The Night Pelham's Town Hall Burned
While the firemen were laying the hose, they heard a "muffled roar as if an explosion had occurred." The building and its contents seemed doomed. Id.
The water pressure, however, turned out to be surprisingly good. Within thirty minutes the fire was under control. It was declared to be out within forty-five minutes. Incredibly, the flames never reached the Town records in the Town Clerk's office. The walls of that office were scorched, but the records did not burn. Id.
Speculation on the cause of the fire was rampant. Unidentified "members of the town board" reportedly were certain the fire was deliberately set given that the area was deserted and Republicans were rallying at the fire station when the fire began. Id. Others believed the fire began through spontaneous combustion in a pile of old rags in one of the jail cells in the structure. Id.
The old, wooden Town Hall was built on Fifth Avenue after New York City annexed much of the Town of Pelham -- including the Town's small brick Town Hall that once stood on today's Shore Road near the Pelham Bit Stables -- during the mid-1890s. Following the loss of the wooden structure, the Town was forced to build a new Town Hall, this time of brick and stone. That structure still stands and is the center of the Town's government today.
on election day, Courtesy of The Office of The Historian,
Town of Pelham, NY
Below are transcriptions of two newspaper articles describing the fire that destroyed the old Town Hall and of another newspaper article that describes the Republican rally that was underway when the fire began.
"FIRE PARTLY DESTROYS PELHAM TOWN HALL
Lockup Is Burned, but Luckily No Prisoners Are in Cells.
Officials are investigating a mysterious fire which partly destroyed the Pelham town hall early to-day.
Republicans had a big rally there last night [Editor's Note: This is incorrect. The rally was in the fire house.] and shortly after the meeting adjourned there was an alarm of fire. The eastern end of the town hall where the cells are located was on fire. There were no prisoners in the lockup, or they would have been burned to death.
Politicians who had taken part in the rally joined the volunteer firemen in fighting the flames and saved part of the hall and prevented the fire from spreading to other buildings."
Source: Fire Partly Destroys Pelham Town Hall, The Evening Telegram - New York, Oct. 24, 1908, p. 5, col. 2.
The following is a transcription of an article published in The Daily Argus of Mt. Vernon, New York about the Republican rally that took place at the time of the fire that destroyed Pelham's Town Hall on October 23, 1908.
"PELHAM REPUBLICANS HAVE A BIG RALLY
North Pelham, Oct. 23.--'Taft is elected; Hughes will carry the state.' These were the beliefs expressed at the mass meeting of the Republicans in Firmen's [sic] hall, on Fifth avenue, last night. The names of the two candidates were cheered again and again whenever they were mentioned. The interior of the hall was elaborately decorated with flags, bunting, shields and with pictures of Taft, Hughes and some of the county candidates. The place was crowded to the doors.
The meeting was preceded by a parade of about 200 Republicans, music being furnished by a band. The first division left the Pelham Manor club house in charge of Marshal W. P. Brown about 8 o'clock. as the paraders reached the Fifth avenue bridge they were greeted with a display of red fire was burned and the first division was joined by the second, commanded by Marshal G. I. Karbach. The two divisions then marched through the principal streets of the village.
They reached the hall about 9 o'clock. It was not long before the place was crowded to the doors. The band rendered a number of patriotic selections.
Allan Robinson, chairman of the Republican town committee, presided and made the first speech of the evening. He said in part: 'The time has come for every voter to stand up for the ideals of this party; to stand where he can be seen and heard and make his position known. This meeting is called to express interest in the campaign, not only for waht has been accomplished, but for what is going to be accomplished. In my judgment the national election is settled. There is no need of going into any details about that. This state will go for William H. Taft by the thousands and the tens of thousands. (Applause and cheers.)
'The fight for Hughes is not so hard now as it was two weeks ago. Two weeks ago Chanler would undoubtedly have been elected, but the tide has turned during the past two weeks, and in two weeks more there should be no question but that he will be elected. Governor Hughes has been accused of not having any sporting blood in his veins. What finer example of a man with lots of sporting blood in his veins than that presented by the governor himself when he took up the fight in this state two weeks ago.'
Mr. Robinson introduced as the first speaker Frank S. Hutchins of New Rochelle. Mr. Hutchins spoke briefly and said that there were only two issues in the present campaign, one being the records of Taft and Bryan, and the other being the personality of each man. He continued: 'I submit that the man who has the best memory will vote the Republican ticket. Our Democratic friends are crying up and down the land, 'Shall the people rule?' If Governor Hughes is elected in this state, the people will rule, for heaven only knows the bosses did not want him. If he is elected, you will encourage men elsewhere in this country who are trying to do their duty as they see it. It was Lieutenant Govern Chanler himself who said only last winter at the Hotel Waldorf: 'We have at Albany a man to whom I take my hat off.' He urged the voters not only to support Governor Hughes at the polls, but the county candidates.
