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.

Friday, September 01, 2006

An 1889 "Tour" of Pelham Bay and Areas Then Part of the Town of Pelham

In 1889 a man named Joel Cook published a book entitled "An Eastern Tour At Home". In it he included a brief description of a "tour" of Pelham Bay and areas that, at the time, were part of the Town of Pelham. Though the brief "tour" is filled with errors when it attempts to recount the history of the area (particular when it describes the murder of Anne Hutchinson), it nonetheless provides an interesting glimpse of the area shortly before it was annexed to become part of New York City. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the pertinent text from his book.


At the entrance of East River Into Long Island Sound the peninsula of Throgg's Neck is the northern headland. Beyond this the waters of the sound have deeply indented the New York shore, and there is thrust out the green peninsula of Pelham Neck. All this is some distance east of the Bronx in Westchester county, but it is a region soon to be 'annexed.' Eastchester Bay is on the southern side of the neck, and Pelham Bay beyond it, while immediately in front is City Island, reached by a long drawbridge. To the north is Hunter's Island, to which another bridge gives access. This Hunter's Island, and more than two square miles of the hills and meadows adjoining on the mainland, make the park of Pelham Bay. Many old mansions are scattered over this domain, which belonged to the Hunters, the Lorillards, Potters, and other families. The island belonged to many generations of the Hunters, and near the bridge a large gateway keeps out intruders, having on one of the marble gate-posts 'Hunter's Island' carved in plain characters. Years ago another wealthy man bought this island, and, these words offending him, he brought up a marble-cutter from New York who chiselled them off, and carved instead the words 'Higgins's Island.' But Higgins was ultimately gathered unto his fathers, and the next owner, revering him less than the antiquity of the place, had 'Higgins' eliminated, and 'Hunter's Island' again stands our in bold relief. The gate-post has become very thin under this treatment, but the city of New York will probably now spare it. The western edge of Pelham Bay Park is Hutchinson's river, which flows down into Eastchester Bay and recalls the days of the Salem witchcraft. Poor Anne Hutchinson fled here to escape burning as a witch, and on City Island built a hut on a little cape known to this day as Anne Hook. She lived there peacefully for a year, harming nobody and declining every invitation of the islanders to stir from her home. One morning a young girl went to visit Anne, but found the hut in ashes, and before the door lay the poor woman where she had been tomahawked and scalped by the Indians. No one has dared to build a house on Anne Hook since, for many are the tales of how on bleak and rainy nights the phantom Indians sneak through the underbrush and shriek a ghostly requiem as they dance around the site of the burning hovel.

Just beyond this park is the famous Glen Island, where John H. Starin on his excursion-steamers takes nearly a million people every summer, showing the popularity of all the resorts on these pleasant shores. Fishing, boating, and bathing are provided on the waters, and the sinuosities of the shores of islands and mainland provide many cozy nooks, so that villas are dotted in most favorable localities. From the hills forming the higher portions of the park the view over the sound for miles in both directions, and upon the hazy land beyond, is very fine. Magnificent old oaks and elms adorn the forests that were thrifty young trees before the Dutch came to New York. Most of the estates have been well kept, so that landscapes have been preserved and improved for generations. There is every variety of scenery -- hill and woodland, meadow and plain, and splendid water-views bordered with the delicious green that clings around the myriad bays and coves of the sound and its pleasant islands. Thus the metropolis expands, and having learnt, with growing wealth, the charms and benefits of bringing the county into the town, it makes these parks before the rows of city buildings reach them. Such is the grand environment of Nature's loveliness that is being developed around and in the steadily-expanding domain of northern New York City."

Source: Cook, Joel, An Eastern Tour At Home, pp. 103-05 (Philadelphia, PA: David McKay, Publisher 1889 (reprinted from The Philadelphia Public Ledger).

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