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, July 25, 2006

A Walking Tour of Pelham and Surrounding Areas Published in 1878

During the 1870s, Pelham was considered a country playground of the wealthy. Estates were scattered along the Sound and Col. Delancey Kane carried New Yorkers on picnic jaunts in his Pelham coach known as the "Tally Ho" from the Hotel Brunswick to Pelham Bridge. In 1878, the New York Times published a walking tour that covered large portions of the Town of Pelham which, at the time, included Pelham Neck (also known as Rodman's Neck), City Island, Bartow and much of today's Pelham Bay Park. A transcription of the walking tour appears immediately below.




The choice of a route for walking is half the battle. You need pleasant scenery, means of transportation to and from the City, good roads or paths, and, if possible, some historic interest, to enliven the mind with a little fancy or sentiment. A map, to suit the walker, should indicate all the roads and the chief paths, the hills as well as the mountains, the waters and swamps, the points of remarkable views and objects of historic interest, and the distances along every road. Such maps are the delight of tourists in Switzerland, and the geographic basis of the millennium for the New-York walker. In the present lack of such a map here, one has to depend on the limited information to be gathered from others, or on the chances guessed from the railroad maps now published. Hills and water courses are generally the most attractive features represented on the average map. Choose, then, a route along some stream or shore, or over some range of mountains. But the pleasure of a walk depends so much on details that you never know whether you will be pleased or not till you have ended your labor. My own troubles in this regard may be instructive to others, and therefore I shall tell the methods and the results of my last choice. I knew in a general way that Westchester County had delightful scenery, many railroads, good country roads, and rich historical interest; but I did not know any particular line where these elements are united within the compass of a day's walk. I asked my friends about the routes, but received no definite information. In this connection let me say that all good walkers may help the cause by taking me into their select circle, and sending me a statement of the desirable routes they know, the places of departure and arrival, the distances, the general features of the scenery along the road, and the objects of special interest to visit. For I intend to perfect and extend these articles to make a little volume on the walks about New-York. In the lack of better sources I studied various maps of Westchester County, and after some tribulation decided to take the first walk near this City. I reserve the remoter regions for future occasions. After consulting history also, I concluded that an interesting route might be found from King's Bridge, through East Chester, Pelham Neck, New-Rochelle, to Rye Beach. The question now was, would that route offer an interesting variety of woods, views, and details to make a pleasant walk. I accordingly set out from King's Bridge and walked, via Woodlawn, to East Chester. And, as in many other cases, I found that the way was not sufficiently entertaining to recommend, and that another route must be chosen and examined. After other explorations, I concluded that either West Chester or Bartow is the best point to begin walks along the Sound. It is not to be concluded from this statement that there is no interest in the intervening region, but, as far as I have examined, the effects of civilization there are so numerous, and frequently so objectionable, that the region cannot offer pleasant country walks of any considerable length. In regard to choosing routes, under the present lack of adequate directions, the practical advice to offer is therefore equally unsatisfactory and self-evident. Ask your friends, study the map, and then guess.

Our route, then, begins at Bartow, on Pelham Neck, and extends along the Sound as far as the walker chooses to go. Your train starts from Harlem Bridge. With digressions to City Island and to East Chester, the walk to New-Rochelle is about 11 miles long. The historic interests of the region and the beauty of the scenery will lead you to saunter along the shady ways, rather than to hurry for the sake of a long walk. It may be well, therefore, to spend the day between Bartow and New-Rochelle. You may, however, take as an introduction to the main work, a trip from West Chester to Fort Schuyler, where a very extensive view is had up and down the Sound; then back to Schuylerville and on to Bartow -- a distance of about nine miles.

