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, November 08, 2005

The Estate of W. T. Grant in Pelham Manor, New York

For many decades W.T. Grant Co. was one of the most successful retail chains in the United States. William T. Grant’s success enabled him to build a lovely estate on the north side of Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor where Our Lady of the Perpetual Help stands today. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides information about W. T. Grant's estate and how it became the site of the church that stands there now.

By about 1918, W.T. Grant and his wife, Lena Blanche Brownell Grant (whom he married in 1907), were residents of Pelham Manor where they lived for many years. The couple, who adopted two children, built a lovely estate on the north side of Boston Post Road. See William Thomas Grant, Jr. in Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971-1975 (Charles Scribner’s Sons 1994) (Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group 2004, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC). The estate consisted of about six acres of property on which stood a large Manor House and two smaller houses. The Biography of a Church in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church Pelham Manor, N.Y. Solemn Dedication April 21, 1968 by the Most Rev. Terrence J. Cooke, D.D., Archbishop of New York, p. 6 (Pelham, NY: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church 1968).

Grant and his first wife divorced and, on September 3, 1930, he married Beth Bradshaw. The couple adopted one child in addition to Grant’s two other adopted children. Grant had homes in Pelham Manor, Cape Cod and Miami but he eventually moved to Greenwich, Connecticut where he lived until his death. See The Biography of a Church, supra (noting that a land deed was signed by “Wm. T. and Beth B. Grant” and “was also signed by Blanche Rosett, identified as the widow of Joshua Rosett, and the former wife of W.T. Grant.”); Wm. T. Grant is Wed at Falmouth to Miss Bradshaw, The Pelham Sun, Sept. 5, 1930. See also William Thomas Grant, Jr. in Dictionary of American Biography, supra. Although sources indicate Grant’s first wife died, it appears that the couple divorced before her death and his remarriage. The Biography of a Church, supra, p. 6; William Thomas Grant, Jr. in Dictionary of American Biography, supra.

In about 1937, W.T. Grant decided to donate a portion of his estate for the benefit of St. Catharine's Parish in the Village of Pelham. St. Catharine’s Parish served Catholics throughout the entire Town of Pelham and was experiencing a “rising number of standees at all Masses”. The Biography of a Church, supra, p. 6. Grant, a Protestant, offered to give his estate to the Archdiocese of New York. According to a history of the church, the initial offer was refused because the diocesan office already had arranged an option on a piece of property at Hazen Street and the Esplanade for a proposed new parish. But, “[d]uring ensuing meetings with the village board of Pelham Manor, the idea met strong opposition, zoning permission was not granted, and eventually the option was dropped." Id.

St. Catharine’s arranged an intermediary to approach W.T. Grant about his previously offered gift. The approach was successful and on May 27, 1939 a portion of the estate containing the Manor House and the land on which it stood was deeded for $1.00 to St. Catharine’s Parish as the gift of “Wm. T. and Beth B. Grant”. Id. Approvals and legal technicalities required months of effort, but on December 8, 1939, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, at 11:00 a.m., worshipers celebrated the first Mass in a tiny chapel created within the Manor House. Id., p. 7.
William and Beth Grant deeded a gift of the remainder of the estate on December 31, 1940. According to a history of the parish, the second gift included:

“the area now used for parking near the school and two additional houses one of which remains standing today as the parish rectory . . . The second house, which for several years was occupied by [New York Supreme Court Justice Ernest E.L.] Hammer, was later razed for the parking lot." Id., p. 8.

The parish was established as an Out Mission for St. Catharine’s Parish. On November 22, 1954, however, all the property of the Out Mission was transferred from St. Catharine’s Parish to the recently created Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Id., p. 9.

The parish quickly remodeled the tiny little chapel. According to a history of the parish published in 1968, the remodeled chapel “became 71 feet long, able to seat 200 people. The Manor House [was] occupied by Monsignor McCormick and his first assistants." Id.

The parish expanded its physical plant rapidly. In 1955, Mr. and Mrs. Abdala Barsa gave the parish a half-block piece of property on Fowler Avenue facing Boston Post Road. Id., pp. 9, 11. This became a parking area. In 1956 the Parish purchased a nearby home from Evans Dawson to serve as a convent. Id., p. 9. In 1958, the parish completed and opened a building designed by Edward Flaegle to serve as a parochial school for children of the parish. Id.

Today, the Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a vibrant and successful part of the Pelham Community. It recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary year. At least part of its success, as the parish has recognized in one of its publications, is due to “Mr. William T. Grant, a Protestant merchant prince of Scotch ancestry”. Id., p. 6.

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At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Joan C. Edsell said...

Mr. Bell
I found your article on W. T. Grant very interesting. I am from Stevensville, PA and I am doing research on W. T. Grant as he was born in Stevensville, PA. One of his stores was in Towanda, PA which is about 15 miles from Stevensville.

thank you for your information.
Joan Edsell


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