, Chester A. Arthur and Warren G. Harding.

George Washington

The Father of Our Country, President George Washington, visited Pelham and traveled through it several times. There are two well documented instances in which he visited Pelham. There were, according to tradition, other instances as well.

One documented instance occurred under trying circumstances. On October 16, 1776, things looked bleak for the American Army. General Howe already had landed on Throgg's Neck and had attempted a march to cut off the American Army's escape northward toward White Plains. Circumstances prevented Howe's success, but Washington knew what was coming.

On the morning of October 16, 1776, General Washington and his generals made a reconnaissance of Pell's Point (then a part of the Manor of Pelham and, twelve years later, a part of the Town of Pelham when the Town was formed). See Hufeland, Otto, Westchester County During The American Revolution 1775-1783, p. 114 (White Plains, NY: Westchester County Historical Society 1926).

Thirteen years later, on October 15, 1789, President George Washington embarked on a tour of the Eastern States setting out from New York City (then the nation's capital) and traveling along the Old Boston Post Road. That road followed a path that included today's Colonial Avenue within the Village of Pelham. According to his journals, Washington passed through the newly-created Town of Pelham during the afternoon of that day noting that:

"The Road for the greater part, indeed the whole way, was very rough and Stoney, but the Land strong, well covered with grass and a luxurient [sic] Crop of Indian Corn intermixed with Pompions [pumpkins] (Which were yet ungathered) in the fields. We met four droves of Beef Cattle for the New York Market (about 30 in a drove) some of which were very fine -- also a flock of Sheep for the same place. We scarcely passed a farm house that did not abd. in Geese. Their Cattle seemed to be of a good quality and their hogs large but rather long legged. No dwelling Ho. is seen without a Stone or Brick Chimney and rarely any without a shingled roof -- generally the Sides are of Shingles also. The distance of this days travel was 31 Miles in which we passed through (after leaving the Bridge) East Chester New Rochel [sic] & Marmeroneck [sic]; but as these places (though they have houses of worship in them) are not regularly laid out, they are scarcely to be distinguished from the intermediate farms which are very close together and seperated [sic], as one Inclosure [sic] from another also is, by fences of Stone which are indeed easily made, as the County is immensely Stony. Upon enquiry [sic] we find their Crops of Wheat & Rye have been abundant -- though of the first they had sown rather sparingly on Acct. of the destruction which had of late years been made of that grain by what is called the Hessian fly." Donald Jackson & Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. V, pp. 460-62 (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1976-79) (a series of The Papers of George Washington).

It seems certain that Washington visited Pelham during the Revolutionary War and traveled through Pelham in 1789 along what we know today as Colonial Avenue. But, can it be said that "George Washington slept here?"

Tradition says that he did. The fact that the larger villages of New Rochelle and East Chester were so near, however, raises at least some doubt about the accuracy of that tradition. Still, legend has it that on "several occasions" George Washington spent the night in a home owned by Colonel Philip Pell III that was located near today's Colonial and Cliff Avenues. The home was destroyed by fire in 1888. See Barr, Lockwood, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Mannour of Pelham Also the Story of the Three Modern Villages Called the Pelhams, pp. 119, 143-44 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

Martin Van Buren

According to a report published in the July 12, 1839 issue of the New York Herald Martin Van Buren, President of the United States, visited Hunter Island (then part of the Town of Pelham) during a trip in July 1839 from New York City to New Rochelle. President Van Buren conducted business and entertained guests for an entire day at the estate. In the evening, John Hunter hosted a grand dinner for the President served on a magnificent double service of gold and silver plate. Among the many courses were "Calf's brains and financier pie". Those who attended the dinner enjoyed five different champagnes, seven madeiras, five types of burgundy and four different clarets.

The news account of the President's visit includes a quaint story. It seems that a sixteen-year-old girl appeared at the estate after walking seventy miles to see the President. Although John Hunter was inclined to turn her away, President Van Buren reportedly asked his host to usher her into the Estate so he could greet her.

