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.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reminiscences of Val Miller Shed Light on Late 19th Century Baseball in Pelham and the Early Development of the Village of North Pelham

The files of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham include typewritten manuscripts of research notes prepared by Village of North Pelham J. Gardiner Minard during the 1920s and 1930s. One set of those notes recount the reminiscences of a former resident of the Village of North Pelham who lived in the area in the early 20th century. His name was Val Miller. Gardiner Minard's notes of his interview of Val Miller deal with the early development of the Village of North Pelham shortly after its incorporation in 1896. The same notes shed some light on baseball in late 19th century Pelham. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes the pertinent research notes in their entirety, beginning immediately below.

"Back in 1896 there lived in Brooklyn a carpenter by the name of Frederick Miller. He had a family of four small children; Fred. Jr., Arthur, Valentine and Edith. He read in the newspaper that Pelhamville, in Westchester County had just been incorporated as the village of North Pelham and that now the Town of Pelham, less than four miles long and averaging a mile in width had three incorporated villages within its limits. It occurred to him that this was a promising spot for a builder. He took a trip to Pelham, looked over the ground and rented a house in the new village and brought his family along.

Here he met another carpenter by the name of Robert Martini and they formed a partnership under the firm name of Miller & Martini. They prospered from the start and built many residence and other buildings in Pelham and vicinity. Miller's family also grew until he had seven sons and three daughters. The children attended the North Pelham school; the original High School on Siwanoy place and later the Memorial High. They were just ordinary children and joined the rest in the usual games and sports.

About thirty years ago the father decided to retire from business and settle in California. The eldest son, Fred., had married and was raising a family here. Val, the third oldest, in 1920 married Miss Catharine MCloskey of Mount Vernon but cast his lot with California and left with the family. Since this story deals with Val, let us follow him. He had resided in the place but a short time when he made the acquaintance of the sheriff of the county. The official took a liking to him and appointed him a deputy. He held this appointment for 25 years and upon his retirement was presented with a gold and blue enamel badge as honorary deputy sheriff. Val now had a longing to revisit the scenes of his youth he had not seen in almost 34 years. He has a 31 year old son and a grandson aged three.

He was anxious to meet some of the old timers as well as his old playmates. He was but three years of age when the family came to Pelham and now he was 61. The old ballplayers especially interested him. He had heard of the old Pelham A. C. organized in 1895 but disbanded in 1898 but was too young to remember them. He did recall the Fire Department A. C. team organized in 1899 and disbanded in 1901. There was a reason; Bob Patterson, a carpenter, who played 1st base gave him his mitt and started his baseball career. Later a team called the Unity A. C. composed of the younger element was organized and his older brothers, Fred and Arthur played with them. In 1910 a new Pelham A. C. was formed and he was on the team.

Last week he arranged his affairs and boarded a trans coast liner at night and in the morning found himself at Laguardia field. Checking in at night and in the morning found himself at Laguardia field. Checking in at the St. George he headed for Pelham. His first stop was the fire house, but it was a different headquarters to the one he last saw. In there he met 'Tony' Smith, 'Ponzie' McHugh and 'Gory' Head all of whom recognized him. He recalled that the first paid fireman was 'Hans' Gruber and the team of horses known as 'Tom' and 'Jerry.' When a third horse was purchased they were re-named 'Tom', 'Dick' and 'Harry.'

He recalled that 'Tony' Smith and his older brother John ran a grocery store in the building next door to fire headquarters but now torn down. They sold 'Smith Bros. Cough Drops' and John showed him the package with the bewhiskered brothers and declared they were his ancestors and wore a beard like Christopher Columbus. He told the story of how they caught eels in the open ditch that ran through the middle of the block between the fire house and Smith Brothers' store. They had dammed the stream to make a wading pool and when the water ceased to flow below the dam the eels below came up out of the mud and worked their way upstream to get to the water. They got table knives and spearing the largest, threw them up on the bank. Thereafter when they wanted eels they would dam the brook.

With his camera he visited the old swimming pool at 'Broken Bridge' at the north end of Chester Park and saw the beech tree where he and Joe Ryan carved their names forty years ago. At Town Hall he met George Kurtze and Andy Heisser. To the latter he said 'You do not remember me, but I remember you when you drove your father's grocery wagon. You used to come to our house for the order and spend a half hour.' To this Andy replied 'Certainly I remember you. Yours was the biggest family we served and it took half an hour to take down the order.'

He wanted a picture of Lyon Hall in Wolfs Lane where Isaac C. Hill, principal of the North Pelham school gave an entertainment about fifty years ago. He was in the 3rd grade and took part in the Newsboy's Chorus. The boys, dressed in old clothes and carrying a bundle of newspapers rushed out on the stage and sang a song that began 'World, Journal, Sun, Herald, Times, Press and Tribune.' The words were written by Mr. Hill's daughter, Mrs. Ida Hill Lyon and the music was adopted. He was shown a photo of the old Unity baseball team and recognized all the players. Three, George Lambert, Ray Godfrey and 'Son' Straehle are now dead. Chester Godfrey and Godfrey Keller who also played on it are also dead. Leo and 'Turk' Smith and Marty Whalen are still alive."

Source: Untitled and Undated Typewritten Manuscript of Interview of Val Miller Stored with Other Such Paper of J. Gardiner Minard in the Collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham, New York, pp. 1-3.

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