Split Rock: A Pelham Landmark for Centuries
Split Rock has been a Pelham landmark, some say, for as long as there has been a Pelham. Today, this giant glacial boulder is located near the New England Thruway where it meets the Hutchinson River Parkway. As its name implies, the gigantic boulder seems to have been split in half. It has a colorful history and has been associated with a variety of local legends and traditions. A recent photograph of the boulder appears immediately below.
During colonial times, what we now know as Split Rock Road in Pelham Manor extended across much of today’s Split Rock Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park. A former Pelham Town Historian described the road as follows:
“‘The Split Rock Road,’ as it is familiarly called by the residents of Pelham, originally the private driveway from the Post Road to the Manor house of John Pell [near today’s Bartow-Pell Mansion], can boast an age equal with that of the Boston Road. It was once the sole highway of communication between this neighborhood and City Island, where numerous fishermen and pilots obtained a livelihood.”
In early times, Split Rock Road was a Native American path. On October 18, 1938, The Park Department of the City of New York erected a Historic Marker dedicated to the “Old Indian Path” that came to be known as Split Rock Road.
Much of the Battle of Pelham occurred along Split Rock Road. Split Rock was a popular destination for generations of Pelham families. With the creation of the Split Rock Golf Course, much of Split Rock Road disappeared, though parts of it still exist along various of the fairways of the course.
Legends and Anecdotes
Several of the stories and legends associated with early settler Anne Hutchinson (who was massacred along with many of her family by Native Americans in 1643) are tied to Split Rock. For many years it was believed that she settled near Split Rock. Scholars such as Otto Hufeland and Lemuel Welles disproved that tradition, concluding that the location of the Hutchinson settlement and massacre was within the Town of Eastchester. In 1911, a bronze tablet was placed on Split Rock by the Colonial Dames of the State of New York in honor of Anne Hutchinson. It read:
Reports say vandals later destroyed this tablet although the Colonial Dames of the State of New York reportedly replaced it with another. There appears to be no such plaque on the boulder today.
In 1958, while engineers were overseeing the construction of The New England Thruway, plans were made to dynamite the Split Rock boulder. Bronx County Historian Theodore Kazimiroff reportedly led a group who convinced the engineers “to move the Thruway a few feet north and the rock was spared.”
Split Rock Today
Split Rock is difficult, but not impossible, to visit today. There are several ways to get to it. One way is fairly easy and quite a fascinating and pleasant hike. However, because of the danger of crossing roadways to get to the boulder itself, it is recommended that it be viewed from afar -- not actually visited.
Go to the very end of Beech Tree Lane, located near the back of Manor Circle off of Pelhamdale Avenue just east of the I-95 overpass on Pelhamdale Avenue. At the end of the street you actually will be within the Bronx.
At the end of the street is a pathway that enters onto the Bridle Path in Pelham Bay Park. You will see the Pelham Bay Golf Course. Facing the Golf Course, take a right on the Bridle Path. Wear sturdy waterproof shoes since the path can be quite wet and muddy at times.
After a short distance, you will perceive that the "path" seems sunken and looks like an ancient road. That is, in fact, what it is. This portion of the pathway once was a part of a long country road -- some say a "driveway" -- from John Hunter's estate on Hunter's Island in the mid-19th century to the roadway that we know today as Boston Post Road (U.S. 1).
You shortly will see that the roadway seems to incline up a little hill to a large iron bridge over the tracks of the Branch Line that opened in the early 1870s. In his book on the history of Pelham published in 1946, Lockwood Barr wrote about this roadway and bridge as follows:
"John Hunter had a private lane from the Island over to the Prospect Hill section of Pelham Manor. This private lane paralleled the present southern boundary line of Pelham Manor, up to the point where the line crosses the tracks of the New Haven Branch Line Railroad. At that point, now stands a steel bridge over the tracks, and on either side of the railroad still remain the earthen approaches to the span. When the Branch Line was built in 1873, this bridge was erected because of the legal difficulties involved in closing an old road. A map of Pelham of 1850 clearly shows this lane, used by John Hunter to get from his Mansion over to his Provost Farm, then bounded by the Hutchinson River, the Boston Post Road, and old Split Rock Road. In his will, John Hunter made disposition of his farm lands on the mainland in the Town of Pelham, and recognized the necessity of providing ". . . right of way with Cattle and teams over the lane now used by me across my farm, commonly called and known as the Sackett Farm, situate in the said Town of Pelham opposite Hunter's Island and between the farms of Geo. Thacker and Elbert Roosevelt; and also the right of way from said lane thorugh the woods of said Sackett Farm, to and from the Provost Farm." This right of way was conveyed in the deeds subsequently transferring the Island. This old lane was closed when the golf course of Pelham Bay Park was made, but the lane and the bridge form part of the Bridle Path in the Park."
Source: 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, p. 101 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).
Proceed over the bridge and continue walking. You will reach I-95 and, indeed, will wonder if the Bridle Path has ended. It has not. For a short distance of a couple of hundred yards, the Bridle Path is difficult to perceive and, in fact, is located only a few yards away from the roadside of I-95. Occasionally you will see hoof prints and even wood used to mark the boundaries of the path. Keep walking parallel to I-95 on your right with the fence that encloses Split Rock Golf course on your left.
After a short distance the Bridle Path will angle to the left and become a wide, graveled horse path again. Watch carefully to your right. You will see an entrance roadway from the Hutchinson River Parkway onto I-95. Between I-95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway entrance roadway onto I-95 you will see Split Rock -- a giant boulder that appears to be split in half. You will even be able to scramble down the small incline from the Bridle Path to a grassy area next to the roadway where you can see Split Rock even more clearly. It may be hard to imagine, but this is the very spot where -- for many generations -- Pelham residents brought picnic lunches and sat in the quiet countryside admiring the lovely view of the countryside around Pelham.