The girl was brought to the President and stared at the group before her, saying "But I do not see the president". Van Buren reportedly replied "But I am the president". The girl blurted "I did not think the president was such a small man," though she immediately realized her mistake and begged forgiveness for "my rudeness and stupidity". The laughter of those present showed she was forgiven, but she was so flustered that she departed without presenting the President a bouquet she had brought with her.

Chester A. Arthur

Chester Park is a beautiful neighborhood located at the northern tip of Pelham. The Hutchinson River Parkway forms the northern and western borders of Chester Park. The neighborhood is bordered on the east by Pelhamdale Avenue and on the south by Willow Avenue.

Although no one knows with certainty how Chester Park got its name, tradition says that the original developers, William and Elizabeth Standen, named the neighborhood after the 21st President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur.

Warren G. Harding

President Warren G. Harding was an honorary member of the Pelham Country Club. While the golf course of the Pelham Country Club was being built, the Club hired one of the world's top golfers, "Long" Jim Barnes, to serve as the Club's first golf professional. According to a history of the Club:

"One week after opening the new course here at Pelham, Jim Barnes went down to Columbia Country Club in Washington, D.C. and handily won the 1921 U.S. Open Championship. Barnes also bested the field in the first P.G.A. Championship played at neighboring Siwanoy C.C., and in 1916 was presented the U.S. Open Trophy by the President of the United States, Warren G. Harding. Instantly, Pelham Country Club was the center of the golfing world. President Harding was made an honorary member of the Club and a tremendous welcome home gala was held at the Club for Jim Barnes, the new 'Pride of Pelham'." Pelham Country Club, History available via "Visitor Information" and "History" (visited Nov. 28, 2004).

Friday, February 18, 2005

Finding Photographs of Pelham in the Online "American Memory Collection" of the Library of Congress

The online "American Memory Collection" of the Library of Congress is a spectacular Web-based resource filled with maps, photographs, journals, publications, diaries, transcripts and many other sorts of materials that relate to American history. Much of the material in the collection concerns issues of local interest and quite a bit of material -- including many old photographs -- relates to Pelham and surrounding areas. One such example is the photograph below that shows nationally-renowned architect Electus D. Litchfield standing in the backyard of a home in Pelham Manor that he designed in 1927. The home happens to be that of the author of this blog. Many other photographs in the collection show the interiors and exteriors of homes throughout Pelham. The collection is well worth exploring if you are interested in the history of the area.

The Library of Congress American Memory Collection is available from the Library of Congress home page located at http://www.loc.gov/ or by going directly to the following Web address: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html.

Mining the collection to find all the Pelham-related material in it admittedly is not an easy task. The most important consideration is that you must be creative and thoughtful in structuring search queries that will locate material relating to Pelham even if the bibliographic references associated with the material do not mention the term "Pelham". Simply searching for "Pelham" will find a lot of material, only some of which actually relates to Pelham, NY. Such a search, however, will miss much of the relevant material in the collection such as material relating to the Bartow-Pell Mansion and its associated carriage house. Consequently, as with all such research, you must give careful thought to your search queries and must try many different queries each designed to locate Pelham related material. For example, try searches for "Travers Island", "Hunter Island" (rather than Hunter's Island), etc. Each such search will turn up a wealth of additional material related to Pelham that you simply will not find in the collection by searching for the term "Pelham".

On the American Memory home page located at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html you will see a search dialogue box in the upper right corner of the page beneath the words "Search all collections" with a button labeled "Search" next to it. As always, the first step is to click on the "Help" button to the left (and then on "Search Help" and "How to Format Search Terms") to learn how to structure queries. You will learn some surprising things. For example, unlike many Web sites, the American Memory Collection does not recognize quotation marks around a multi-word phrase. Thus, to find material related to Travers Island, you should type those words into the search dialogue box rather than typing those words within quotation marks in the search dialogue box. It is, of course, a "best practice" to review the search help page for any Web site before you structure your first search query to find what you are looking for.

