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, June 28, 2005

The Hotel and Bar Room at Pelham Bridge

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One of the more historic spots near Pelham is the Pelham Bridge. Today's Pelham Bridge, known as the Pelham Bay Bridge, spans the mouth of the Hutchinson River. According to a Web site maintained by New York City, the "Pelham Bay Bridge is a double leaf bascule type bridge. It carries four lanes of traffic, two in each direction. It also has one pedestrian sidewalk on the east side of the span. By far this is the busiest of all the city owned drawbridges."

Today's Pelham Bay Bridge is a far cry from the "Pelham Bridge" of old. Pelham Bridge was an important little hamlet not far from the hamlet known as Bartow-on-the-Sound (or Bartow Station as it was called after the Branch Line station was built). During the 1870s, Pelham Bridge was a stop for Col. Delancey Kane's Pelham Coach, known for many years as the "Tally Ho". There was a little hotel and a "Bar Room" at the bridge for many, many years. They served travelers along today's Shore Road traveling parallel to the Long Island Sound. Today's Blog posting will discuss a little of the history of Pelham Bridge and the establishments built near the bridge during the last half of the 19th century.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the first place where the Hutchinson River was shallow enough to be forded was known as "Wading Place". It was located quite distant from the mouth of the Hutchinson River where it enters Long Island Sound. Indeed, "Wading Place" was located near Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham. See Barr, Lockwood Anderson, 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 & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams , p. 83 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

In the early 19th century, a group of prominent local residents pressed the State of New York to allow them to build a toll bridge spanning the mouth of the Hutchinson River. According to Lockwood Barr:

"A group of property owners in Pelham, West Chester and City Island were instrumental in getting passed an Act of the Legislature, March 16, 1812, authorizing the erection of a toll-bridge across the River at its mouth. Among the incorporators were John Bartow, John Hunter, Elbert Roosevelt, William Bayard, James Harvey, Richard Ward, Daniel Pelton, Joshua Eustace, Herman LeRoy. A storm destroyed the bridge on April 12, 1816, and it was not until 1834 that a new bridge was built. In 1860 the Supervisors of Westchester County were directed, by an Act of the Legislature, to purchase the Pelham toll-bridge and make it free."

Source: Id., pp. 83-84.

By 1868, and likely earlier, at least one hotel and one "Bar Room" had been built near the Pelham Bridge. They served as places for weary travelers on trips along the Long Island Sound to rest. A detail from Plate 35 in the 1868 edition of Beer's Atlas of Westchester County appears below. It is marked with two arrows. The top arrow points to a reference that reads "Hotel" at the southern end of the Pelham Bridge. Actually, the reference is a little ambiguous. Close inspection seems to show two structures next to each other. One is marked "J. Davis" while the second is marked "Hotel". The second arrow points to nearby structures labeled "Bar Room" and "A. Lawrence".

Due to work by Mr. Martin Rowan, a descendant of Augustus Lawrence, we know a little about the "A. Lawrence" who apparently lived at Pelham Bridge. According to Mr. Rowan:

"The first record we have of Augustus Lawrence being in Westchester is in the 1850 census where he is residing in the town of Westchester with his wife Ann and his daughter Elizabeth. It lists his profession as oysterman [common in this area at that time, particularly on nearby City Island] and states that he owned real estate worth $500.00. He appears again in the 1870 census with his daughter Elizabeth's husband Joseph Donaldson added to the family. That census lists him as a landlord.

In the 1880 census he is listed as a hotelkeeper married to a new Ann M. who is 22 years old (he is 66) and listing a 2 year old son Augustus G. The next document we have is his death certificate showing he died on October 13, 1893 a resident of Pelham Bridge where he had resided for over 25 years. It lists his occupation as a hotelkeeper. . . . We know that Augustus is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx along with his first wife, a daughter, and a grandson".

Source: E-Mail from Martin Ronan to Blake A. Bell entitled "RE: Hotel at Pelham Bridge" sent "Mon 6/27/2005 7:45 PM" (copy in author's files).

At least one descendant of Augustus Lawrence believes that Augustus Lawrence's establishment "was not really a hotel but a saloon with some rooms". Source: E-Mail from Martin Ronan to Blake A. Bell entitled "RE: Hotel at Pelham Bridge" Sent "Tue 6/21/2005 9:28 PM".

The collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham include a glass negative that records an image of a "Hotel" at Pelham Bridge. The acid-free archival sleeve in which the glass negative is stored contains the following bibliographic information by William R. Montgomery (Pelham Town Historian during the 1920s) who took the photograph: "BUILDINGS: HOUSES: Shore Road at Pelham Bridge The Old Hotel"; near the bottom of the sleeve is written "Photo: Wm Montgomery 8/25/1923" and, beneath that "1-14".

I have scanned that negative and reversed the image using Adobe Photoshop Elements. The image appears below. At least for now research has not yet revealed which, if any, of the references on Plate 35 of the Beers Atlas this photo may depict. The sign above the door of the hotel reads "REFRESHMENTS" and a man is standing to the left of the hotel.

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