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, September 07, 2009

More on the Ejectment of Henry Piepgras from Land Beneath the Waters Surrounding City Island

In the late 19th Century, land values in and around City Island were soaring. One consequence was a multi-year litigation by Elizabeth Delancey and John Hunter (children of Des Brosses Hunter) to "eject" City Island's largest shipyard owner from the use of land beneath the waters surrounding City Island.  I previously have written about this dispute.  See:

Monday, November 27, 2006:  The 19th Century Ejectment of Henry Piepgras from Land Beneath the Waters Surrounding City Island.

An interesting article detailing developments in the dispute appeared in the April 29, 1893 issue of the New Rochelle Pioneer.  The text of that article is quoted below.

A Decision in Favor of Mrs. E. D. DeLancey and John Hunter.

By a decision of the Court of Appeals the ownership of property erected on land 400 feet from high water mark on City Island, in Long Island Sound near Fort Schuyler, goes without compensation to Mrs. Elizabeth D. DeLancey, of Washington, D.C., and John Hunter of the Board of Control of Racing. 

The value of this property, actual and prospective, is difficult to estimate.  It comprises several valuable ship yards, among them that of Henry Piepgras; coal yards, and other industries.  In determining the ownership old records dating back to George III of England were overhauled and a small library of bound volumes has accumulated. 

City Island was originally known as Minneford's Island, and is interesting as a former rival of Manhattan Island for commercial supremacy.  Benjamin Palmer and others in 1762 petitioned Provincial Governor Robert Moneton of New York, to have the island surveyed for the purpose of building a city, the island of Manhattan being almost excluded from Long Island Sound commerce owing to the terrors of Hell Gate. 

In the petition land 400 feet from high water mark was asked for and was granted, with the exception of 1,000 feet on the north end of the island, which was exempted in order to give unrestricted access from the open Sound.  It was stipulated in this grant that King George III should receive an annual rent of five shillings sterling.

This rent was never paid and in 1826 the land under water was sold by auction to Teunis Van Vechten for $8.10, under an act passed in 1819 directing the State Comptroller to sell land on which quit rents had not been paid.  Van Vechten sold the land to Elias Desbrosses Hunter, father of the present successful litigants.  Hunter at that time owned Hunter's Island and Hart Island near City Island, with other islands near Glen Island. 

State Comptroller A. C. Flagg granted Hunter a deed on April 5, 1836, in pursuance of the sale, and under that deed the late Captain Joshua Leviness obtained a lease of the land and carried on the business of oyster planter until 1865. 

There were few people living on City Island in 1863 when David Carll, unaware of the previous grant of land under water, obtained from the State Commissioners of the Land Office a grant for 442 feet on the water front on the east side for the purposes of a shipyard.  His successor to the business was Henry Piepgras, the heaviest loser on the island from the Court of Appeals decision.  It was Carll who built for William Waldorf Astor the Ambassadress, the largest schooner yacht ever built in this country.  Piepgras built in these yards for Oliver Iselin the yacht Titania and many other noted craft. 

Piepgras in 1891 obtained from the State Commissioners a further grant of land under water.  For this land -- 443 feet front and a little more than 400 feet out from shore -- $20,000 was paid.  There will also be lost to Piepgras $25,000 paid out for improvements.

Litigation was begun by Supervisor Sherman T. Pell, of the town of Pelham, in behalf of the town to set aside the old deed to Elias Debrosses Hunter.

Upon argument, Attorney General Tabor handed down a decision denying the application.  That disposed of the town's claim.

The suit which resulted in the establishing of the DeLancey Hunter claim was begun before Judge Barnard in Supreme Court in 1891, against Henry Piepgras, as a test suit.  It was decided in favor of the plaintiffs and was carried up to the General Term with similar result.  The Court of Appeals was unanimous, Judge Maynard writing the opinion in sustaining the decision of the lower courts.

Under the decision those who have heretofore been owners will not only [remainder illegible]."

Source:  City Island Ownership, New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr. 20, 1893, Vol. XXXIIII, No. 4, p. 1, col. 3.

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