Let's stay with our example. Go to the American Memory home page located at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html and type in the search box the words Travers Island. Click on the button labeled "Search". You shortly should see the first of four search results pages listing 73 items that match your search query. Although not all 73 items actually relate to Travers Island in Pelham Manor, NY, you will see that the majority of them do. Many of the items are photographs of Travers Island taken during the time that it was in use during World War II as the Norwegian Gunnery School. See Bell, Blake A., Travers Island Goes to War, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 38, Sept. 24, 2004, p. 10, col. 2.

Let's give the matter a little thought. Is it possible that material in the collection may reference "Traver's Island" (note the apostrophe) rather than "Travers Island" without an apostrophe? Perhaps. A search for Traver's Island, however, seems to turn up the same 73 items suggesting that the system ignores the apostrophe in the search query. A quick check of the search help page confirms that the system does not recognize certain characters such as apostrophes in search queries.

Are there other ways to find material relating to Travers Island in Pelham Manor? Well, we know that the New York Athlectic Club has a clubhouse on the island and has used the island since 1889. Let's try searches for New York Athletic Club, NYAC and N.Y.A.C. Search results for New York Athletic Club look promising. NYAC, however, returns no results and N.Y.A.C. returns more than 5,000 results virtually all of which are irrelevant. A review of the search results for the phrase New York Athletic Club reveals that some -- though not all -- relate to the Club's facilities and activities in New York City. Many of the results are irrelevant although a few relate to the Travers Island facility.

A search for the word Pelham turns up 463 search results. The majority do not relate to Pelham, NY but a very substantial number of the results do relate to Pelham, NY. What other searches might turn up relevant results? Pelhamville? Pelhamwood? Prospect Hill? Huguenot Heights? The collections are so large that it is well worth the time of a serious student of local history to search the collections carefully.

For those who would like to see a partial list -- by no means a complete list -- of the many photographs in the Library of Congress American Memory Collection that relate to Pelham and surrounding areas, use your browser (e.g., Internet Explorer) to go to the following address on the Historic Pelham Web site: https://web.archive.org/web/20111005224735/http://historicpelham.com/AmericanMemories.htm. At that location you will see a list of more than 100 images relating to the history of Pelham from the collection grouped into categories including 20 Beech Tree Lane, Coaching to Pelham Sheet Music, Pelham Memorial High School, Bartow-Pell Mansion, Hunter Island Mansion, Marshall House (Hawkswood), 1401 Park Lane, 205 Townsend Avenue, Mary Elizabeth Shop, 105 Wolfs Lane, Residence of Mrs. R. C. Black, 4611 Post Road, Crosby Residence on Stellar Place and Pelham Bay Park.

There is plenty more available in the collection. Happy hunting!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Glass Negatives of Former Town Historian William R. Montgomery

William R. Montgomery served as Historian of the Town of Pelham during the 1920s and 1930s. He had an intense interest in, and abiding respect for, the history of Pelham and surrounding areas.

One of Mr. Montgomery's lasting legacies is a very large collection of glass photographic negatives taken during the 1920s. These negatives contain images of many historically-significant structures in and near Pelham, many of which no longer exist.

An Example of One of The Montgomery Images

Image Courtesy of The Office of The
Historian of The Town of Pelham, NY

The image that appears immediately above is created from one of the many, many glass negatives created by William R. Montgomery. It is an example of an image that documents a rich part of the history of Pelham that no longer exists. It shows Coles on Boston Post Road. This building that no longer stands was created in part from the Little Red Church that served as the first church building of the Huguenot Memorial Church.

The Little Red Church was built in 1876. On April 14, 1915, the congregation of the Church authorized a committee to investigate the construction of a new church building. The following year the little wooden church building was sold to a developer who moved the building across the street to 4768 Boston Post Road -- essentially where today's Getty Station stands not far from the intersection of Pelhamdale Avenue and Boston Post Road. The developer rather haphazardly built additions onto the structure and turned it into apartments above street level stores. The building stood for thirty years until it was razed in 1948. It stood on lands owned by Joseph Kennedy of the Kennedy Clan who served as America's ambassador to Great Britain, among other things. To learn more about Coles, see Old 'Red Church' In Pelham Manor Is Now Just A Memory Of The Past -- Building Which Was The Original Huguenot Memorial Church Edifice Was Razed This Week; Had Been Used as Apartment House for Last 30 Years, Pelham Sun, Dec. 16, 1948.

