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 01, 2005

The Mystery of The Ancient Boulder-Lined Road Near Beech Tree Lane

The Robert C. Black Realty Co. developed the Beech Tree Lane section of Pelham Manor, immediately south of and adjacent to Manor Circle beginning in about 1926. At that time, there was an old dirt road lined by great glacial boulders and massive beech trees that paralleled the street we know today as Park Lane. Remnants of the road and the great glacial boulders that lined it are still visible just south of Beech Tree Lane and Park Lane in Pelham Bay Park. The photograph below, taken on October 30, 2005, shows a section of the ancient roadway, still lined by trees and giant glacial boulders.

Lockwood Barr mentions the ancient roadway in his popular history of The Town of Pelham published in 1946. He wrote, in part, as follows:

"When the Beech Tree Lane section of Pelham Manor was developed in 1926-27 there still remained an outline of an old dirt road, parallel to Park Lane, which could be traced by the line of Beech trees and old walls made of great glacial boulders, from Manor Circle down the valley of Nellie's Brook, to the Shore Road at a point just north of Hunter's Island." 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. 117 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946) (Library of Congress Control Number 47003441, Library of Congress Call Number F129.P38B3).

One theory is that the road developed as a way for residents of Manor Circle -- some of which was developed as early as 1889 -- to make their way to the Long Island Sound and, perhaps, the road known today as Shore Road. Much effort, however, must have gone into the placement of the giant glacial boulders that lined the roadway. By 1889, people in the area realized that much of the land traversed by the road would be taken by the City of New York for inclusion in Pelham Bay Park. It would seem, then, that the road likely pre-dated the earliest development of Manor Circle beginning in 1889.

Another possible explanation, favored by Lockwood Barr, is that the road extended from an area just north of the causeway that connected Hunters Island (where John Hunter maintained his mansion for many years). According to Barr:

"John Hunter of Hunter's Island, in his will dated May 13, 1852, disposed of his large farm known as the Provost Farm, on the Mainland, in the Town of Pelham, at the Hutchinson River near the point where the Boston Post Road crosses the River. Hunter recognized the necessity of granting right of way and access from the Shore Road to that farm--across a second farm he owned, known as the Sackett Farm. So, in his will, he provided: '. . . right of way with Cattle and teams over the lane now used by me across my farm, commonly called and known as the Sackett Farm, situated in the said Town of Pelham, opposite Hunter's Island and between the farms of Mr. Thacker and Elbert Roosevelt, and also right of way from said lane through the woods of Said Sackett Farm to and from the Provost Farm. . .' These Hunter tracts are now part of the Split Rock Road Golf Course of Pelham Bay Park, and the Hutchinson River Parkway. A map, dated 1853, shows the dirt road running from Hunter's Island, over towards the old Split Rock Road on Prospect Hill. This dirt lane was closed when Pelham Bay Park Golf Course was built, but the bridge over the tracks of the New Haven Railroad Branch, and its earthen approaches, still stand, south of the Pelham Manor Line." Id., pp. 117-18.

The image immediately below is a detail from a reproduction of the 1853 map to which Lockwood Barr referred. The red arrow I have added to the map shows the location of today's Beech Tree Lane section of Pelham Manor. A roadway is plainly visible leading southeastward toward Long Island Sound and Hunters Island.

Lockwood Barr believed that the remnants of the roadway lined with Beech Trees and giant glacial boulders was the dirt lane across which John Hunter drove his cattle in the mid-19th century.

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