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 04, 2009

1901 Newspaper Article About Fire that Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island

On January 5, 1901, the clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham Manor burned to the ground in a horrific fire.  Many newspapers and periodicals covered the event.  An interesting article about the fire that included a photograph of the clubhouse shortly before it burned appeared in the January 6, 1901 issue of the New-York Daily Tribune.  The photograph appears immediately below, followed by the text of the article.


The large summer home of the New-York Athletic Club at Travers Island, on Long Island Sound, was burned to the ground about 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  The smaller clubhouse, which was once a part of the old homestead of E. C. Potter, and has been used as winter quarters by the club employes [sic], was saved, but it was drenched with water, and most of the contents were ruined.  The loss on the main building and its contents is estimated at $75,000.  Insurance men who were on the ground and had written policies for the club say that the loss will reach at least $65,000.

The clubhouse was one of the finest and largest in the neighborhood of New-York.  It was built about twenty years ago.  It resembled a large Norman chateau, and was surrounded by piazzas overlooking the Sound.  Part of the building was in the village of Pelham Manor, and the rest in New-Rochelle.  It was a three story frame structure, with many towers, gables and tall chimneys.  A few years ago, when the village of Pelham Manor declared for no license, the members of the club found it convenient to comply with the law by moving the bar, which was in the west part of the building, over to the eastern end, which was in New-Rochelle.

The fire started at 12:40 o'clock from an electric wire in the basement, directly under the main hallway.  It was discovered by a carpenter who had been working on the roof.  He was going out to dinner when he saw flames and smoke pouring from one of the basement windows.  The man ran over to the Potter house, where Steward James Kerwin and the fifteen men employed about the clubhouse were at dinner, and gave the alarm.  The flames spread quickly.  By the time Kerwin and his assistants reached the building the flames were bursting through the windows of the first floor, and it was evident that the entire building, which was of light, inflammable material, would be destroyed.  The steward set his men to work connecting a hose with a hydrant about a thousand feet away, while he ran to the telephone in the smaller house and gave the alarm to the Pelham Manor and New Rochelle fire departments.  He also called up the city hom of the club and told Major George W. Rand, the manager, that the Travers Island establishment was on fire.  Major Rand set out at once for Pelham Manor.

It happened that Chief Mayhew W. Bronson of the Larchmont Fire Department was in the New-York clubhouse at the time.  He accompanied Major Rand to the fire.  While they were waiting at One-hundred-and-twenty-ninth-st. for a train, Mr. Bronson telephoned to the Larchmont Yacht Club for his men to join him at Pelham Manor, and also to his valet to bring his fire wagon, uniform and trumpet.  When Major Rand and Chief Bronson reached the clubhouse, at 1:04 o'clock, they found that Chief Ross of New-Rochelle was on hand with four companies from that city and one from Pelham Manor, but that they had been unable to do anything except save the Potter house, owing to the scarcity of water.  A number of Larchmont firemen were also at the burning building.  They had received the alarm at the yacht club and gone down in automobiles.

It took about an hour for the large clubhouse to burn.  Owing to the intensity of the flames and the suffocating smoke, nothing in it was saved.  All of the furniture, bedding, linen and many pictures, trophies, mounted animals, works of art and about $3,500 worth of silverware were destroyed.  The entire collection of Indian relics given to the club by Buffalo Bill went up with the rest; also a stucco representing a footrace in the Olympian games.  The wine cellar was well stocked with wines, liquors and cigars.  The popping of hundreds of champagne bottles could be heard amid the roar and crackling of the flames.

The smoke was so dense that several of the New-Rochelle firemen were overcome.  One of them, Asa Dobbs, had to be carried to the water front and revived.  Charles Kistinger, a member of the Relief Company, of New-Rochelle, had his head cut, and three of his companions barely escaped death by the falling of a large piazza.  Scores of clubmen and golfers who live in the neighborhood joined with the firemen.

By 2 o'clock the Potter house was saved, but only the tall chimneys and stone tower of the once beautiful clubhouse were left standing.  The fire attracted a large number of the people who live along the Sound.  They went in carriages and automobiles.  Several hundred of them, including many women, visited the club grounds in the afternoon.  Among them were C. Oliver Iselin, with his wife and daughter; E. T. Gilliland, of Pelham Manor; R.C. Fellows, John Nielson, H. E. Payson and C.M. Hamilton.  The grounds were put in charge of Chief Bronson, of Larchmont, who is a member of the club, and were guarded after the fire by the New-Rochelle policemen and several mounted men from The Bronx.

This is the second fire the club has had at its home in Pelham Manor."

Source:  Sports and Sportsmen:  Old Clubhouse in Ashes, New-York Daily Tribune, Jan. 6, 1901, p. 9, col. 1.

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