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.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Has Another Piece of the Treaty Oak Surfaced?

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Perhaps “Thomas Pell’s Treaty Oak” is the only tree ever to merit an obituary on the front page of The New York Times. The article, in the paper’s April 9, 1906 issue, announced the death of the giant white oak the previous day. Until then, the tree had stood for years on the grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion on Shore Road in Pelham Bay Park. Tradition holds that beneath its limbs 351 years ago, Thomas Pell signed a "treaty" with local Siwanoy Native Americans and acquired lands that today we know today as Pelham, New Rochelle, portions of Bronx County and much of the surrounding area.

The tree was revered for many years before it was destroyed by fire in 1906. Pieces of the tree made their way into the collections of museums, local organizations and private individuals. Now, it seems, another piece of the tree has come to light.

A Manhattan resident has reported to me that he has "a cross-section of the Pell Treaty Oak that is mounted on a mat board and encased in a rectangular shadow box frame, along with 2 small documents." According to the owner, "[t]he older document describes the oak and transfer of the property, the other describes an auction at which the wood piece was purchased in 1914."

Pieces of the tree are known to exist in a number of collections including those of the New-York Historical Society, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and the Manor Club (located on the Esplanade in the Village of Pelham Manor). The photograph immediately below shows a piece of the tree donated to the Manor Club in 1890.

Much has been written about the tree. To learn more, see: Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, HistoricPelham.com (2003); Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, 78(3) The Westchester Historian, pp. 73-81 (Summer 2002). In addition, I have written a book detailing Thomas Pell's purchase and the legend of the Treaty Oak. That book may be purchased from a number of sources listed below.

Click Here To Buy the Book
Directly from the Publisher, iUniverse

Click Here to Buy the Book from Amazon.com.

Click Here to Buy the Book from Barnes & Noble.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Antique Fire Fighting Equipment Reflects History of Pelham Manor

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In days of yore, fire fighting equipment in Pelham consisted of iron hoops with bars used to strike the hoop and summon bucket brigades from throughout the town. Times changed, of course. In the early 20th century, fire departments serving the various villages switched from horse-drawn equipment to automotive equipment.

The Village of Pelham Manor is lucky to have residents who have lovingly restored and maintain an antique fire engine reminiscent of the equipment used in the early 20th century. The next time the truck is on the streets, look closely and you will notice not only the old lanterns and wooden ladders, but also the leather fire helmets hung along the side of the truck.

Below are two images of the truck taken on Memorial Day 2005 shortly before the Memorial Day parade began.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

1882 Engraving Shows Opening of Coaching Season From Hotel Brunswick to Pelham Bridge

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On February 11, 2005, I posted to the Historic Pelham Blog an item entitled "Col. Delancey Kane's 'Pelham Coach', Also Known as The Tally-Ho, Is Located". The item detailed a little of the history of the the Pelham Coach that began running between New York City's Hotel Brunswick and Pelham Bridge on May 1, 1876.

Coaching to Pelham became a seasonal joy for many New Yorkers between May and October of each year for a number of years beginning in 1876. I recently located an engraving of the opening of the 1882 coaching season that likely depicts Col. Delancey Kane and his Tally-Ho.

The engraving was published in the May 27, 1882 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper at page 213. A digital image of the engraving appears below. The caption beneath the engraving reads: "NEW YORK CITY.-RENEWAL OF THE COACHING SEASON-PREPARING FOR THE START FROM THE HOTEL BRUNSWICK TO PELHAM BRIDGE.-FROM A SKETCH BY A STAFF ARTIST.-SEE PAGE 315."

The staff artist appears to have been A.B. Shults. Since I do not have the associated article, I cannot state with certainty that the coach shown depicts Col. Kane's Tally-Ho (several such coaches ran to Pelham Bridge and other nearby areas over the years), it seems likely that the image does depict the Tally-Ho.

To learn much more about Col. Kane and his Tally-Ho, see Bell, Blake A., Col. Delancey Kane and "The Pelham Coach", The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XII, No. 38, Sept. 26, 2003, p. 1, col. 1.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Recent Views of Split Rock

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On March 28, 2005 I published an entry in the Historic Pelham blog detailing the rich story and wonderful legends surrounding Split Rock, a grand Pelham landmark. The posting was entitled "Split Rock: A Pelham Landmark for Centuries". Today's Blog posting shows a couple of recent images of Split Rock.

The first image appears immediately below. The photograph, taken on May 28, 2005, provides a sense of scale. Members of a local Cub Scout Den and one of the Den leaders sit atop the massive boulder. Those sitting on the top of the boulder are facing roughly toward the northeast and the view of the image is roughly toward the southwest. Careful readers will note the small "square" on the boulder visible on the lower right of the boulder where a bronze plaque that detailed the story of the boulder once was affixed.

"Behind" Split Rock (i.e., behind those sitting atop the boulder in the image presented above) is a large stone retainer wall along the Hutchinson River Parkway. The image immediately below was taken the same day from the top of the boulder looking down toward the Hutchinson River Parkway.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

The Columbarium at Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor

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Facing Pelhamdale Avenue in front of the Huguenot Memorial Church located at 901 Pelhamdale Avenue in the Village of Pelham Manor is a quiet and beautiful Columbarium. A photograph showing the entrance to the Columbarium appears below.

A Columbarium typically is described as a vault with niches for urns containing the ashes of deceased persons. The Columbarium at Huguenot Memorial Church is a quiet and beautiful spot with lovely memorial plaques that reflect members of many families involved with the early development of the Village of Pelham Manor.

Among the memorial plaques is one dedicated to members of the armed forces who died during the two World Wars. The memorial plaque, which hangs high on the stone wall to the left as visitors entered the arched gate to the Columbarium states:


A photograph of the memorial plaque appears below.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Editorial from the Pelham Manor Tribune Published on October 1, 1894

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Only a few copies of a newspaper briefly published in the 1890s for residents of the Village of Pelham Manor known as the Pelham Manor Tribune are known to exist. The newspaper was established in the fall of 1893 by R. C. Beecroft who quickly "sold out" to Edgar C. Beecroft. William G. Beecroft served as an editor of the publication.

Below is the editorial that appeared on the first anniversary of the newspaper's founding on October 1, 1894.

"Pelham Manor Tribune.



50 Cents Per Year.

This paper will be the friend of the Village in morals and truth, independent of party prejudices.

THE PELHAM MANOR TRIBUNE invites correspondence from all quarters on live topics. Local affairs and news given the preference. Brevity, clearness, force and timeliness should be kept in view. Correspondents held responsible for their own statements. Write plainly and send real name. All communications should be addressed to THE EDITOR.

