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.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Horse Cars Come To City Island in the Town of Pelham in the 1880s

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Prior to the opening of the Bartow Station on the Branch Line in the early 1870s, a stage coach line established by a man named Robert Vickery traveled from City Island to Mount Vernon. In about 1873, so-called horse cars replaced the stage coach line. When the horse car line first began, it was owned by Judge Henry DeWitt Carey, a banker. The first horse car line involved a car pulled by a single horse. According to one source, "it left Belden Point and stopped at three locations on the island - Horton, Fordham, and Bridge Streets. People desiring to travel to New York City would then take the horse car to Bartow Station, pay a 5ยข fare to Westchester County and board a trolley to 177th Street, where they would make another connection to the Battery." See Scott, Catherine A., Images of America: City Island and Orchard Beach, p. 48 (Arcadia Publishing 1999; reissued 2004).

The cars looked much like trolley cars. Later they ran on tracks, but were pulled by a pair of horses. Indeed, for sixteen years the two principal horses used to pull the horse cars were known as "Bob" and "Harry". They became quite famous. A photograph of the horse car from an early post card appears immediately below.

A principal purpose of the horse car line was to meet the trains at Bartow Station and transport visitors to City Island. According to one source, "[i]nitially they brought travelers to the Marshall Mansion (Colonial Inn), at the park side of the City Island Bridge, where livery service was available. Tracks were later placed along City Island Avenue to the Grace Episcopal Church on Pilot Street." See id. at p. 43.

In 1910, the City of New York established a monorail line that ran from Bartow Station to the City Island Bridge. At the bridge, visitors left the monorail and took a horse car onto the island. The monorail was ill-fated and suffered a crash on its very first passenger run. It lasted only a few years.

As might be expected, the horse cars were uncomfortably hot in the summer and quite cold in the winter. During the winter a pot-bellied stove inside the car provide some measure of warmth for the passengers.

Alas, electric and gas-powered beasts known as automobiles eventually crowded the beasts of burden and their quaint horse cars from the roadway. Some said City Island would never be the same . . . . .

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