From Bartow Station go south along Pelham neck to City Island. The road is shaded by large trees, and bordered by stone walls, with gray lichens and climbing vines. The old hourses, orchards, and lanes of Pelham Necki have not lost the quiet spirit of the past. The place refreshes you with silence, simplicity, and the effect of nature made domestic by human touches. You cannot shut out the pleasant influence of Spring when she meets you in such quiet nooks. The meadows are now gemmed with dandelions; the Winter wheat is already waving with the advanced graces of Summer, and showing a deep riche green between plowed fields; the blackberry vines have crowned the walls with wreaths of crisp and crimpled leaves; the lilacs hold up their little cones of buds almost ready to flower, and the sweetbrier, with exquisite fragrance, already lures you to a seat by the hedge, under the edge of the woods. The forest is just coloring from gray to the olive tints of bursting buds; the willows across the field are soft clouds of green; the maples have almost lost their little tufts of coral flowers among their olive leaves; the horse chestnut is spreading its arms above yu; the larches are deooping with their soft green tassels studded here and there with a crimson cone; cherry-trees are clodes of white blossoms, and pears and peaches are in full bloom. The apple-trees are just returning from their trance; they are still as shadowy and spiritual as if sketched by Corot. But on looking closer you see that their clusters of leaves inclose a bouquet of dark-red buds, each in a silvery sheath. They will soon bloom; so if you wish for a May Day under the apple blossoms hasten to the old orchard. Pelham Neck was not always so peaceful as on this Spring day. The British landed here on the 18th of October, 1776. Three or four American regiments came down from East Chester to drive them off, and formed their line behind a stone wall. They waited till the English came within very short range and then poured out a destructive fire. But the Americans were unable to stand against the enemy, superior in numbers, and at last were compelled to fall back to their camp, near East Chester, while the British advanced along the sound toward Connecticut. The end of Pelham Neck, the old Bowne homestead, is where Thomas Pell lived, who bought the neck of the Indians in 1n 1654. Before that time this region was an important burial ground of the Indians: for their graves have been found all over it, but chiefly on the Rapelje estate. The neck was years ago a favorite resort of the fish hawk. This bird came, it is said, quite regularly at the vernal equinox to make its nest in the tall forests and live on the numerous fish along the neck. It was regarded as a bird of good omen by the fishermen, and protected by their kindly superstition.

Pelham Bridge, from the neck to City Island, was celebrated for bass fishing 30 and 40 years ago. It could repeat many a long-drawn yarn of hook and line. Great quantities of ducks and other water fowls were then killed about these islands. Brothers of the angle still congregate at the bridge, but your chief interest now will be in the charming view of the Westchester shores. Points and bays of every size and form interlock the land and water with long arms. The beaches curving here and there are peopled with great dumb rocks, shaggy with pendent locks of brown seaweed. Back of these are stone walls, and then the fields stretching away smooth and green to the woods. Here and there an ancient house, bleak and silent, looks out of the forest, or the gables of a sumptuous villa rise above a grove on a knoll. The waters are quite near and social, with the sloops at anchor in the bay, the fishing-boats and groups of anglers, the sails and steam-boats and groups of anglers, the sails and steam-boats further off, and the many picturesque rocks and cultivated islands encircled by the waves. The scene is filled with harmonious details of forest, field, beach, points, bays, and islands, all lighted and blended by the changing water.

If you wish a wider view of the Sound and of Long Island, go to the south side of City Island. This name was given the island by its first ambitious owners, who laid it out for a large metropolis, and did some work in paving and flagging before they discovered that the site was too exposed for shipping. Return to the main road across the neck, and proceed toward New-Rochelle. Take the first road leading north-north-east, and follow the telegraph wires to East Chester. On your right, at this corner [Editor's Note: the intersection of today's Shore and the now-closed Split Rock Road], is the old Bartow house, a large brown-stone mansion, in the Grecian style, with a wing at each end. Under a very large oak on this estate the Indian chiefs sold these lands to Mr. Thomas Pell, in 1654.