Entered at the post office at Pelham Manor, N.Y., second class mail matter.


If a few of the cows which stray around the village, with ropes on their necks but with no terra firma attached to the other end, were driven within the yard better known as the pound, where it would cost the owners $2 to have them released, there would be fewer homeless cows around and more new rope purchased. The people here in the Manor begin to think that if they are to feed the cows on cultivated geraniums and other sweet weeds they should be furnished milk and beef free of charge.

The Tribune begins its second year today. The paper was founded by R.C. Beecroft, who sold out to the present owner ten months ago, and it has done remarkably well, thank you. In the face of the hard times it has gained steadily in subscriptions (paid for) and in advertising patronage also yielding money. Its readers have been accustomed to read it through and all through. It has said hard things and truthful, and it has never been sued for libel; for which last circumstance the editor is much obliged, for a libel suit is a hackneyed sort of advertisement, tiresome and unsatisfactory, when so many other means may be resorted to. We therefore wish to thank our subscribers and advertisers, for the kindly and generous way in which they have treated us as an infant, and hope, now we have grown older and stronger, they will not cease their attentions."

Source: Pelham Manor Tribune, Oct. 1, 1894, p. 2, col. 1.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Today's Remnants of the Bartow Station on the Branch Line Near City Island

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In the early 1870s, a tiny train station was constructed on the branch line in what was then the Town of Pelham. The station was known as Bartow station, named for the small hamlet in which it sat referred to variously as Bartow, Bartow-on-the-Sound and Bartow Station.

At the time, New Yorkers viewed "Pelham Manor" as a wealthy estate enclave and a summer playground for wealthy New Yorkers. Within a few years wealthy New Yorkers established the Westchester Country Club nearby and Col. Delancey Kane began running his Pelham Coach (the "Tally-Ho") to and from Pelham Bridge near Bartow.

The promise of the area prompted early developers to cast an eye toward Bartow. For example, a tiny announcement appeared in the September 14, 1874 issue of The New York Times announcing the auction of 300 "choice building lots" at the "new village of Bartow, Pelham Township, Westchester County". The announcement said:

"THIS WEEK'S AUCTIONS . . . Monday, Sept. 14 . . .

By Jere. Johnson, Jr., on the premises at the new village of Bartow, Pelham Township, Westchester County, public auction sale of 300 choice building lots situate on high ground, overloooking the 'Sound' and adjoining the depot of the Harlem River branch of the New-York and New-Haven Railroad, with water fronts on Pelham Bay. Bartow is seven miles from the Centre of New-York, and steam-boats from Fulton slip to Morrisania connect with sixteen trains daily to and fro, making the trip by boat and rail in forty-five minutes. Spectial boat and train will leave Fulton slip, Pier No. 22 East River, at 10:45 A.M.; Grand and Twenty-third streets at 10:50, and Harlem River Railroad Depot at 11:15. Harlem passengers will cross bridge and take cars at railroad station. For free excursion, cards, maps, and information apply to Station Master at Bartow Station, or Jere. Johnson, Jr., Auctioneer, No. 21 Park row, New-York."

Source: This Week's Auctions, N.Y. Times, Sep. 14, 1874, p. 6.

Though the area never developed as planned, in 1908 the tiny train station was replaced with a substantial and lovely station intended to serve City Island residents and visitors. Built of stone with beautiful arched windows and sturdy walls, the station stood at track level.

Remains of the station still stand. A recent photograph of what is left of the station appears below. There is an overgrown path to the station that extends from the bicycle path just south of the traffic circle at Orchard Beach Road westward a few hundred feet to the station. Another way to reach the station is to start at the Pelham Bit Stables near City Island Road. Walk on the paved bicycle path northward (toward Pelham Manor) from the stables parallel to the bridle path. Right before you reach the crosswalks that cross the roadway at the head of the traffic circle at Orchard Beach Road, look to your left and you will see an iron bar gate across what looks like an abandoned roadway. That is the pathway to the station. Portions are still paved.

The station is in an atrocious state of disrepair. The walls are covered with grafitti and fire has damaged roof timbers. The area is so overgrown that during the spring, summer and fall it is difficult to make your way around the structure. Still, it is easy to imagine the grandeur of the lovely structure in its day.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Pelham Manor Village Board Decides To Dedicate Park as "Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park" on September 8, 1941

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Regular readers of this Blog may remember that recently I have been doing research on the history of the Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park located on the Esplanade at Boston Post Road behind Huguenot Memorial Church. Information about the park has never been collected in one place, so the research is slow.

I have been doing the research to assist The Junior League of Pelham, Inc. That organization is engaged in an effort to raise funds to restore the park.

Recent postings on the topic include:

Mon. June 6, 2005: Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park in Pelham Manor - Origins of the Idea to Create a Park

Thu. June 2, 2005: Obituary of Martha Emmons Weihman From The Pelham Sun, August 16, 1940

Tue. May 24, 2005: Clifford and Martha Weihman of Pelham (Part I of II)

Wed. May 25, 2005: Clifford and Martha Weihman of Pelham (Part II of II)

Tue. May 31, 2005: The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II)

Wed. June 1, 2005: The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II)

Today's Blog posting will provide the latest additional information regarding creation of the park that I have been able to assemble.

During the Summer of 1941, Clifford T. Weihman proposed to the Village of Pelham Manor Board of Trustees that he would defray the cost of landscaping and planting shrubs on the site where the George M. Reynolds Mansion burned on the evening of June 6, 1940. On Monday, September 8, 1941 -- less than three months before Pearl Harbor -- the Village of Pelham Manor Board of Trustees voted to accept Mr. Weihman's offer and decided to dedicate a new park on the site named the "Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park".

A few days later, a brief article about the development appeared in The Pelham Sun. The article is set forth below in its entirety.

"To Dedicate Boston Post Road Corner As Memorial To Late Mrs. Weihman

Property recently purchased by the Village of Pelham Manor on the southeasterly corner of the Boston Post Road and the Esplanade will be dedicated as the Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park. The Board of Trustees on Monday night accepted the offer of Clifford T. Weihman of Monterey avenue, to defray the cost of landscaping and planting shrubs on the property as a memorial to his late wife.

The property has a 250 foot frontage on the Boston Post Road and 250 foot frontage on the Esplanade. The three-story frame apartment building, which stood on the site, was gutted by fire on June 6, 1940.

The property is at the edge of the residential district and as a protection against reconstruction of an apartment building there, the village [purchased] the site for $15,000, for improvement as a park. Mr. Weihman's offer will make it possible that the improvement be started as soon as plans are approved by the Village Planning Board.

