A History of the Early Years of City Island When it Was Part of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1927
Regular readers of the Historic Pelham Blog likely realize (as the banner at the top of the site suggests) that many posts are my research notes regarding issues of interest regarding the history of Pelham and surrounding areas. Today's post is another example of such an instance.
Below is text that I have transcribed from portions of a book published in 1927 entitled "The Bronx and Its People: A History, 1609-1927". The excerpt deals with issues relating to the history of portions of Pelham annexed by New York City in the mid-1890s. A full citation to the source appears beneath the excerpt.
"In Pelham -- Nearly all of the part of the township of Pelham that was taken within the city of New York is included within Pelham Bay Park. There is a small section in the vicinity of the Boston Road not included in the park, and also City Island; the first part is negligible. There are now many different ways of reaching City Island. Until 1912 a one-horse, bob-tailed car, a relic of former days, used to connect with the railroad station, and for a fare of five cents, the passenger was taken to Marshall's Corners at the end of Rodman's Neck; for an additional fare, he was carried to the end of the island. In 1910 a monorail electric train was inaugurated; but the first day of business was an unfortunate one, for the car met with an accident and several people were killed. City Island was originally called Minnewits, or Great [Page 346 / Page 347] Minnefords, Island. The origin of the name is doubtful, it being ascribed to Peter Minuit, the Dutch Governor and purchaser of the island of Manhattan, and also to Minnefords, Minifers, or Minnewies, the original Indian proprietors. It was within Thomas Pell's purchase of 1654, and also within his manor-grant of Pelham. It received its name of City Island from a scheme of the inhabitants of 1761-62 to establish upon the island a city that was to outrival New York. General Heath uses the name 'New City Island' in his 'Memoirs,' so that the name must have been well established in Revolutionary days. On May 10, 1763, a ferry was established 'acrosst from Mr. Samuel Rodman's Neck to said Island.' The same year a ferry was established from the north end of the island and leased to Mrs. Deborah Kicks, 'the best and fairest bidder.' On May 13, 1766, a ferry was established between the south end of the island across the Sound to Long Island; it was leased to John Barnes for five years. The first purchaser from Thomas Pell, the manor-lord, was John Smith, of the town of Bruckland (Brooklyn). The island on June 19, 176, came into possession of Benjamin Palmer, the builder of the free bridge at Spuyten Duyvil, for £2,730. He appears to have suffered considerable loss during the war; for, in 1788, he sent a petition to 'His Excellency, George Clinton, Esq., Governor in and over the State of New York, and Vice-Admiral of the navy of the same,' for relief. This failing he again petitioned for redress of grievances in 1789, this time to 'His Excellency, George Washington, President of the United States.' His distress was mitigated by a subscription.
The Revolution prevented the accomplishment of the plan of building a city upon the island, though it was revived in 1790. The island was cut up into 4,500 lots, each twenty feet front and one hundred feet in depth, besides two squares, of thirty lots each, reserved for churches, meeting-houses, schools and the like. Ten pounds was the stated price of the lots, and many were bought and sold at that price. In 1818 Nicholas Haight and Joshua Husted owned nearly all of the island as well as Rodman's Neck and what later became the Marshall estate. In the year following, forty-two acres passed into the possession of George W. [Horton]. In 1804 the State Legislature passed an act allowing the construction of a bridge between the island and the mainland, and subscriptions were started for its erection; but the attempt failed for want of support. On December 1, 1873, a toll bridge, erected by a stock company, was thrown open to the public. It occupied the site of the bridge laid down on the map of 1761. It was one thousand feet long with a draw of one hundred and twenty feet; the draw being that of the original Coles, or Harlem Bridge, at Third Avenue. A large part of the materials used in its construction came from the old United [Page 347 / Page 348] States frigate 'North Carolina,' which had been condemned and sold by the National Government. This bridge was made a free bridge in 1895, at the time of annexation, and was replaced by the present fine steel structure, constructed at a cost of $200,000, not including approaches, which was opened for public use on July 4, 1901. Work had been begun upon it in December, 1898.
In spite of the ferry and the bridge, City Island had been more or less isolated before the opening of Pelham Bay Park in 1888, and the advent of the bicycle. The inhabitants were engaged chiefly in fishing, piloting, and oyster culture. The fishing was formerly very fine, and upon a Sunday or other holiday the old bridge was lined with ardent anglers. The demolition of the old wooden bridge drove many of the anglers to the wharf at the south end of the island, at the end of the island's one long thoroughfare. In 1762, the owners of the island petitioned for four hundred feet under water, and the land was granted to them by Lieutenant-Governor Cadwallader Colden, on May 27, 1763. When the new wharf at the lower end of the island was built in 1901, we find Mrs. De Lancey asserting her claims to the land under water as an inheritrix of the ancient grant, but the case was decided against her. There are several yacht clubs located here and the activities connected with the water constitute the principal business of the island. Several shipyards build and repair pleasure vessels, and in the winter season many of the crack yachts are laid up and housed there. Upon several occasions the defenders of America's Cup have been so laid up. The yachting industry is principally with sailing vessels; in stormy weather, many sailing vessels from the Sound find safe anchorage near the island until the weather moderates. There are numerous bathing pavilions, and the bathing is considered helpful, as the island extends far into the Sound. Rowboats, sail-boats, and small launches are plentiful, and there are many places where they can be hired for sailing and fishing, while several of the hotels and restaurants have more than a local fame. The population was self-contained and isolated, and it took the people a little time to get accustomed to interference from Manhattan, after annexation. Probably the greatest object of interest on the island is the 'Macedonian Hotel.' It bears the following legend: captured on Sunday, October 25th, 1812, by the United States Frigate 'United States,' commanded by Capt. Stephen Decatur, U. S. N. The action was fought in Lat. 24° N., Long. 29° 30' W., that is about 600 miles N. W. of the Cape De Verde Islands off the W. coast of Africa and towed to Cowbay in 1874.' However, it would appear that while the house is the remains of a ship 'Macedonian,' it was not the one captured in Decatur's gallant action. The original British 'Macedonian' [Page 348 / Page 349] was a new ship at the time of her capture, and was afterwards repaired and taken into the United States Navy. She was blockaded in the Thames River, Connecticut, until the close of the War of 1812, and then served as a cruiser until 1828, after which she did nothing. In 1835 she was broken up at the Norfolk, Virginia, navy yard. In the meantime Congress appropriated funds to build a new ship of the same name, which was begun in 1832 and launched at Gosport, Virginia, in 1836. She was rebuilt at Brooklyn in 1852, and broken up in 1874 at Cow Bay, Long Island. For a time this second, American-built 'Macedonian' was used as a practice ship at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where the figurehead of the original British frigate is still preserved as a relic of the heroic days of our infant navy."
Source: Wells, James L., Haffen, Louis F., and Briggs, Josiah A., eds., The Bronx and Its People: A History 1609 - 1927, Vol. I, pp. 346-49 (NY, NY: The Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1927) (Historian Benedict Fitzpatrick).
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