Theodore M. Hill, former justice of the peace, was the next speaker. He said in part: 'I believe that the Republican party has selected one of the sanest and soundest men that has ever been elected president of this country. I don't know much about Mr. Taft, but if he is anything like his two brothers, one of whom lived in this town, it is my opinion that he has every qualification to endear him to other people.
'Not only am I desirous to see Mr. Taft elected president, but I am equally desirous to see Charles E. Hughes governor of the state of New York. If there is anybody we admire in this town it is a fighter. We admire a fighter and the man who wins a fight. I heard some talk in this town to the effect that they are opposed to the anti-gambling laws. In 194 [sic], when Governor Hughes was not even thought of, the people of New York voted that there should be no gambling in this state. Now Governor Hughes did not make the laws of this state. The people made them. What kind of a man is it that makes a law and will turn on the man who tries to enforce it?' Mr. Hill spoke about the value of the Public Service Commission and said that he would not care to be obliged to return to old conditions on the New Haven road. He said that those who say that they are opposed to the commission were not so much against it as they are opposed to Governor Hughes appointing the commission. 'We don't want to go back to old conditions here,' he said. 'When Chanler was in Mount Vernon he said nothing about abolishing the Public Service Commission. The tide is certainly turning. Two or three weeks ago I was fearful that Governor Hughes' elections would be very close, but in political currents the lighter objects come to the surface first. The tide has now changed. The state of New York has one of the greatest men in the country and New York is waking up to that fact. It took the west to find that out for us. He has stood for everything that is just and good, and I hope that in the town of Pelham Governor Hughes will get a vote that will make him feel that this community, at least, endorses his administration.' (Applause.)
Holland S. Duell, the Republican nominee, spoke briefly about the various candidates. He said that he was not as confident about the election of Hughes as some of the previous speakers were. He thought that the voters would have to do all in their power to bring about the election. He said: 'It seems to me that if Governor Hughes should not be elected it would be the severest blow that good government could possibly receive. It would serve as an inducement to certain undesirable interests to attempt to get control of this government. It would be a demonstration on the part of the people of the state of New York that they are not willing to support such a public servant as Governor Hughes has been. 'I put Chanler in the same class with Bryan. He is in this campaign for the votes that he can get and for the office.' He declared that he was in favor of direct nominations for members of the legislature. He concluded: 'I will try and represent the people as I did two years ago.'
H.B. Boedecker, of Mount Vernon, Republican candidate for coroner, spoke briefly. He said: 'I have no record; Dr. Banning has. You all know what that is. I will leave it to you, and I think that your vote will count on election day. It is not necessary to be a doctor to become a coroner.'
Herbert L. Fordham, of New York spoke until J. Mayhew Wainwright arrived at the hall. Mr. Wainwright said in part: 'I am very hopeful of the result. I look on this campaign as the most important one that I was ever in. The national campaign is of absorbing interest. But the state campaign is of transcendent interest. The people are anxious for the kind of government tha [sic] has been given them under the leadership of Charles E. Hughes. He has opposition. I wonder what kind of a government these people do desire. Do they want an administration of corporations, or do they want an administration such as has been given them? Governor Hughes has conducted the affairs of this state in the open.' He told of the achievements of the Republican party in this state. In regard to the Public Service Commission, he said that the Democrats would like to have the members of this commission elected by the people. He continued: 'What we have been trying to do is to keep such an organization out of politics. We now have our opponents in a position where they have no issue whatever. Mr. Chanler says that he will not repeal the Agnew-Hart bill. If they are not going to change the law, why change the administration? If they will not change it, they they [sic] have no final grounds for support.
'There can be no doubt but that the action of the state convention in nominating Charles E. Hughes will be supported by the people of this staff at the coming election next November.
'Personally, I come before the people on my record. If they find anything in it to condemn, then I shall ask them not to vote for me. If they find that I have been a faithful public servant, I shall ask for and shall expect the support of every Republican and ask for the support of those who have not identified themselves with any particular party.
'I believe that this county is going to give the national and state tickets great majorities. Unless all signs fail, it means that the best citizenship of this county has been aroused to the needs of the hour and that the citizens will express this feeling at the polls next November in favor of Taft and Hughes.'"
Source: See Stubborn Blaze In Old Building, The Daily Argus [Mt. Vernon, NY], Oct. 24, 1908, pg. 4, col. 2.
I have written about the two Pelham Town Hall structures that preceded the one that is used today. For more, see:
Mon., Jun. 27, 2005: The Precursor to Pelham's Town Hall on Fifth Avenue.
Fri., Jul. 13, 2007: Midnight Fire Destroyed Pelham's Town Hall in October 1908.
Tue., May 11, 2010: Mystery Solved - Pelham Town Hall That Once Stood on Shore Road Was Used as a School.
Wed., May 12, 2010: Fire Partly Destroyed Pelham Town Hall in 1908.