Village Trustee C. Furnald Smith submitted Mr. Weihman's offer, which had the instant support of the Board.

Mrs. Weihman was born in New York City, the daughter of Francis Robbins Emmons and Eliza Ridabock Emmons. She was a graduate of Barnard and received her Master's Degree at Columbia. Mrs. Weihman came to Pelham in 1920 and died here on Aug. 14, 1940."

Source: To Dedicate Boston Post Road Corner As Memorial To Late Mrs. Weihman, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 31, No. 23, Sep. 12, 1941, p. 1, col. 1.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pelham's Boy Scout Cabin Near The Hutchinson River Parkway

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For many years, Boy Scouts who grew up in Pelham camped and gathered in a rustic cabin located near the Hutchinson River Parkway. The cabin was built in 1925 -- before the Parkway. It was a Pelham landmark and is pictured below. Today's Blog posting transcribes an article about the cabin that appeared in the August 29, 1941 issue of The Pelham Sun.

"Pelham Boy Scout Cabin on Hutchinson River Parkway

One of the picturesque out-of-the-way places in the Pehams visited by few adults is the Boy Scout Cabin on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Pelham Manor which has been a popular rendezvous for the children of the Pelhams for many years. The cabin, erected as a training place for the members of the Boy Scout troops of the Pelhams, courtesy is also frequently extended to Boy Scouts of New York City districts who camp at the site over night as part of their pioneer activities. Pelham Girl Scouts and the Cubs also make periodical visits to the cabin for training and fun.

The cabin is situated on a knoll overlooking the parkway opposite Timpson street in Pelham Manor. The site for the cabin was secured through the effort of Gilmore D. Clarke, former Pelham resident who was landscape architect for the Westchester County Park Commission, and was responsible for much of the architecture of the Hutchinson River Parkway. The site is near the tree under which local lore has it, Lord Howe rested during the Battle of Pell's Point, in October, 1776. Remington Schuyler, prominent artist and Indian historian, selected the site because it is rich in Indian lore and Revolutionary historic tradition.

Charles M. Hart, prominent Pelham Manor architect designed the cabin, and his sketch is shown above. The lumber for the cabin was donated by Ralph Angell, lumberman and past president of the Pelham Boy Scout District Committee. The cabin was erected in 1925.

The cabin contains a 44 x 22 foot assembly room, at one side of which is a huge open fireplace. The hearthstones for the fireplace were gathered by members of the Boy Scout troops, and the interior equipment contains many Indian and Revolutionary historical relics which have been found by the members of the local Scout troops.

The cabin can be reached by a path leading from Secor Lane, just south of the Hutchinson River Parkway bridge."

Pelham Boy Scout Cabin on Hutchinson River Parkway, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 31, No. 21, Aug. 29, 1941, p. 6, col. 3.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Pelham Manor Runaway Slave Notice in August 29, 1789 Issue of The New-York Packet

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The nation's attic known as eBay® has disgorged yet another bit of Pelham history. I recently acquired from an eBay seller an original, August 29, 1789 issue of The New-York Packet. Among the many historically-significant items in the paper is a brief notice placed by the Pelham Manor owner of a runaway slave offering a reward for the return of the man named Dick. The notice reads, in full, as follows. An image of the paper banner and the notice appears at the end of this item.


RUN away from the subscriber, m the manor of Pelham, on the night of the 22d of June, a negro man, named Dick, about twenty-three years of age, full face, well built, about five feet ten or eleven inches high, a little nick in one ear, a scar on his breast, swings his left leg out when he walks, caused by a little lameness in his knee; had on when he went away, a tow shirt and trowsers, a dark brown homespun coat and jacket, it is supposed he will change his dress to a yellowish short lapelled coat, nakeen jacket and breeches, or black breeches, as he took both with him, a round black wool hat; he had a new brown great coat with him; he has remarkable large feet. All matters of vessels are warned not to take him off; and all ferrymen are requested to stop and secure him. Any person who will secure the said negro, and bring him to the subscriber, so that he can have him again, shall receive the above reward, and all other reasonable charges by William Landrine, Ram Rapalje, at Glaise house farm, or to the Printers.52 tu th"

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Friday, July 15, 2005

Using Cornell University Library's "New York State Historical Literature" Digital Collection

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On June 20, 2005, I published a Blog posting entitled "Using Cornell University Library's 'Making of America' Digital Library of Primary Sources to Perform Research Regarding Pelham". Cornell University Library has another wonderful digital library that those interested in local history should learn to use. It is the "New York State Historical Literature" digital library. Today's posting will describe how to use that resource to perform research regarding the history of Pelham and surrounding areas.

The home page for the Cornell University Library "New York State Historical Literature" collection is located at http://historical.library.cornell.edu/nys/index.html. Currently the collection contains 655 individual items totaling 81,861 pages.

You will observe on the home page of the site that by clicking on links you can learn more "About" the collection, obtain "Help" regarding the use of the collection, "Browse" the collection, and "Search" the collection. Click on the "Browse" link and you will observe that the entire collection can be viewed sorted alphabetically by author or sorted alphabetically by title.

Click on the "Search" link and you will observe that you can search the entire collection by author, by title and by full text. The system allows exact phrase searches by placing the phrase in quotation marks. Wildcard searches are permitted using the asterisk.

Try a full text search for the phrase "Thomas Pell". The search returns 14 results sorted by author. Most of the results are relevant either to Thomas Pell (the so-called First Lord of the Manor of Pelham) or descendants of his nephew, John Pell, who were given the same name. Many of the results are from published abstracts of wills on file in the Surrogate's Office of the City of New York. Likewise a search for the phrase "Westchester County" returns 75 results.

Like the "Making of America" digital library, Cornell University Library's digital collection of "New York State Historical Literature" is an important research tool for local historians interested in understanding the history of Pelham, lower Westchester County and, of course, many other locales within New York State.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pelham's 1926 Pageant Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pelham

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On October 16, 1926, the Pelhams held a "Colonial Pageant" commemorating events important in the history of the area including the Battle of Pelham that occurred on October 18, 1776. There were more than five hundred members of the cast. Thousands watched the spectacle. The event was held along Split Rock Road which, at that time, extended from today's Shore Road near the Bartow-Pell Mansion to the Boston Post Road.

The pageant was an important and major commemoration in the life of the three villages that formed the Pelhams at that time. There is an ample historical record of the event which included one of the earliest uses of outdoor amplified sound using electrical speakers in Pelham. The event was well reported in local newspapers. Today's Blog posting will relate some of that coverage.

