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, January 23, 2014

Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901

On January 5, 1901, the clubhouse known as the "big house" owned by the New York Athletic Club and located on Travers Island in Pelham Manor burned to the ground in a horrific fire.  Many newspapers and periodicals covered the event.  A lengthy account of the fire and efforts to save the clubhouse appeared the following day in The New York Times.  I have transcribed that account below, followed by a citation to its source.  I also have included a photograph of the clubhouse as it appeared shortly before the fire.  

I have written about this devastating fire before.  I also have written many, many items about Travers Island and the New York Athletic Club facilities there.  After the account of the fire below, I have included links to many of my previous writings regarding Travers Island and the New York Athletic Club.  

Rich Men Join the Firemen in Fighting the Fire.
Chief Bronson Telephones for His Fire Wagon, Uniform, and Trumpet -- Society People Go to the Fire in Motor Vehicles.
Special to The New York Times.

PELHAM MANOR.  Jan. 5. -- Nothing remains of the Summer home of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island, near here, but three large chimneys, two stone towers, and a smoldering pile of ruins.  Fire destroyed the structure this afternoon, despite the efforts of firemen, clubmen, and wealthy residents to save it.  The fire, it is believed, was caused by an electric light wire in the basement not properly insulated.  The flames were first discovered by a carpenter who was making improvements to the roof.

Superintendent J. Kirwin formed a bucket brigade with twenty employes [sic].  A small hose was also attached to a hydrant near the front of the house, and an ineffectual effort was made to extinguish the flames.  An alarm was sent to New Rochelle and Pelham Manor, but the firemen could do little except watch the big clubhouse burn, as only one stream could be turned on the burning building.  The water for that had to be pumped through the hose from a hydrant nearly a quarter of a mile away, so that the pressure was insufficient. The smaller clubhouse adjoining the main building, which was once a part of the homestead of E.C. Potter, and has been used as a Winter quarters of the club, was saved by Chief Ross and the New Rochelle Fire Department, although it was drenched with water and most of the contents were ruined.  

Part of the building was in Pelham Manor and the other part in New Rochelle.  A few years ago, when Pelham Manor declared for no [liquor] license, the members of the club moved the bar from the west part of the building, in Pelham Manor, to the eastern end in New Rochelle, where a [liquor] license was secured.  

When it was found that the building could not be saved Manager Major George W. Rand, at the New York house, was notified that the Travers Island establishment was doomed.  Mayhew W. Bronson, the rich Chief of the Larchmont Fire Department, who was in the clubhouse accompanied Manager Rand to Travers Island.  Chief Bronson telephoned to Larchmont for his fire company to join him at the island, and also notified his valet to bring his fire wagon, uniform, and trumpet.

In the meantime many of the rich residents of New Rochelle, Larchmont, and Pelham Manor hurried to the scene of the fire in motor vehicles and various traps.  The wealthy clubmen assisted the firemen in fighting the flames and in saving the Winter clubhouse.  Among those who assisted were T. Dart Walker, the artist; John Neilson, H.E. Payson, F.W. Flint, and C.M. Hamilton, the champion golf player.  

The fire attracted many society people, among some of the most interested being Mr. and Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin and daughter, E. T. Gilliland of Pelham Manor, and R.C. Fellows, a member of the club, who came on a motor vehicle from New York.  

The smoke was so dense that several firemen were overcome, including Asa Dobbs of New Rochelle, who had to be carried to the water front and revived.  Charles Kistinger of Relief Engine Company had his head cut.  


The Travers Island Clubhouse, built in 1889,, was a two story and attic structure, about 100 feet by 40, and was one of two buildings on the island, owned by the New York Athletic Club, the one destroyed by fire being known generally as 'the big house.'  In it were forty-eight sleeping rooms and two large dormitories, the restaurant, cafe, and billiard room.  This building was used as a clubhouse during the Summer, but after the Summer season was over, usually early in October, it was closed, and the club members in the Winter months used a smaller building about sixty yards away, which is known as the Potter House, from the name of the original owners.  In the larger structure through the Summer months, were many valuable trophies, plate, and paintings, all of which were removed after the season closed, and distributed between the Potter House, which is open all Winter, and the New York clubhouse.  The loss by fire, consequently, was confined to the structure, and the permanent equipment, which consisted chiefly of the restaurant and cafe fixings, the billiard and pool tables, and the bedroom furniture.  

