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, August 11, 2005

How Dry I Am: Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm

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In 1896, Pelham was the only town in Westchester to vote, pursuant to the terms of the so-called Raines Law, to go dry. On Tuesday, March 31, 1896, the Town voted, in effect, to close all saloons and to bar the selling of liquor except by druggists on physicians' prescriptions.

Almost immediately the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island found itself at the center of a storm. Travers Island lies partly in Pelham and partly in New Rochelle. It suddenly dawned on the Town that through a few simple machinations, the Club would be able easily to circumvent the prohibition on the sale of liquor. The New York Times described the situation in an article published on April 3, 1896. The article appears below.

Whether Travers Island Is in Pelham or New-Rochelle?

PELHAM MANOR, N. Y., April 2.-Where is the New-York Athletic Club's country house? The answer always has been Travers Island, and the big clubhouse and fine grounds have usually been thought of as belonging to Pelham Manor.

The question now will require a much more exact answer, it is said, since on Tuesday the town of Pelham voted to close all saloons and to bar the selling of liquor everywhere except by druggists on physicians' prescriptions.

The best authorities obtainable on the town lines of Pelham and New-Rochelle claim that the dividing line runs through the big clubhouse itself, and the Town Assessors call to mind the fact that the New-York Athletic Club is assessed in both Pelham and New-Rochele. It is said, therefore, that the New-York Athletic Club must not hereafter dispense liquors to its members in the town of Pelham.

The members of the club who visited the clubhouse yesterday discussed the situation. It was not until yesterday, in fact, that it fully dawned on the club members what the vote against license in Pelham meant to them, and the great quantity of puzzling questions that might arise when the law should be enforced. Most of them thought the clubhouse, gronds and all, was in Pelham, and began to think of the feasibility of selling the property and getting another place untrammeled by obnoxious liquor restrictions.

The cottage which stands a few feet southwest of the main clubhouse is kept open all Winter. It contains a bar and cozy smoking and reading rooms. The main clubhouse is not opened until late in the Spring. The cottage is a favorite haunt of the country members of the club whose homes are in Mount Vernon, Pelham Manor, and New-Rochelle. The cottage, it is said, really contains the main bar of the entire establishment, though a supplementary bar is opened in the clubhouse in the Summer season. The club bars have always been duly appreciated, just as they are in big New-York City clubs.

A member of the New-York Athletic Club said this morning that the cottage, bar and all, was unquestionably in Pelham, and that he thought the big clubhouse itself was in Pelham. Another member of the club said he had heard somewhere that the town line intersected the main clubhouse. Every one agreed that the cottage was in Pelham. If a part of the main clubhouse was in New-Rochelle, the bar could easily be moved to the New-Rochelle end, and the necessary license could be obtained from New-Rochelle.

It is no easy matter to determine just how the town line runs. George Lambden, Town Assessor of New-Rochelle, who is considered the best authority on local boundaries, says the New-Rochelle line cuts off just eighteen feet of the clubhouse, and that the rest of the clubhouse is in Pelham. Joseph J. English, for many years Tax Collector of Pelham, says the boundary passes through the clubhouse. Mr. Lambden and Mr. English both say that the club grounds and buildings are assessed in New Rochelle and Pelham. If Mr. Lambden is right, the bar can easily be taken from the cottage and placed in the eighteen feet in New-Rochelle, or a little house can be built in the part of the ground that lies in New-Rochelle. It will be very inconvenient to have the bar taken from the cottage and placed in a house by itself.

The question has also arisen, whether, in case the bar is moved over into New-Rochelle, it would be legal for a person sitting at a table in the part of the clubhouse in Pelham to summon a waiter and order drinks brought to him from the New-Rochelle barroom.

If the barroom is transferred to New-Rochelle, it will no doubt be closely watched Sundays, as New-Rochelle has an organized police force, whereas Pelham Manor has but one policeman who is only on duty at night.

All the members of the club admit that many vexatious questions are liable to arise. It is likely that measures will be taken to find out exactly where the town line cuts the clubhouse. There does not seem to be any maps that decide the question, but it is said stone posts were placed in the ground to fix the course of the line. It is said also that everything on one side of a line that runds though the knob on a front door of a certain house in Cedar Road is in Pelham and that everything on the other side is in New-Rochelle."

Source: New-York's Athletes Guessing Whether Travers Island Is in Pelham or New-Rochelle?, N.Y. Times, Apr. 3, 1896, p. 6, col. 4.

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