Plans for the pageant were reported in the October 9, 1926 issue of The New York Times. The report said:

500 Persons to Take Part in a Historical Spectacle on Old Battlefield.
Special to The New York Times.

NEW ROCHELLE, N. Y., Oct. 8. -- More than 500 persons will participate in a historical pageant to be given on Oct. 16 by High School students and organizations of the Pelhams.

The pageant will have four historical episodes besides a prologue and epilogue. The first episode will be the reception of Anne Hutchinson in 1640 by the Dutch and her massacre by the Indians. It will be given by the Degree of Pocahontas and the Comfort Society of Pelham under the direction of Mrs. Edwin L. Adair.

The second episode will depict the sale in 1654 by the Indians to Thomas Pell of the land comprising the present township of Pelham and vicinity, and will be presented by the students of the Pelham Memorial High School, under the direction of Miss Kathrene Ensign, Miss Anna Coleman and Miss Helen Homer will assist.

The third episode, 1700, will show Lord and Lady Pell receiving yearly tribute from their tenants and the reception of the British envoy as he presents the patent from King James to Lord Pell. This will be presented by the drama section of the Manor Club, under the direction of Mrs. G. Munro Hubbard.

An incident on Oct. 18, 1776, in the Battle of Pell's Neck between a detachment of Washington's Army under Colonel Glover and the British under General Howe will constitute the fourth episode. This will be directed by Colonel C. Sidney Haight, U. S. A., retired, who will be assisted by Major Philip Thurber, U. S. A., and Bruce Delette. It will be put on by members of Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

The prologue was written by Mrs. Joan E. Secor, honorary president of the Manor Club, and will be read by Mrs. Henry E. Dey. The epilogue will be given by students of the Pelham Memorial High School under the direction of Miss Ensign.

The pageant will take place on the site of the former battle ground on the Split Rock Road near the Boston Post Road, Pelham Manor.

Miss Elizabeth B. Grimbell of New York is directing the pageant. Colonel C. Sidney Hight is Chairman of the Committee of Arrangements."

Source: Pelhams To Give Colonial Pageant, N.Y. Times, Oct. 9, 1926, p. 10.

The pageant was held as scheduled. Once again The New York Times provided a detailed account of the event. That account is related below.

Thousands of Persons See the Pageant Recalling Episodes of 150 Years Ago.
Colorful Picture of Revolutionary Incidents in Outdoor Setting at Pelham Manor.
Special to The New York Times.

NEW ROCHELLE, N. Y., Oct. 16. -- A gathering of several thousand witnessed this afternoon a pageant depicting incidents in the history of the Pelhams. The occasion was the Sesquicentennial celebration of the Battle of Pell's Neck, held on Prospect Hill, Pelham Manor, at the Boston Post Road and Split Rock Road, site of the battle.

A natural amphitheatre [sic] formed by a hill and a plateau afforded a fine setting for the pageant. A grove of trees brilliant in their Autumn hues and the colorful costumes made a perfect picture.

More than 500 residents of Pelham Manor, Pelham and North Pelham participated in the celebration, which started with a parade of the actors, musical organizations and members of the Fire Department.

The pageant's first episode, the reception of Anne Hutchinson in 1640 by the Dutch and the massacre in which she was a victim of the Indians, was given by the Degree of Pocahontas and the Pelham Comfort Society, under the direction of Mrs. Edwin L. Adair of North Pelham. The principal characters were: Anne Hutchinson, Mrs. Adair; Older Daughter, Mabel Schroder; Younger Daughter, Betty Flavelle; Chief of the Siwanoy Indians, Remington Schuyler; Chief of the Wikagyl Indians, Stacy Wood; Chief of the Shippan Indians, Fred Wirth.

The second episode was the sale by the Inidans in 1654 to Thomas Pell of the land comprising the township of Pelham and vicinity. It was presented by pupils of the Pelham Memorial High School under the direction of Miss Cathrin Ensign. The principal characters were: Thomas Pell, Milo Fritz; Dutch Official from New Amsterdam, P. Parker.

The third episode showed Lord and Lady Pell receiving the yearly tribute in 1700 from their tenants; also Lord Pell receiving from the British envoy the patent to the Lordship and Manor of Pelham issued by King James II. It was presented by the drama section of the Manor Club under the direction of Mrs. G. Munro Hubbard. The principal characters were: Lord Pell, Roger B. Hull; Lady Pell, Mrs. Robert Jacob; Miss Pell, Irene Longley; British envoy, William L. Bradley; major domo, Henry E. Dey; members of the gentry, Major and Mrs. Philip Thurber, Mrs. Edgar C. Beecroft, Mr. and Mrs. Northrop Dawson, Mrs. William L. Bradley, Mrs. Frederick W. Ingalls, Mr. and Mrs. Winifred B. Holton Jr. and others. Several coaches used in this episode were loaned by Mrs. Edward Penfield of Pelham Manor.

The fourth episode depicted an incident in the battle of Pell's Neck on Oct. 18, 1776, between a detachment of Washington's Army under Colonel Glover and the British General, Lord Howe. It was presented by the American Legion Post of Pelham, citizens of the three villages and troops of the regular Army. Colonel C. Sidney Haight, U. S. A., retired, was in charge, assisted by Major Philip Thurber, U. S. A. Bruce De Lette, O. R. C., was director. The cast was: Colonel Glover, Captain Del Fungo Griera; Hessian officer, Major Thurber; Colonel Glover's staff, J. M. Perly, G. Lambert, P. Griega and Colonel Haight; General Howe, Ralph C. Angell.

The prologue, a poem written by Mrs. Joan E. Secor, Honorary President of the Manor Club, was read by Mrs. Henry E. Day [sic]. The epilogue was in the form of an allegory. Young girls in classic costume represented Westchester County, the town of Pelham and the three villages, and presented a pantomime of civic and patriotic achievement.

The pageant was directed by Miss Elizabeth B. Grimball of New York. Colonel Haight headed the Arrangements Committee.

Many descendants of Lord Pell witnessed the pageant, among them Stephen C. H. P. Pell, John Pell, Waldron Pell, Miss Adeline M. Turnhull, Mrs. I. S. Lawrence and Ogden Pell. Representative and Mrs. Benjamin L. Fairchild and Mrs. William C. Story were also present.

Mount Vernon Celebrates.

Mount Vernon also celebrated in commemoration of the battle. The celebration was held this afternoon by the East Side Improvement Association, the Mount Vernon Rotary Club and Bronx Xhapter, D. A. R. It took place at Garden Avenue and East Sixth Street, not far from the battle's site. A staff and flag were presented to the city by the association, and a bronze plaque by the Rotary Club. Former Supreme Court Justice Isaac N. Mills presided. The Rev. Dr. O. F. Bartholow, pastor of the First Methodist Church, made the address and Mayor William D. MacQuisten accepted the gifts for the city.

