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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Earliest Telephone in Pelham Manor?

United States Patent No. 174,465 for "Telegraphy" was issued to A. G. Bell on March 7, 1876. For many years, however, the American population seemed unaware of the possibilities of the new-fangled telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell who was forced to lecture about his invention for pay as he fought -- and eventually won -- an expensive legal battle against inventor Elisha Gray. Gray claimed that he had invented the telephone and, indeed, lost the race to the patent office for his own invention by a matter of hours.

Residents of Pelham Manor seemed to recognize the importance and value of the new invention very early. Indeed, recent research has revealed the story behind the installation of what may have been the first telephone in Pelham Manor. A review of the minutes book of the Pelham Manor Protective Club (click here for the February 23, 2005 blog posting entitled "The Westchester County Historical Society Acquires Records of The Pelham Manor Protective Club From Dealer in Tarrytown, NY") has shed light on the topic.

The Pelham Manor Protective Club was established in late 1881 -- ten years before incorporation of the Village of Pelham Manor. Members of the Club took all kinds of steps to protect the area of Pelham within one mile of the Pelham Manor Depot located on the New Haven Branch Line from crime.

By June 2, 1884, members of the Executive Committee of the Pelham Manor Protective Club were considering the installation of a telephone at the Pelham Manor Depot to permit members of the Club to make calls and to report to New York and New Rochelle authorities instances of criminal activity. On that date, two members of the Executive Committee, Messrs. William E. Barnett and Thomas D. De Witt, reported to the full Committee on their efforts to prepare a pamphlet of "suggestions" to be distributed to all members of the Pelham Manor Protective Club. Among the many "suggestions" contained in the proposed pamphlet was one that read as follows:

"4. Telephone. - A telephone connecting with New Rochelle and New York will soon be placed in Pelham Manor Depot in the name of the Protective Club, which may be used by any member for the purpose, in case of necessity, of obtaining assistance as against vagrants and other criminals, and for other purposes." Records Pelham Manor Protective Club, Vol. 1, p. 75 (entry for Jun. 2, 1884; original in the collection of the Westchester County Historical Society).

During the same Executive Committee meeting, the "Chairman and Secretary were authorized to arrange with the Westchester Telephone Company for a Telephone at Pelham Manor Depot for the use of the members of the Club." Id., p. 76.

By July 9, 1884, arrangements had been made for seems to have been installation of the telephone and the Executive Committee authorized payment of a bill from the telephone company. The minutes for an Executive Committee meeting on that date state that the "Treasurer presented a bill of the Westchester Telephone Company for $20.20, which was ordered paid." Id., p. 77 (entry for Jul. 9, 1884). The nature of the bill is unclear. It may have been payment for installation of the phone or it may have been payment for phone service after the phone had been installed.

It seems fairly certain, however, that the phone had been installed by October 1, 1884. This can be surmised from the minutes of a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Club on November 29, 1884. Those minutes contain the following entry: "The bill of the Westchester Telephone Co. for service from October 1st 1884 to January 1st 1885, $26.95 was audited and ordered paid." Id., p. 82 (entry for Nov. 29, 1884).

Barely eight years after invention of the telephone, Pelham Manor had what may have been its first telephone. While there have been suggestions that Robert C. Black (one of the principals of famed jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost) may have installed the first telephone in Pelham, the telephone installed in the Pelham Manor Depot in the autumn of 1884 is the earliest telephone installation that can be documented with some degree of certainty.

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