East Chester is on a knoll beside the salt meadows, and surrounded by low hills. The old town now consists of a grave-yard, St. Paul's Church, and 10 locust trees. But the surroundings are pretty, with groves, slopes of green sod, the meadow with its brook, and the receding hills, diversified with plowed fields, fresh grain, orchards, and farm-houses. The most attractive feature is the old stone church, rising above its vaults, graves, and tottering trees -- a plain, weather-beaten witness of historic incidents, that are interesting though not of national importance. East Chester was founded in 1664. In 1689 it furnished a company of 70 men to the Leisler party 'who had all subscribed a solemn declaration to preserve the Protestant religion and the Fort of New-York for the Prince of Orange and the Governor whom the Prince might appoint as their protector.' The village green beside the church was the training-ground for that part of the county, and the place where the elections occurred. The New-York Weekly Journal of Dec. 24, 1733, in giving an account of the election of Mr. Lewis Morris, as representative of Westchester County, outlines a scene that would be a striking picture here to-day. The High Sheriff was suspected of undue partiality for the opposite candidate, and his announcement of the election did not state the hour of opening the polls; so about 50 of the voters passed the night on the green, to be ready for emergencies, and to notify their party if the polls were suddenly opened. In those times people traveled but little, and generally went on horseback, and lodged with their friends. Many of the electors from beyond New-Rochelle rode a part of the night, and then, not finding room in the crowded village, slept about a fire in the street. They resumed their way before day, to be at the polls as early as possible. They were joined on the hill near East Chester - Prospect Hill - by about 70 horsemen from the lower part of the county; here they formed in the following order, and marched down the hill toward the church: First rode two trumpeters and three violinists; next, four of the chief freeholders, one of whom carried a banner with 'King George' on one sid, and 'Liberty and Law' on the other, in gold capitals; then followed the candidate, Lewis Morris, Esq., ex Chief-Justice of the Province; next two colors, and finally about 300 horsement, the chief freeholders of the county. At sunrise they entered the village green, and found themselves the first on the ground, and after riding about the place three times they took their position in front of the houses of Fowler and Child. At about 11 o'clock the opposite candidate appeared with a similar cavalcade. They rode twice around the green and exchanged formal bows with their rivals. But the elements thus parading were soon stirred up by closer contact, and the shouts of 'No land tax!' and 'No excise!' led on the turmoil to still more excitement. About noon the High Sheriff came to town, finely mounted and decked in the trappings of the old official splendor, with housings and holster-caps of scarlet richly laced with silver. Then the canvass began, and soon grew to an uproarious scene lik the hustings contests in England. The result of the voting was at last demanded; the Sheriff would not announce it; more demands and more evasions finally brought a clamor for polling. Seats were erected under the trees, and the electors proceeded to cast their votes. The Sheriff illegally refused the ballots of a large number of wealthy Quakers unless they would swear on the Bible to their possession of property well-known to the whole company. The Quakers would solemnly affirm, but they would not swear. Sore complaints and even threats failed to correct the Sheriff's dishonesty; but, for all that, Morris was elected. Then the Sheriff expressed the hope that his mistake would be overlooked by mr. Morris, who assured him his conduct had made him liable to prosecution for £10,000 damages. When all was done the whole body of electors escorted their new representative to his lodgings, with the sounding of trumpets, the playing of violins, and the general rejoicing of everybody. Now, all this occurred at the polling of only 269 votes. And the news of the election was 14 days on the way to Boston by the stage of the King's Bridge turnpike, passing through the green, and the news from Boston returned by the same route in 14 days. The road had been built in 1671, but the first line of stages between New-York and New-England had not been started till 1732. The village green was also the place for less attractive scenes. The village stocks stood there in 1720. One of the 10 old locusts yet standing, though without head or heart, had an iron staple imbedded in its side for holding culprits sentenced to public flogging. This relic has recently been stolen by some person strangely moved by fear, mercy, and acquisitiveness.

St. Paul's Church of East Chester was built in 1764. It is a very plain stone pile, with brick facings. It has very little claim to beauty, but its weather-beaten walls and unpretending spire make an impression of honest service. It is said the church was used as a hospital during the revolution. Afterward it was the Court-house. In the vestry-room is a subpoena written by Aaron Burr summoning one John Green to appear as a witness at the Church of East Chester on the 12th of June, 1787: and, among other old papers, a sermon delivered by Rev. John Bartow in 1722. One piece of the silver service was presented by Mrs. John Quncy Adams. Over the altar is a large painting by Edmonds, at one time a Vestryman of St. Paul's, illustrative of the text, 'And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled.' A tablet in the wall reads: 'To the memory of the Rev. Thomas Standard, A. M., M. D., a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the second Rector of this Church, inducted June 8, 1727.' I climbed up the ladders of the belfry, through its square rooms of rough but honest and solid masonry, where the old mahogany communion table and other relics stay in becoming yet touching seclusion; upward again, where the wind moaned in dim corners, and shook the old timbers with irreverent glee; and at last came out on top, beside the bell. This bears the inscription 'The gift of Rev. Thomas Standard, 1758, Lester & Pack fecit.' During the Revolution it was buried by the congregation, to save it from being melted for war purposes. The view is charming of the winding brook in the meadows, the receding hills varied with groves, orchards and farm houses. But the graveyard below is the most attractive sight, with its plain marble slabs, its turf-covered vaults, and its moldy-gray bead-stones, dating back even as far as 1704 and 1711. Some old willows losing their locks, the 10 old locusts tottering on the verge of the grave, a neighboring house of the olden time crumbling to pieces, and the silent, plain old church, all inspire the mind with peace and veneration. But when you go out into the road again, if you wish for still older relics, you can be gratified with an antiquity equal to any yearning. A large rock on the farm of Mr. Charles Sheffelin, west of the church, bears the impress of a human foot. There you can ponder to your heart's content on the course of time.

Resume your route by going over Prospect Hill to Pelham Manor, and down to the shore road at Christ Church, Pelham. The neighborhood is charming with varied scenery and pleasant roads and architecture. The Pelham Priory is just west of the church on the shore road. It is a picturesque house of brown stone, in the old English style, with gables, towers, and climbing vines that become its surroundings of woods and a rocky glen. This residence of the Bolton family, one of whom wrote the History of Westchester County, has many works of art and objects of historic interest. The remainder of the walk to New-Rochelle is delightful, through a fertile region made romantic by its scenes along the shore, and by its historic interest worthy of careful study. C. H. F."

Source: On the Shore of the Sound A Walk from Pelham Neck to New-Rochelle, N.Y. Times, Apr. 28, 1878, p. 4, col. 6.

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