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, August 07, 2009

Description of 19th Century Politics in the Town of Pelham Published in 1913

The Town of Pelham was largely unpopulated and was spread over a vastly larger area of land in the 19th century as compared to today.  Three principal population centers fought for political control of the purse strings throughout that time:  Pelhamville, Prospect Hill and City Island.  City Island usually won the battle because it had the largest population of the three population centers.

Below is a brief description of politics in Pelham published in The Pelham Sun in 1913.

"Ye Olde Pelham Days

In the early days when North Pelham was Pelhamville, Pelham Manor was Prespect [sic] Hill and City Island was the chief village in the town, there were rare old times political in the Pelhams.  Spring election was the principal dissipation with an occasional school election as a side show.  In the early spring when the mud roads were almost impassable and the patience of the people at its lowest ebb, electing a new road commissioner was the strict order of all good citizens.  Of course, other Town officers were elected from time to time, but the road commissioner was the 'man of the hour.'

The 'caucus' was always held at City Island, and on a Saturday night, so the men could rest up next day, and it was dawn Sunday before the rival factions returned, shouting in the joy of victory, or sullen and silent in defeat.  It took some time to prepare for the 'caucus.'  A couple of stout teams had to be procured, the farm wagons made read, and extra boards stretched across the wagons for seats.  The voters gathered at certain points along the way and were picked up by the wagons as they went through.  When they reached the 'thank you ma'ams' of Secor Lane the man who forgot to hold on, fell off, and when Pelham Lane was reached all alighted and helped the horses turn the wheels of the wagons, as the mud was hub deep and the strongest horses could not pull a load through it.  Woe to the unlucky man who was not on time on the return trip.  He walked home, cursing his fate and doubly cursing the roads over which he was walking. 

Election[s] were held at the old Town Hall, the little stone building at Bartow Station which the Park Commissioner has preserved as a landmark.  Here the men of the town gathered [to] vote and swap yarns while awaiting the result.  Gouverneur Morris, John Monroe, Peter Roosevelt, John Marshall, George Adee and other prominent residents of the town, exchanged courtesies with each other and chatted with their humble neighbors over crops, weather, planting and like interesting topics.  During the day a vote was taken on appropriations for the year, and the more money they voted, the more mud they got for their money.  No one thought of a better way to make roads than to clean the ditches on either side, pile the mud high in the centre and build an occasional 'thank you, ma'am' on the hillsides until the late eighties when a proposition was made to bond the town for $100,000. [to] build one good macadam road through the town and spend the remainder on the next important streets.

'Pelhamville' was willing, ditto Prospect Hill, but the conservative taxpayers of City Island could not see the use of contributing toward bettering the condition of their inland neighbors, and murmurs of disapproval were heard.  Nothing was thought of this, however, until the day for voting arrived.

The meeting was held at the old brick school on Jackson avenue and a large crowd of people gathered there to vote, but they reckoned without the women.  Up from City Island they came, women in wagons, carts and gigs, women in sunbonnets and women in silks.  They stalked grimly into the hall, cast their votes in the negative, and parted with sniffs of disdain at the 'backwoods farmers' who presumed to try to 'put one over' on the 'fishermen' when they were not on the alert.  That settled good roads in the 'Pelhams' until the villages of North Pelham, Pelham and Pelham Manor were incorporated and gradually built the beautiful roads that are the pride of Westchester County. 


Source:  Ye Olde Pelham Days, The Pelham Sun, 1913, p. 12, col. 4 (undated newspaper page in the collections of the Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham, NY; digital copy in author's files).

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