A $10 gold piece, the prize for the best essay on the battle written by a pupil of the De Witt Clinton School, offered by the Improvement Association, was presented to Alan Steinhardt by Mrs. C. Lee Peck of the Bronx Chapter, D. A. R."

Source: Pell's Neck Battle Fought Once More, N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 1926, p. 28.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

11 Priory Lane: The Rose Cottage

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A lovely home stands near Bolton Priory on Priory Lane in Pelham Manor. It is known as the "Rose Cottage" and is located at 11 Priory Lane.

The precise date that the structure was built is unknown. Nor is it known who built it. It reportedly was standing when Rev. Robert Bolton bought the property in 1838.

When Robert Bolton acquired his estate in 1838, it covered a large area including the property of Christ Church (which he founded a few years later), the property along today's Priory Lane, the property along Shore Front Park and more. Tradition says that after Rev. Bolton acquired the property, the Bolton family moved from the area around today's Bronxville to the little Rose Cottage on the grounds of the estate and lived there while the family built Bolton Priory in which they lived for decades.

Local historians have theorized that the lovely little structure may have been an outbuilding of one of the Pell family members who lived in the area during the 18th and early 19th centuries. If that is the case, then it is at least possible that the structure was associated with the Kemble House located at 145 Shore Road. That home was built by a member of the Pell family in about 1760 and still stands just north of today's Pelham Manor Texaco station at the intersection of Pelhamdale Avenue and Shore Road.

There is a fascinating story told about the Rose Cottage. Experts generally believe that the stained glass window in Christ Church depicting the "Adoration of the Magi" was the first "figured stained glass window" created anywhere in America. One of Rev. Bolton's sons, William Jay Bolton, executed that window. According to several authorities, "William Jay Bolton created a figured stained glass window of 'Abraham Sacrificing Isaac on the Altar' which he placed in the front door of the cottage. This window may pre-date the 'Adoration of the Magi' window in Christ Church.'" If true, of course, this little cottage would be the site of the first figured stained glass window executed in the United States.

To read more about the little Rose Cottage at 11 Priory Lane, see Village of Pelham Manor, Pelham Manor: A Tour Through Time A Self-Guided Tour in Honor of Pelham Manor's Centennial, p. 2 (1991). See also The Junior League of Pelham, Inc., A Glance at the Past: Pelham's Growth From 1775-1975 pp. 8, 9, 11 (The Junior League of Pelham, Inc. Sept. 1976) (Pamphlet associated with accompanying map; 32 pp. including Map Bibliography, Manuscript Bibliography and illustrations by Hedy Klein).

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Pelham Preservation & Garden Society

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In 1999 a group of public-spirited and preservation-minded Pelham residents formed an organization intended to foster community appreciation for Pelham's unique aesthetic and historical character. They formed a not-for-profit organization formally named "Pelham Preservation Society, Ltd." but known ever since as "Pelham Preservation & Garden Society".

The Society has an excellent and informative Web site located at http://www.pelhampreservationsociety.com/. As the site notes, "the Pelham Preservation & Garden Society has had enormous success making our streets, parks and community spaces more beautiful for Pelham families. We have been extremely busy with bulb planting, "Pelham by Design"(our Library collection) and our Downtown Hanging Baskets installation. Currently, we are working on the Highbrook Avenue Gates Renovation Project, planting project at the Train Station, and an Historic Architecture Plaque Program."

The organization is a membership organization and donations to the group are tax deductible. Membership for a family is modestly priced at $30. This once a year fee will provide members with our Resource Guide, which assists individuals in historic renovations of homes, periodic lectures on Preservation and Pelham history and the annual Perennial Swap.

The organization is devoted not only to the preservation and restoration of historic structures and green spaces in Pelham, but also to preserving the history of the the Town. Many members of the Board of Trustees and the organization are avid students of the history of Pelham and surrounding areas.

The Web site of the organization is an excellent resource and even includes a brief history of Pelham. Among the other sections of the site are: Home Page, About the Organization, Historic Architecture Plaque Program, Information for Restoration Projects, Home Improvement, Identifying Architectural Styles, Gardening Resources, Becoming a Member, Links, Contact Us, and Using this Website.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Pelham Cemetery on City Island

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City Island retains the feel of a quaint New England fishing village. For more than a century, City Island was part of the Town of Pelham. Before that, for more than a century, it was part of the Manor of Pelham. Many Pelham pioneers lived on -- or visited -- City Island. Its history is part of Pelham's history.

At the west end of Reville Road on City Island is a lovely cemetery named "Pelham Cemetery". It is the only waterfront cemetery in the five boroughs of New York City. Next to the gate of the cemetery is a bronze plaque that says, in part, the following:


Lives are commemorated -- deaths are recorded . . . This is a cemetery. . . . A cemetery is a history of people -- a perpetual record of yesterday and a sanctuary of peace and quiet today. . . "

These words certainly ring true. Pelham Cemetery was established in the 1880s. There are, however, older gravestones within its grounds. The cemetery is filled with the gravestones of well-known Pelham families and early settlers. The grave sites of veterans of the Civil War and virtually every War since may be found in the cemetery.

Gravestone of Civil War Veteran Private William F. Hulse,
Co. E, N.Y. 127th Infantry. The 127th was organized
at Staten Island and mustered in September 8, 1862.
It had duty defending Washington, D.C. until April, 1863.
It was involved in the Siege of Suffolk, Virginia April 20 -
May 4, 1863. It participated in Dix's Peninsula Campaign
June 24 - July 7 of that year. It pursued Lee to Berlin,
Maryland, July 13 - 22, 1863. Involved in siege operations
against Forst Wagner and Gregg on Morris Island and
against Fort Sumpter and Charleston, South Carolina.

Pelham Cemetery is a quiet place overlooking the Long Island Sound. For those interested in the history of Pelham and surrounding areas, a respectful and pensive stroll of the grounds is worth the time.

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Friday, July 08, 2005

How Did a Village Blacksmith Win the 1906 North Pelham Election by Cornering the Market on Sleighs?

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Judged solely by the historical record, it would seem that politics in Pelham has always been a funny business. Some of the most entertaining Pelham lore revolves around local politics in the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps one of the strangest, yet amusing, incidents involved the way in which a local village Blacksmith was elected President (i.e., Mayor) of the Village of North Pelham in 1906. Today's Blog posting will tell the story of how James Reilly, the village blacksmith, won the election by "cornering" the market for horse-drawn sleighs in the village.