William R. Montgomery's photograph of Coles that appears above shows the structure on May 18, 1924. If you look closely, you can actually make out arched windows from the original church building near the top of the structure. The two signs are easy to read in the original photo that has been reduced in size for inclusion in this Blog. The smaller sign reads "Pelham Manor Drummond Real Estate 17 East 42nd Street, N. Y." The larger sign reads "Drummond Real Estate". There is a Model T garaged near the base of the building and another partially obscured by the smaller of the two signs. There is also an unidentified man standing on one of the two exterior porches at the back of the building.

The Provenance of The Montgomery Glass Negative Collection

Mr. Montgomery maintained meticulous records for each of his photographs. For this particular photograph, his notes indicate the following: "BUILDINGS: BUSINESS: COLES on Boston Post Rd. - formerly part of the Red Church" and "Wm Montgomery 5/18/1924".

Thankfully, William R. Montgomery's glass negatives are stored archivally in the collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham. Mr. Montgomery, it turns out, was quite an organized pack rat. Upon his death, his family contacted then Town Historian Susan Swanson and then Deputy Town Historian Mimi Buckley asking for their assistance to organize and index certain material discovered in the attic of his home. The two historians agreed to assist with organizing and indexing books and papers to prepare for an estate auction in exchange for a promise from the family to donate the glass negative collection to the Town. The family agreed and, after many, many days of long and arduous work, the effort was completed and the negatives were donated to the Town.

Ms. Swanson and Ms. Buckley placed each glass negative in an acid-free archival envelope designed specifically to store such items. On each envelope they wrote bibliographic information copied directly from Mr. Montgomery's records. The negatives inside their individual envelopes were placed in several acid free archival storage boxes and stored in accessible steel cabinets for further study and analysis.

Recent Efforts To Digitize The Montgomery Collection

For the last year or so, representatives of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham have been engaged in a volunteer effort -- at no expense to the Town -- to digitize the Montgomery Collection of glass negatives. The process is described below.

Each glass negative is placed on a flatbed scanner belonging to one of the representatives of the Office. A transluscent white panel is laid across (behind, so to speak) the negative and a goose neck lamp light source is shined onto the negative through the panel. The negative is then scanned at 300 dpi to create a .TIF image of the negative. The image is assigned a control number (e.g., the image above is 00000095-B) and the control number and all bibliographic data is logged into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet so that it can be imported into a database at a future date.

The .TIF image of the negative (designated as 00000096-A in the example above) is then opened in a software program known as Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 and is "inverted" (i.e., converted from a negative to a positive image). The software is used to enhance the image, improving contrast and brightening or darkening the image as needed. The "positive" version of the image is then saved separately and designated as the "B" version of the control number (e.g., 00000095-B).

William R. Montgomery's legacy extends well beyond the photographs that he took of historically-significant views in and near Pelham. His photographs, however, are a tangible reminder of his labor of love given the difficulty in those days of carting his photographic equipment around the area and then arranging the development and printing of the negatives.

Editor's Note: On April 11, 2005 I published an additional posting on this topic entitled "More From the William R. Montgomery Glass Negative Collection".

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Studying Antique Maps of Pelham Using Online Services That Provide High Resolution Scans -- Part III

This will be the last in the current series of Blog postings regarding how to study rare and historically-significant maps of Pelham that are freely-available online from a variety of academic and private sources. Such maps are available as very high resolution electronic files that permit the use of freely-available software tools to magnify the maps and permit study of the maps in minute detail in ways that local historians could only dream about only a decade ago. It is possible, using such services, to locate at least several dozen such maps showing Pelham and surrounding areas available from online collections maintained by the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the David Rumsey Map Collection and many, many others.

