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.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

After Annexation of Part of Pelham by New York City, Mount Vernon Barbers Avoided Sunday Blue Laws by Operating in the Remainder of Pelham

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When New York City annexed large portions of the Town of Pelham in the mid-1890s, it annexed City Island.  At the time of the annexation, most Town officials -- including law enforcement officials -- lived on City Island or in other areas annexed by New York City.

Good entrepreneurs that they were, Mount Vernon barbers sensed a business opportunity.  The so-called "Sunday law" of that time operated to prevent barbers from doing business on Sunday.  Pelham, however, was essentially without an enforcement mechanism.  Thus, Mount Vernon barbers and others took to calling the Town of Pelham "No Man's Land" and began setting up shop in saloons, back rooms, restaurants and hotels on Sundays and encouraged their regular customers to ride the trolleys to No Man's Land for a shave and a haircut. 

The newspaper "The World" learned of the arrangement and wrote a tongue-in-cheek story about the little backwoods Town of Pelham with its remaining "Pooh-Bah Constable" who did not have the time to enforce the Sunday law.  The text of that article appears in its entirety below.

Go Together in Pelham, Which Has a Pooh-Bah Constable.

When the recent annexation act went into effect, that part of the town of Pelham wherein lived the town officials was gathered in by New York City.  The remainder is now know as No Man's Land.  Mount Vernon barbers against whom the Sunday law operates resolved to do busioness in No Man's Land.  Word was passed around among their customers that by taking a trip to No Man's Land on Sunday, a shave, shampoo, mustache curl and trolley ride from and to Mount Vernon could be had for 25 cents.  The barbers established themselves in saloon backrooms, restaurants and hotels last Sunday and did a rousing business.

James Burnett, who is town constable of the territory, said he was too busy to look after the law violators.  Burnett, as well as being Chief Constable, is County Game Constable, janitor of the Presbyterian Church, Street Commissioner of the Village of Pelham Manor, village policeman, janitor of the public school, street lamplighter for Pelham Manor and Pelham Heights, janitor of the Manor Club and Deputy Sheriff.  He expects shortly to run an express between New York and No Man's Land.  In the interval between his labors, he is studying law.  He says he will find time next Sunday to watch the Mount Vernon barbers."

Source:  Shave and Trolley Ride, The World, Feb 10, 1896. 

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