It seems that in 1906, a number of North Pelham residents were not satisfied with the Replublican and Democratic leaders involved in Village Politics. They submitted a slate of candidates for the Village elections that they labled the "Municipal Ownership" ticket. Among those included in the ticket was James Reilly, the Village blacksmith, who stood for election to the position of Village President.

The day of the election (March 20, 1906), it seems, the weather had not been too cooperative and the crafty blacksmith realized that if he could tie up all the sleighs in the area it might be difficult for voters to get to the polls while his own supporters could be transported to the polling place. He did just that. The New York Times reported the next day:

Cornered the Sleighs and Is Elected President.

* * *

James Reilly, the village blacksmith of North Pelham, having cornered all the sleighs in the village, carried the day for the Municipal Ownership ticket in the village election yesterday. It was one of the most interesting contests in Westchester County, which had village elections in every corner yesterday.

The Municipal Ownership people elected their whole ticket, defeating the Republican and Democratic nominees by a good plurality. Mr. Reilly was elected by a plurality of 26; W. G. Barker was chosen Trustee by a plurality of 43; D. Paul O'Flynn was chosen Treasurer and James Lyon Collector . . . . "

Source: Village Blacksmith Wins In North Pelham, N.Y. Times, Mar. 21, 1906, p. 6.

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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company Begins Construction of its Railroad

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Nearly a century ago the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway passed through, and provided service, to Pelham. The line – now known as Westchester’s “forgotten railway” – was controlled by the New Haven Railroad. The Westchester opened for service in 1912. With the onset of the Great Depression, the Westchester simply could not survive. Indeed, it never showed a profit in any year that it operated. The last passenger train on the Westchester line ended its run a little after midnight on December 31, 1937. The last train to pass through Pelham on the line was a New Haven work train being used to scrap the line in 1941.

While the demise of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway was a sad event, there was a time early in the history of the line that optimists believed it would be a resounding success. Today's Blog posting will provide background on the day that contstruction first began on the line.

The concept of such a railroad had been around for many years. By the time serious efforts to construct the line began, the prospects of success seemed so likely that battles began among competing interests began, questioning the validity of the company's franchise to build the line. In 1905, however, such questions were resolved by the Attorney General of the State of New York. The New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company immediately began construction of the line without pomp and circumstance. The New York Times described commencement of the work in an article that has been transcribed below.

Ceremonies Cut Out to Insure a Quick Beginning.
Through Traffic from the Battery to Sound Points Insured When the Road Is Opened.

Following the decision of Attorney General Mayer that its franchise is valid, the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad Company began yesterday the construction of its road. There were no opening ceremonies. The company's engineers found that they could get to work yesterday and did so.

Gangs of men began work at three different points on Division 1, which takes in the entire section of the Westchester Road up to the city limits. One gang began on the heavy cut between East Chester Hill and Saw Mill Lane; another at a point between Bronxdale Avenue and White Plains Road, and a third between Saw Mill Lane and Pelham Parkway. This section of the work is under the direct supervision of E. V. Maitland, Resident Engineer for the Westchester Company in the Bronx.

Chief Engineer William A. Pratt says he expects to have 5,000 men at work by the end of this month. It will then be pushed with all possible energy and speed. The road is to have four tracks, heavy enough for the highest speed traffic. The third-rail system will be used.

The road will run from the Harlem River, or some junction point with subway or elevated lines further north, to Mount Vernon. There a branch will run along the Sound, through or near Pelham, New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, and Rye to Port Chester. The northern branch reaches Bronxville, Tuckahoe, and Scarsdale, terminating at White Plains. The Westchester and Interborough Companies are so closely allied that a joint terminal will be erected to take care of traffic from one to the other, and ultimately there will be through traffic from the Bronx and Westchester Stations, by way of Subway and elevated, to the Battery.

The Westchester Company underwriters paid into Knickerbocker Trust Company yesterday the first payment due on the amount subscribed for the building of the road."

Source: Westchester Railroad Starts Construction, N.Y. Times, Jun. 4, 1905, p. 7.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Third Street Carriage Crash in September 1898 (Part II)

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Yesterday's Historic Pelham Blog posting dealt with "The Third Street Carriage Crash in September 1898 (Part I)". The carriage crash occurred while the Village of Pelham was in the process of widening Third Street approaching a bridge that crossed the Hutchinson River. Once the approach to the bridge from the Village of Pelham was widened, the end of the bridge stood near the middle of the roadway. The construction process was not completed until October 1898.

On September 16, 1898, however, a horse-drawn carriage carrying August Reiss and Charles Weber crashed into the end of the bridge at about 8:30 p.m. killing the horse and injuring the occupants of the carriage. The pair sued the Town of Pelham but failed to follow proper procedures to permit suit against the Village of Pelham. The plaintiffs alleged that the commissioner of highways of the Town of Pelham "negligently and improperly placed or caused or permitted to be placed a rail, as a part of, or as an approach to, the eastern end of the bridge." The suit produced a dozen reported decisions as the courts tried to sort out liability for the incident. Today's Blog posting will continue the saga of the litigation that resulted from the Third Street Carriage Crash of September 1898.

On July 17, 1900, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department released a decision. The Appellate Division was charged with deciding whether the lower court decision to grant a new trial based on "newly-discovered evidence" should be affirmed or reversed. The Court held that the law supported the decision of the lower court, but nonetheless reversed the decision to grant a new trial holding that:

"[W]e have reached the conclusion, however, that the dangerous condition of the highway in the village of Pelham, where the accident occurred, was due to the fact that the widening of the village street rendered the very existence of the bridge a menace, which of itself did the mischief, and that the accident, therefore, was not due in any degree to negligence with which the defendant is legally chargeable."

The appellate court, therefore, affirmed judgment in favor of the Town of Pelham. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 53 A.D. 459, 65 N.Y.S. 1033, 1035-36 (App. Div. 2d Dep't 1900).

The matter was not settled. On October 26, 1900, the same Court granted plaintiffs' motion for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals (the State's highest court). This, in effect, granted permission to appeal the decision of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department to the highest Court of the State. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 54 A.D. 628, 66 N.Y.S. 1142 (App. Div. 2nd Dep't 1900). The question certified to the New York Court of Appeals for determination was the following: "Irrespective of the question of the possession of funds by the defendant's highway commissioner, do the facts disclosed by the record herein require a submission to the jury of the question of negligence on the part of the defendant?"