During my last two blog postings I have addressed the online high-resolution map collections maintained by The Library of Congress in its American Memory Collection and by The New York Public Library. Both collections offer such maps, including many that show Pelham and surrounding areas, in the MrSID image compression format used by cartographers, academics, scholars and historians to study such maps in detail. I have saved the best for last, so to speak.

Today we will consider an excellent resource for viewing such maps and even downloading the maps and software tools that permit offline study: the public Web site of the David Rumsey Map Collection located at http://www.davidrumsey.com/. This award-winning Web site includes thousands of maps available online for study. Many of the maps in the collection show Pelham and surrounding areas. Included in the collection, merely by way of example, are high resolution images (capable of being magnified to sizes much larger than the original maps) of such maps as: (1) John H. Eddy's case map entitled "Map of the Country Thirty Miles Round the City of New York" prepared in 1811; (2) Frederick W. Beers' map entitled "Town of Pelham" showing Pelham and City Island published as a plate in a Beers atlas in 1868; (3) Plates including those that show Pelham and surrounding areas from the Westchester County Atlas published by Joseph Rudolf Bien and Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule in an Atlas of Westchester County published in 1891; (4) David H. Burr's 1829 map of Westchester County including Pelham; and many, many more.

Each and every one of these maps may be viewed on the David Rumsey Map Collection Web site where visitors can select portions of the maps and magnify them to several times their original size for careful study. In addition, exquisite bibliographic detail is maintained and presented for each and every map in the collection.

As with the Library of Congress and New York Public Library online collections, each and every map available on the David Rumsey Map Collection Web site may be downloaded from the site as a MrSID image compression file for offline study using the MrSID viewer available for free from the software company known as LizardTech. For guidance regarding how to download and use the MrSID viewer software, see the postings for Monday February 14 and Tuesday February 15.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Studying Antique Maps of Pelham Using Online Services That Provide High Resolution Scans -- Part II

Yesterday's posting began a discussion of how to access free online resources to permit the careful study of high resolution images of historically important maps that show Pelham and surrounding areas. These techniques, of course, may be used to study historically important maps for any locale, but the focus of this Blog -- of course -- is Pelham, New York in lower Westchester County.

Yesterday we explored the high resolution map images maintained in the online American Memory Collection maintained by The Library of Congress. We also discussed how to download and use the free software known as "MrSID" offered by a company named LizardTech. The software allows users who access The Library of Congress American Memory Collection and download free "MrSID Image" files of selected maps on that site to study the maps offline, magnify them to several times their original size, export images that comprise all or parts of the maps for printing, and much, much more.

Today's posting will address how to access, study and download high resolution MrSID image files of historically important maps available on The New York Public Library Web site. Like The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library makes high resolution MrSID image files available of rare and historically significant maps, many of which show Pelham and surrounding areas.

The NYPL Digital Library includes several large collections of maps, atlases and charts. The home page for the entire Digital Library collection is found on the NYPL Digital Gallery "All Collection Guides" located at http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?topic=all.  Although serious students of Pelham history will want to explore the entire collection, I have found one of the categories of the maps available on that page to be particularly useful. It is "American Shores: Maps of the Middle Atlantic Region to 1850" located at http://www.nypl.org/research/midatlantic/.  Another useful collection is "Charting North America:  Maps from the Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection and Others" located at http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?topic=all&col_id=149.  Below I will use the "American Shores" collection as an example.

Use your browser (e.g., Internet Explorer) to visit the American Shores collection at http://www.nypl.org/research/midatlantic/. On that page you will see in the upper right corner a button entitled "Search Map Collection". Click on that button, which will take you to the Keyword Search page for the collection (located at http://digital.nypl.org/digital_AmShores/index.cfm). As always, it is a best practice to review the information available on that page regarding how to structure your search queries to find materials in the collection. In the search box beneath the words "Enter keyword(s) to find maps" type the phrase New York and click the button marked ">>".

You should see the first of many pages of search results that match the Keyword search query "New York". You will see so-called "thumbnail images" (i.e., small pictures) of the maps that match the Keyword search query "New York". By clicking on a thumbnail image, you will be taken to the bibliographic reference page for that map. Let's try it.

