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, February 21, 2006

Silas H. Witherbee and His Influence on the Village of Pelham Manor

Silas H. Witherbee was born in 1815. He lived for many years in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan at 228 Madison Avenue. He was the father of Mary Witherbee who married Robert C. Black of the internationally-renowned jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost. Although he never lived in Pelham, he had an important influence on the area that became the Village of Pelham Manor in the 1870s and 1880s.

He owned much of the land in area and gave much of that land to his daughter on the condition that she live there and develop the lands. He was an influential member of the Pelham Manor Protective Club (apparently to remain informed regarding his "investment" in the lands that eventually became part of the Village of Pelham Manor).

Witherbee was a member of Witherbee, Sherman & Co., a firm involved in a host of ventures including Lake Champlain Iron Mines. See Funeral of Mr. Witherbee, N.Y. Times, Jun. 13, 1889, p. 4. Witherbee also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of The National Trust Company and a member of the Board of Directors of The Security Bank of the City of New-York. See The National Trust Company, N.Y. Times, Sep. 30, 1871, p. 6; Election, N.Y. Times, May 17, 1872, p. 6. He was among the incorporators of the New York, Connecticut and Boston Railway. See The New Boston Line, N.Y. Times, Feb. 8, 1882, p. 5. He also summered in a cottage on Honeyman Hill in Newport, Rhode Island. See The Newport Cottagers, N.Y. Times, Jun. 26, 1887, p. 11.

Silas Witherbee was an important supporter of The Pelham Manor & Huguenot Heights Association formed in 1873 to develop a railroad suburb in Pelham, New York founded by two of his nephews, among others. However, with the onset of the financial Depression of the 1870s, the Association reportedly could not meet its obligations and, eventually, entered receivership. See Randall, Evelyn, A “Highly Superior” Village, The Pelham Sun, May 19, 1949.

Some sources contend that the Association “failed” in 1876. See, e.g., A Glance At The Past – Pelham’s Growth From 1775 – 1975, p. 16 (Pelham, NY: The Junior League of Pelham, Inc. 1975). However, minutes of a special meeting of the Executive Committee of the Pelham Manor Protective Club held on May 16, 1885 make clear that the Association was involved in receivership proceedings in White Plains, New York nine years later in 1885.

Silas Witherbee, his daugher Mary and her husband Robert Black worked tirelessly to develop the area that became known as Pelham Manor. Indeed, at the time of his death in 1889, Silas Witherbee was helping his daughter arrange the opening of "Pelham Hall", also known as Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in a home owned by the Black family. The intent was to develop a notable school to attract home purchasers to the area.

Silas H. Witherbee died of pneumonia at his home located at 228 Madison Avenue in New York City at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, 1889. A brief obituary appeared in the June 10 and June 11, 1889 issues of The New York Times. It read:

“WITHERBEE.—At his residence, 228 Madison av., at 10 o’clock Saturday evening, of pneumonia, Silas H. Witherbee, in the 75th year of his age.

Services will be held at his late residence Tuesday afternoon, at 3 o’clock. Funeral services will be held Wednesday afternoon in Port Henry, N. Y., where the interment will take place.”

DIED . . . WITHERBEE, N.Y. Times, Jun. 10, 1889, p. 5. See also DIED . . . WITHERBEE, N.Y. Times, Jun. 11, 1889, p. 5.

The New York Times also carried a brief report on Mr. Witherbee’s funeral several days later. The item read:


Port Henry, N. Y., June 12.—The funeral of Silas H. Witherbee of Witherbee, Sherman & Co., Port Henry, who resided at 228 Madison-avenue, New-York, took place from the Presbyterian Church here this afternoon. The remains arrived from New-York by special train at noon. There was a large attendance.

Three hundred miners headed the procession, and two hundred more joined them at Moriah Union Cemetery, where the remains were placed in the family vault.

Mr. Witherbee was President of the Port Henry Furnace Company, Vice President of the Port Henry Iron Ore Company, and Director in the Lake Champlain and Moriah Railroad, Port Henry National Bank, and many other corporations. He was born in 1815. He died Saturday last.”

FUNERAL OF MR. WITHERBEE, N.Y. Times, Jun. 13, 1889, p. 4.

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