The building proper cost $40,000 when erected, and, thought it had been neglected for a few years, while the building of the New York clubhouse was in progress, had been put in first-class repair within the past two seasons, and was in better condition than it had been since the first year that it was available for the club.  A number of improvements had been made, and the club was considering still further additions, when the fire occurred.  According to the statements of members who know what the building represented, it will cost much more than $40,000 to replace the building.  In this same estimate the loss
on furniture is placed at $10,000 more.  The club carried $30,000 insurance on the building and its contents.  Several officers of the club hurried to Travers Island after news of the fire reached them, but when they reached the spot all the damage had been done; the clubhouse being burned to the ground.

Prompt measures were taken toward repairing the damage, and committees of the New York Athletic Club already are considering the best means of restoring the destroyed building.  The club members anticipate some difficulty in this direction, however, as it will require some months to adjust the insurance, while the financial strain the club has been under in completing and equipping its new house on Sixth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street makes it improbable that the Summer clubhouse can be replaced through the club's private resources.  The effort will be made, however, and so hopeful are the officials of the club that they authorized a statement that there would be ample facilities on Travers Island through the next Summer season."

Source:  Clubhouse At Travers Island Burned, N.Y. Times, Jan. 6, 1901, pg. 2.  

The photograph immediately below shows the Big House clubhouse on Travers Island shortly before it burned on January 5,, 1901.

I previously have written about the fire on January 5, 1901 as well as the New York Athletic Club facilities on Travers Island.  Below is a linked listing of such writings.

Fri., Sep. 4, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire That Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2005:  Ladies' Day on Travers Island in the 19th Century.

Thu., May 26, 2005:  The New York Athletic Club's Opening of the 'New Summer Home' on Travers Island in 1889.  

Tue., Jun. 21, 2005:  Life at Travers Island in the 1890s.  

Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am:  Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm.  

Wed., Dec. 21, 2005:  An Early Sketch of the First Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in Pelham.  

Thu., Jul. 19, 2007:  Members of the New York Athletic Club Were Duped Into Believing the Club Created a Small Nine-Hole Golf Course in Pelham Manor in 1897.

Fri., Jul. 20, 2007:  Account of Early Baseball in Pelham:  Pelham vs. the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island in 1897.  

Wed., Nov. 21, 2007:  Baseball on Travers Island During the Summer of 1897.  

Thu., Nov. 22, 2007:  August 1896 Description of Cycle Route to Travers Island in Pelham Manor.  

Fri., Nov. 23, 2007:  The Festivities of the Huckleberry Indians of the New York Athletic Club Off the Shore of Pelham Manor on July 12, 1896.  

Mon., Nov. 26, 2007:  Box Score of a Baseball Game Played on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in July 1896.  

Thu., Feb. 7, 2008:  Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.  

Mon., Jan. 19, 2009:  Photograph of Members of the New York Athletic Club Shooting Traps on Travers Island in 1911.  

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Clubhouse on Travers Island in Pelham in 1888.  

Wed., Feb. 18, 2009:  The New York Athletic Club Opens Its New Travers Island Boathouse in 1888.    

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889

Wed., Mar. 4, 2009:  "Ladies' Day" on Travers Island in Pelham Manor in 1894.  

Tue., Mar. 24, 2009:  1897 Photograph of Visitors Streaming to Athletic Outing on Travers Island in Pelham Manor.  

Wed., Oct. 28, 2009:  Article About the June 10, 1888 Opening of Travers Island Facility of the New York Athletic Club.

Tue., Aug. 18, 2009:  New York Athletic Club Board of Governors Decided to Mortgage Travers Island in 1895.  

Mon., Apr. 12, 2010:  New York Athletic Club Stage Coach Accident Leads to Death of Pelham Manor Man.   

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