Among the many choices on the first search results page that you see after peforming a Keyword search for "New York" should be a thumbnail with a title beneath it that reads in part "sketch of the operations of His Majesty's fleet and army :". Click on the thumbnail image for that map. You will be taken to the following page: http://digital.nypl.org/digital_AmShores/CollectionDetail_AmShores.cfm?trg=2&strucID=252793&imageID=433940&word=New%20York&total=263&num=0.

Note that on the left of the screen is bibliographic information about the map which, we see, was published by Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres on January 17, 1777. You also will see that the complete title of the map is "A sketch of the operations of His Majesty's fleet and army : under the command of Vice Admiral the Rt. Hble. Lord Viscount Howe and Genl. Sr. Wm. Howe, in 1776". It is a hand-colored map and is fairly large (80 x 58 cm). I will cheat a little and tell you in advance that the Manor of Pelham and the area around Pell's Point are shown in fair detail on the map with a rough approximation of the encampment of British troops in the Pelham area.

If you click on the image of the map, you will see a larger version of the map, but this version is still so small that it is impossible to make out the necessary detail to see Pelham and surrounding areas (the larger image that one sees when one clicks on the image is located at http://digital.nypl.org/digital_AmShores/CollectionLarge_AmShores.cfm?strucID=252793&imageID=433940&word=New%20York&num=0).

Note, however, that on the bibliographic page for the map, there are several links to the right of the image. Among the links are: "Pan & Zoom (requires plug-in)", "Download free plug-in" and "tips for using plug-in". (You should read "tips for using plug-in" after you have completed this exercise. It will help you tremendously.)

What is a "plug-in"? A "plug-in" is a little piece of software that integrates with your browser (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer) so that you can use your browser to do things that it otherwise would not be able to do -- in this case, pan and zoom on high resolution map files created by the NYPL using the MrSID image compression technology. The "plug-in" to which the links refer is the "MrSID" software addressed in yesterday's posting on this Blog -- yes, the same software plug-in required to view and manipulate maps in The Library of Congress American Memory Collection. The free MrSID plug-in must be installed before you can study the maps in detail.

On the bibliographic page for the map you are looking at on the NYPL Web site, click on the link entitled "Download free plug-in" and download the current version of the free MrSID software selecting "Open" (not "Save") when prompted by your system. Once you have successfully downloaded the plug-in, go back to the bibliographic page for the map you are looking at on the NYPL Web site (example: http://digital.nypl.org/digital_AmShores/CollectionDetail_AmShores.cfm?trg=2&strucID=252793&imageID=433940&word=New%20York&total=263&num=0) and click on the link on the right side of the screen entitled "Pan & Zoom (requires plug-in)". You will see a small version of the map. Click on the button above the map that has a magnifying glass and then click on the part of the map you want to magnify. Keep clicking. You will see that you can magnify it so that the reference to "Pell's Point" and the few centimeters that encompass Pelham and surrounding areas on the map (which earlier you could not even see) now fill your entire computer screen, allowing you to study the map in great detail. You should explore the MrSID software by exploring "Help" (the button with a question mark on it). There is an incredible amount of functionality available and the software plug-in is extraordinarily sophisticated.

If you wish to save a copy of the high resolution MrSID image of the map so that you can use the MrSID software to analyze the map offline, place your cursor on the image of the map that you earlier magnified. Right click your mouse. (This means that instead of clicking your mouse the way you usually do by clicking the left button of the two buttons on the mouse, click the right button of the two buttons on the mouse.) Among the choices you will see should be "Save Image As . . . " Select that choice and save the file to a place on your hard drive (e.g., save it to your "My Documents" folder). The file you are saving will be the MrSID version of the map. You later will be able to open that file using the MrSID software even if you are not online.

There are a host of maps dating back to the 17th century in the New York Public Library Digital Library collection that show Pelham and surrounding areas. Using the techniques described above, anyone with a computer and Internet access can perform analyses and study rare maps in ways that scholars dreamed about only a few short years ago.

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