The New York Court of Appeals issued its decision on February 25, 1902. The decision was not what any of the parties expected or hoped for. The Court of Appeals found a "defect" in the record of proceedings below that prompted it to refuse to render any decision. The Court ruled:

"The only question presented for our consideration at this time is the one certified to us by the appellate division on allowing the plaintiffs to appeal from its order. The determination of this controversy on the merits, which resulted in the judgment of the trial term in favor of the defendant, and its affirmance by the appellate division, can be reviewed here only upon an appeal from the judgment of the latter court. As the question certified relates solely to the merits, it must be regarded, in the present state of the record, as purely abstract, and the appeals should be dismissed". Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 170 N.Y. 54, 58, 62 N.E. 1083, 1084 (N.Y. 1902).

The Appellate Division, Second Department, quickly entered an order affirming both the orders denying a motion for a new trial and judgment in favor of the Town of Pelham. Once again, the Court certified the question to the New York Court of Appeals for final determination. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 72 A.D. 632, 76 N.Y.S. 1028 (App. Div. 2nd Dep't 1902). The stage was set for a determination of the issue by New York's highest court.

After all this, the published record of the case virtually ends. There is a brief and cryptic decision by the intermediate appellate court on June 19, 1902 stating "No opinion. Orders settled and signed." Beyond that, the record of reported judicial decisions is silent regarding any resolution of the case. Was the matter settled before decision by the Court? We do not yet know. The resolution of the case remains yet another of the many mysteries created by the passage of time -- a mystery that undoubtedly can be solved and will, one day, be solved.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Third Street Carriage Crash in September 1898 (Part I)

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On September 16, 1898 at about 8:30 p.m., August Reiss and Charles Weber were traveling in a horse-drawn carriage on Third Street in the Village of Pelham. The pair approached a small bridge that crossed the Hutchinson River at that time. The pair approached from the Village of Pelham side of the bridge.

The pair seems to have been traveling at a fairly quick clip when the horse ran dead-on into the side railing of the bridge killing the poor beast and severely injuring the two occupants of the carriage. According to one account, the road on the Pelham side of the bridge "was formerly the same width as the bridge, as it is yet on the town [of Pelham] side; but the village widened the road so that the end of the bridge stood against the middle of the road. In this way the horse of the plaintiffs going along the right-hand side of the road ran against the end of the right-hand side of the road, ran against the end of the right-hand guard rail of the bridge in the darkness." It turned out that in March 1898, the Village of Pelham had begun widening Third Street leading up to the bridge. That process was not completed until October 1898. In the meantime, the carriage smashed into a guard rail that had been placed at the direction of the Commissioner of Highways of the Town of Pelham. The guard rail had not yet been moved while the road was being widened.

What followed was a lengthy litigation that resulted in twelve reported judicial opinions as the courts tried to allocate responsibility for the crash between the Village of Pelham and the Town of Pelham. Today's Blog posting will discuss the first of these decisions.

The plaintiffs sued only the Town of Pelham for the accident. Following a jury trial, a verdict was announced in favor of the Town of Pelham. Plaintiffs made a motion seeking a new trial and submitted the affidavits of members of the jury who indicated that they ruled in favor of the Town of Pelham because "they believed that the town of Pelham and the village of Pelham were jointly liable for the obstruction complained of, and that both village and town should have been sued, and that the entire damage should not be borne by said town" and that the "jury believed that under the law the plaintiffs could maintain an action against both said municipalities hereafter, or they would not have brought in a verdict for the defendant". Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 30 Misc. 545, 62 N.Y.S. 607, 608 (Sup. Ct. Westchester Co., 1900).

In deciding the motion the Court, as might be expected, excoriated the jury saying that the affidavits were a "scandalous revelation" that the jury made "no scruple of swearing that in disregard of their duty to decide the facts submitted to them, and nothing else, leaving the law to the court, they entered into consideration of a point of law in the jury room, and decided the case in accordance with their decision of such point of law". According to the Court, the conduct of the members of the jury was "outrageous". It seems that there was a good reason for not including the Village of Pelham as a defendant in the case. According to the Court, "it may be incidentally mentioned that under a statutory requirement that such claims for damage be presented to village officials within a given time after the accident happens, the plaintiffs by failing to so present their claims had lost their right of action against the village." Id.

The Court, however, was bound by the law. It noted that under the law "the affidavits of these jurymen besmirching their conduct and thereby impeaching their verdict cannot be entertained . . . [v]erdicts would otherwise have no stability". It seemed that the Court would have to deny the motion by lawyers for Messrs. Reiss and Weber seeking a new trial.

The Court noted, however, that there was one ground on which the matter might be reopened and a new trial granted: newly-discovered evidence. This, the Court found, stating:

"The ground of newly-discovered evidence seems to be substantial. The defense of no funds was interposed. The highway commissioner testified that he had only one cent which he got from his predecessor. But it is now made to appear that the course of business was for the town meeting not to raise funds for highway expenses in advance, but for needed funds to be obtained from a bank which advanced it during the year, and then for the bills to be audited and put in the next tax levy. If the jury had had this evidence before them I do not think they would have found the commissioner was without funds; that is if any guess can be given as to what such a jury would do." Id. at 609. Thus, the Court granted the motion for a new trial.

Tomorrow: how the litigation over the Third Street Carriage Crash of 1898 was resolved.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Pelham's Celebration of Independence Day in 1910

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There certainly was something special about Pelham's Fourth of July celebration in 1910. For whatever reason, the pageantry was more extensive than most years. The celebration was better documented than almost any in the history of the Town. The crowds that watched the parade were quite large. On this Fourth of July, 2005 when our nation celebrates the 229th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it seems fitting to reminisce about the pageantry and beauty of the Town's celebration 95 years ago.

