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, September 16, 2005

The Legend of the Spy Oak on Pelham Road

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For many years a gnarled old oak tree said to have stood during the Revolutionary War could be found along Pelham Road in the Bronx not far from Pelham Bridge. According to tradition, a Tory spy was hanged from a large limb of the tree that extended over the roadway. Thus, the tree was known as the Spy Oak. A photograph of the Spy Oak published in 1912 appears immediately below.

The ghost of that Tory spy, people say, still wanders the area in a cape on moonlit nights. The story is one of the many ghost stories told about Pelham and surrounding areas.

The legend of the Spy Oak was recounted in The New York Times in an article published in 1913. That article read in pertinent part as follows:

"The Pelham oak figures prominently in early Westchester County annals, but now, since it has been brought within the limits of New York, it is one of the most interesting trees in the metropolis. Tradition refers to it as the Spy Oak. A huge limb, projecting far over the road, was for years its most characteristic feature, because not even the oldest inhabitant could remember the time when it had a green leaf. The story as told in the tap room of the inn near the tre is that a Tory spy was hanged from the limb, and his curse withered the branch.

In stormy and windy nights near-by residents told of hearing fearful lamentations and groanings coming from the tree. Two deserters from the American or Continental ranks were also said to have swung from the stricken limb. About two years ago the neighborhood was very much wrought up over the edict that went forth from the Bronx Park Department that, owing to decay, it was feared the tree might fall across the road, and it was doomed to destruction. The protest that went up caused the authorities to make a more careful examination, when it was discovered that the tree was not in such bad shape as at first thought, and a little skillful tree doctoring has restored it for at least another generation."

Source: Some Famous New York Trees and Their Fate, N.Y. Times, Jan. 5, 1913, p. SM8.

Alas, the Spy Oak is no more. It subsequently was removed as a potential hazard alongside Pelham Road.

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