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.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

1899 Article About City Island's New Bridge Describes History of Area and Includes Wonderful Images

During 1899 and 1900, the bridge that now connects City Island to the mainland was built next to the ancient wooden bridge as a replacement.  The November 5, 1899 issue of the New-York Daily Tribune included a lengthy, interesting article about the new bridge, the history of the area and plans for development of City Island.  The article also included a number of wonderful photographs of the old bridge, the new bridge under construction, the Leviness mansion and more.

Transcribed below is the text of the article.  Also included are images that accompanied the article.


A slow, sleepy fisherman's existence, with oystering, yacht building and yacht beaching for the winter months, and of recent years the care of the inner wants of shoals of bicyclists, have been City Island's life for a century past.  Until recently the oldest inhabitant could recall hardly a change of importance on the whole island.  Except during the summer, when the roads become gay with visitors and amateur fishermen, uneventfulness has been City Island's portion.

It was far off from the village of West Chester, and difficult of access particularly when all the land from the Harlem to Long Island Sound belonged to Westchester County.  Now itself within the city limits, City Island is as hard to get to as ever before.  If not, indeed, more difficult.  A bred in the bone fisherman summed it up the other day in this wise:  'Fifteen or twenty years ago we had a boat to take us to New-York, the New-Rochelle boat that stopped here.  The boat went down in the morning and came back at night.  It cost us 40 cents the round trip.  Now we have to pay about 90 cents to get carried both ways.'

There is nothing to be wondered at in the isolation of City Island.  It lies at the extreme northeastern end of the new New-York, out in the meadow land, away from the mainland, in the waters of Pelham Bay.  A 'bobtail' horse car line, with only two cars running on week days and a maximum of twelve on Sundays, is its only link with the world without.  And this link is only a partial one, for these relics of transportation run only to the old Harlem Railroad station at Bartow, two miles away.  It is safe to say that had not City Island risen into fame on its shipyards and its sheltered places for the laying up of pleasure craft during the winter its name would hardly have been known at all through the years.


Of this sort is City Island of the past and present.  Its future brings it into popular interest now.  One of the quaintest, prettiest spots on the Sound, its light is no longer to be hid under a bushel.  Plans are afoot to improve the little island over by the Mount Vernon line in a wonderful manner.  If all goes well, and the plans are approved, it will become a part of the great system of parkways through the borough of The Bronx, and not the least delightful section for purposes of driving and wheeling.

The topographical bureau of the Board of Public Improvements, under the direction of Louis A Risse, chief topographical engineer, has prepared this plan for City Island's regeneration.  Shoreward Pelham Bay Park lies, with its great boulevards that are to come, connecting with the other parks in New-York's northern section.  Thus the first requisite is a bridge.  This is already under way, having been started in January, and is to be finished late next spring or early in the summer.  It will not only be a driving bridge, but will carry over a trolley line, for the trolley is to make its way through Pelham Bay Park, run over the stream and traverse City Island as well joining with existing lines, replacing the antediluvian, jaunting horsecar, which boasts of only one horse.

In the whole length and breadth of America there are probably few such curious, inconsequential horsecar lines as this.  It is said to have on its rolls seven employees -- four regular drivers (others are taken on temporarily when needed), a foreman, a man who cleans out the stables and a boy.  Yet to its owner the line has been little short of a small sized gold mine.  The trolley company, the City Island story has it, is now negotiating for the road, with the result that the owner and the corporation are still a considerable distance apart.  The company offers to buy it out for $75,000, the owner wants $125,000.


The bridge begins the list of improvements.  New streets are to be laid out here and there.  The approach on the City Island side will divide itself into three roadways.  Two of these start and end at the Shore Road, which is completely to circle the island along the water's edge.  It will prove a superb bit of driveway, different from anything else in the parkway system, and as the island is about a mile and a half long by half a mile wide at its broadest point this shore road will cover nearly three miles.

At the island's southern end there will be a park of seventeen acres, embracing the lawns of a famous old mansion, built by one Belden, who was associated with Jay Gould in many enterprises.  The old mansion still stands, in the charge of a caretaker.  Though dismantled, it is rich and elegant within, and possesses many a fine carving.

The shore roadway will be eighty feet broad.  The cost of all this work has not yet been estimated, but the sum total will be exceedingly large.  It must be remembered that outside of the new bridge, the piers of which are now rising well above the water of the bay, all the plan pretends to do is to set a general design.  It simply represents the chief topographic engineer's idea of how the best results may be obtained.  The plan has not yet been brought forward officially, though it is understood that it soon will be.

Nearly $300,000 is being spent on the bridge alone.  It is to have a draw in its centre, the height of its span is 25 feet above the water-line; 600 feet is its length, and the distance from one end to the other of the approaches are:  City Island approaches, 251 feet; approaches in Pelham Bay Park, 150.

Interesting beside it by comparison is the old wooden bridge, that has been in use for many years.  A picturesque view of it is given here.  There is a local tradition that some of the hardwood timber in it came from the old warship New-Orleans, that was broken up not long after the Civil War.

The natives look askance at all these projects and highly disapprove of them.  The general sentiment of the island is against any change.


There are fifteen hundred persons on City Island, four hundred of them being voters.  The people are disturbed because they think that all is settled that the Shore Road will be at once begun.  They seem qyite unable to realize that this planning is all in the future, and that the existing design may be wholly modified.

One long street suffices for the commerce of City Island.  It is a pleasant, quaint street, beginning at the bridges, which stand side by side and running to the southern point of the island.

In one way City Island has joined the procession of progress.  It has its own fire company.  It is what is called a 'combination company.'  This has just been installed, and so infrequent are the fires on the island that the machines are frequently to be seen parading over the streets at a measured pace, to give the horses exercise.  This is another benefit City Island shares through consolidation.  Another is its free postal delivery.

But City Island must rest its fame on its fishermen and its shipyards.  The fish are caught, not for sale, but for the tables of the fishermen.  The City Islander dearly loves his sport.  He finds fine black bass out in the bay and good fishing at all times.  The shipyards number five of real importance.  There are a hundred or more yachts laid up for winter at this season.  Piepgras's is one of the most noted of the shipyards.  Hawkins's, Robeson's and Wood's are others.  At Hawkins's the other day there was a pleasing sight.  Up on the shore, high and dry, standing on their fins, supported so that they stood upright, were the Defender, the Navahoe and the Emerald.  The picture brought up many a racing memory.

There is also to be seen a new schoolhouse, a Colonial structure of red brick with a white porch.  By fate it sets alongside of what is perhaps the quaintest structure on the island, the Leviness house, now unoccupied, slowly growing into a ruin.  Each story of this remarkably constructed house is smaller than that below it.  The building ends in what is practically a square tower, with a balcony."

Source:  City Island's New Bridge,  New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1899, p. 3, col. 1.

Map of City Island.
Source:  City Island's New Bridge, New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1899, p. 3, col. 2.

The Present Wooden Bridge to City Island and the State of Construction of the New One.
Source:  City Island's New Bridge, New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1899, p. 3, col. 2.

The new Colonial schoolhouse and the quaint old Leviness mansion (unoccupied).
Source:  City Island's New Bridge, New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1899, p. 3, col.1.
NOTE:  On left is today's City Island Nautical Museum at 190 Fordham Street.

The yachts seen in their order from right to left are the Defender, the Navahoe, the Emerald and the Colonia.
Source:  City Island's New Bridge, New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1899, p. 3, col.1.

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