Photograph of Pelham's Independence Day Parade in 1910.
The Independence Day Celebration was sponsored under the auspices of the Pelham Village Club, a social club located in the Village of Pelham in the early 20th century. The day began quite early with a 4:30 a.m. "Sunrise Salute of 21 Guns".
The highlight of the day was a grand parade. According to the program for the event, the line of march was as follows: "March on Esplanade to Boston Road; to Pelhamdale Ave., to Manor Lane, to Pelham St., past new High School; to Manor Lane to Pelhamdale Ave., to Witherbee Ave., to Highbrook Ave., past Pelham Heights School to Boulevard to Wolf's Lane, to 5th Ave., North Pelham to 2nd St., to 3rd Ave., to 3rd St., to 2nd Ave., past the 'Reviewing Stand' on 4th St., and disband."
The "Orator of the Day" was the Honorable William Sulzer. Among the many groups that marched were the Fife and Drum Corps of the Fire Department, Liberty Engine and Hose Compmpany No. 1, the Fife and Drum Corp of Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 and the Fife and Drum Corps of Iroquois Tribe, No. 476 - Imp'd O.R.M.
The parade began at 10:00 a.m. The crowds reportedly were large. The program at the reviewing stand was as follows:
"Overture - Orchestra.
Song - God Bless our Native Land - Chorus.
Reading Declaration of Independence - Hon. Chas G. F. Wahle.
Song - Hail Columbia - Chorus.
The American Flag; Rodman Drake - Miss Lulu Young.
Song - Star Spangled Banner - Chorus.
Oration - Hon. William Sulzer.
Song - O God our Help in Ages Past - Chorus."
The day included athletic events at 2:00 p.m. There were track events as well as field events. The events were closed to residents of Pelham and included a 100 yard dash, a 220 yard run, a 440 yard run, a pole vault, a standing broad jum, a shot put (12 lbs.), a "7 obstacle race" and a sack race. There also was a "Fat Man's Race" and events for boys under the age of 16 including a 100 yard dash, a shot put (8 lbs.) and a 220 yard run. Other events included a "shoe race", a "ladies' race, 75 yards", a tug of war between Relief Hook and Ladder Company, No. 1 and Liberty Engine and Hose Company, No. 1, a girls' race (75 yard dash) and a potato race.
While these athletic events may have made for a full day, there were more such events: an 880 yard run, a one mile run, a two mile run, a running broad jump, a running high jump and a "hop, step and jump".
At 8:00 p.m. that evening there was a town-wide dance held at the Pavillion on 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues with the 10th Regiment Band (W. D. Craig, Bandmaster). At 9:00 p.m. there was an intermission during which a fireworks celebration was held. The dance then continued until the wee hours of the morning.
Pelham certainly celebrated the day grandly and likewise will celebrate the nation's "birthday" for many, many, many more years!
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Friday, July 01, 2005

The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part III)

On each of the last two days I have published the Blog postings listed below about the Sea Serpent of the Sound that supposedly was spotted in Pelham Waters in August 1877:

June 29, 2005: The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part I)

June 30, 2005: The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part II)

Regular readers will recall that in the first posting, I provided an account of a steamship traveling past Execution Lighthouse northeast of City Island, then part of Pelham, when it supposedly struck the sea serpent as it lay asleep on the water. The serpent reportedly "rose angrily to the height of the flagstaff with a hissing sound" and dashed water on the deck of the steamship. The Sound Sea-Serpent, N.Y. Times, Sep. 2, 1877, p. 7.

In yesterday's posting, I provided the account of a sea captain from Darien, Connecticut who -- a week or two after the "sighting" -- gave a plausible explanation for the reported incident claiming that the steamship had struck the mast of a sunken ship that he was involved in salvaging and that the mast was broken off and likely bobbed up next to the ship frightening those on board. The Sea-Serpent In The Sound, N.Y. Times, Sep. 14, 1877, p. 3. For several years, thereafter, however, there were numerous "sightings" of the Sea Serpent of the Sound that seemingly traveled up and down the northeastern coast of the United States. Today's Blog posting provides a plausible explanation for some of those "sightings".

During the late 1870s, there were many published reports describing supposed sightings of the Sea Serpent of the Sound. One such report placed the beast south of the Sound off the shore of Sandy Hook. There were so many reports during that two or three year period that the august journal Scientific American undertook to relate eyewitness accounts of the Sandy Hook encounter and to provide a plausible explanation for the sighting. In addition, the journal published an artist's rendering of the "beast" created from eyewitness accounts. A detail from that image appears below, taken from the December 27, 1879 issue of Scientific American.

Scientific American noted that members of a Sandy Hook live-saving crew saw the sea serpent. According to the account:

"Kittell was the first to see it. He says: 'I looked out and saw a large head and portions of the body of a most terrible looking monster. It was wriggling slowly along like a snake, the head and several portions of the body showing above the water. It was not a whale, as there was not more than twelve feet of water where it was, and a whale as large as that would necessarily have been in view all the time. But this thing would disappear altogether at intervals. No fin could be seen anywhere on the back. The body looked round and much larger than a pork barrel. It was of a blackish-brown color. I am sure it was not a whale, but cannot say what it was. It was a stranger to me.'

George Lohsen makes the following statement: 'I took the glasses and ran down to the water's edge and leveled the glasses at the monster's head. The front of the head was square, with a projection about two feet long extending from the top of the head. The eye was seven or eight inches in diameter, of a shiny black, and it appeared bulged out considerable. There looked to be a white rim around it. The animal's length was at least 300 feet from the head to the tail, as seen by us, not making allowances for the crooks in the body.'

Harry Foster, another of the crew, says: 'I got up and looked out, and saw the devilishest looking fish I ever put my eyes on. It was moving along about as fast as a man could walk. I took a pair of strong glasses and followed it along the beach. It was not more than 300 yards from the shore. With the glasses the head looked as large as a hogshead. The front of the head looked square, and was about three feet high, with a projection two feet long extending from the top of its head. The eye toward the shore was as large as the top of my hat, was shiny black and had a white edge. . . . From the head to the tail it was at the least calculation 300 feet long. It was moving along the water the same as an eel. The head and several parts of the body was constantly out of the water. It was some species of serpent. . . . not a whale. . . . This thing did not spout, and showed no fins on any part of its body excepting on the tail, which was formed like that of an eel.'"

Source: Beard, Daniel C., The Sea Serpent Accounted For, Scientific American, p. 1 (Dec. 27, 1879).

The author of the article provided a plausible explanation for the sighting, saying "[t]here is no doubt, in my mind, that the monster lately seen off Sandy Hook by the crew of the life-saving station was no other than a large cephalopod". Id. A cephalopod is a member of the Cephalopoda class of marine mollusks that include the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus. They typically have a large head, large eyes and tentacles. They have been known to grow to very large dimensions.

The author of the article in Scientific American argued that the sighting must have involved a cephalopod because:

"1st: The body is large and round, and described as resembling sometimes a cask and again a bale of goods.

2nd: The eyes are large and staring.

3rd: The arms or tentacles are of great length, and have a snake-like appearance and motion."


The "beast" sighted near City Island in Pelham in August 1877, then, may have been the mast of a sunken ship or -- though less likely, it seems -- a giant cephalopod. Of course, it may have been the product of overactive imaginations or . . . . something else.

We, of course, will never know what prompted the sighting off the waters of Pelham. Yes, there are plausible -- even likely -- explanations. But, no one can deny that something happened in the waters near City Island in late August 1877 that added to the legends and lore of Pelham!

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