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, May 30, 2006

A Biography Published in 1906 on the Life of Horace Dutton Taft, Founder of the Taft School for Boys in Pelham Manor

One of the nation’s premier college preparatory schools, The Taft School (now located in Watertown, Connecticut), began in Pelham Manor in 1890. Horace Dutton Taft founded the institution. Taft was a brother of William Howard Taft who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and, in 1909, became the nation’s 27th President. Horace Taft had no training in school administration. Indeed, his only exposure to the teaching world reportedly involved tutoring Latin at Yale, his alma mater.

Horace Taft was, however, a friend of a prominent Pelham Manor resident – Mrs. Robert C. (Mary G. W.) Black. Mrs. Black was the wife of a partner in the internationally renowned jewelry firm of Black, Starr & Frost. The Blacks owned large tracts of land in Pelham Manor and had a palatial home known as “Dogwood”. The home faced the Esplanade on plots where homes located between 955 and 999 Pelhamdale Avenue stand today.

Robert and Mary Black had two sons: R. Clifford Black, Jr. and Witherbee Black. Mrs. Black reportedly contacted family friend Horace Taft seeking a tutor for her boys. She convinced Taft to open a boarding school for boys in Pelham Manor. Mrs. Black reportedly named the new school “Mr. Taft’s School” although it quickly became known as The Taft School for Boys.

The home that stands today at 964 Pelhamdale Avenue reportedly served as the main building for Mr. Taft’s School. According to a letter prepared in 1936 by one of the students who attended the school during its first year of operation, DeWitt Clinton Noyes, there were two homes that served as the grounds of the school when it opened in 1890 for the 1890/91 school year. The letter states: “The main house belonged to Mrs. Robert C. Black and was directly behind her own on Pelhamdale Avenue. The second house was smaller and next door to the West.”

The house that stands today “next door to the West” of 964 Pelhamdale is the home located at 952 Pelhamdale. After only three school years in Pelham Manor, Mr. Taft’s School moved to Watertown, Connecticut where it is located today.

Immediately below I have transcribed the text of a brief biography of Horace Dutton Taft published in 1906. For those interested in reading more about the early history of The Taft School in the Village of Pelham Manor, see Bell, Blake A., The Taft School in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 23, Jun. 4, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.


TAFT, HORACE DUTTON, educator and head master of the Taft School at Watertown, Litchfield County, Connecticut, was born in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, on December 28th, 1861. His earliest ancestor in this country was Robert Taft, who came from England and settled in Massachusetts about 1670. Mr. Taft's father, Alphonso Taft, a lawyer, was judge of the Superior Court in Cincinnati, Secretary of War, Attorney General, United States minister to Austria and to Russia. Mr. Taft's brother, William Howard Taft, former governor of the Philippine Islands, is now Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President Roosevelt.

Mr. Taft lived in Cincinnati until he was twenty-five years old. He prepared for college in the Woodward High School and then entered Yale College, where he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1883. He was a member of the Skull and Bones Society and of Psi Upsilon. After a year abroad he entered the Cincinnati Law School. He did not graduate, but was admitted to the bar before the end of his course. He practiced law for a year in partnership with his father, Alphonso Taft, and Henry N. Morris, under the firm name of Taft, Morris & Taft. In 1887, however, he abandoned the practice of the law and accepted an appointment as tutor in Latin in Yale University, his purpose being to enter upon educational work and eventually to establish a school. He held the tutorship for three years and in 1890 established a school at Pelham Manor, New York. In 1893 he moved the school to Watertown, Connecticut where it now is. The school has prospered and has now more than a hundred pupils and is ranked as among the half-dozen leading preparatory schools in the East.

Though Mr. Taft was a Cleveland Democrat, he joined the Republican party when Bryan came to the front. On the 29th of Juen, 1892, Mr. Taft married Winifred S. Thompson, of Niagara Falls, New York. Mr. Taft is a man of strong individuality and especially fitted by temperament and in disposition to develop and inspire the young schoolboy."

Source: Osborn, N.G., ed., Men of Mark in Connecticut - Ideals of American Life Told in Biographies and Autobiographies of Eminent Living Americans, p. 231 (Hartford, CT: William R. Goodspeed 1906).

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