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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An 1881 Account of What it Was Like to Visit Starin's Glen Island Resort Off the Shores of New Rochelle and Pelham

It seems hard to believe, but during the late 19th century one of the largest and most popular amusement parks in the United States sat just off the shores of New Rochelle and Pelham.  During the late 1870s, John H. Starin acquired and developed "Locust Island" just off the coast of New Rochelle. He renamed the island "Starin's Glen Island" and built the world's most successful amusement park up to that time.  In its first couple of years it included a zoo, an indoor botanical garden, shooting galleries, a carousel, a bathing pavilion, picnic grounds, restaurants, club rooms, billiards tables, swings, a sand beach, a bar, barber shop, a wine cellar, a clam bake area, horses for horseback riding, a music pavilion with lovely acts, and much, much more.  Potable water for the massive venture was supplied from the area within the Town of Pelham known as Pelhamville.  

Starin eventually operated a fleet of steamboats that brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Glen Island each year. By its sixth year of operation, more than a million visitors a year visited the amusement park. 

Starin's Glen Island became Pelham's playground as well. Pelham residents had but a short walk or carriage ride along today's Shore Road into New Rochelle where they could turn toward the shore to a mainland dock from which a chain ferry could carry them the short distance to the island. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes an account of what it was like to visit Starin's Glen Island in 1881, shortly after it opened.  The transcription is followed by a citation to its source.  Additionally, I have included images of various Glen Island related materials from the early 1880's at about the time of the transcribed account.  

1881 Trade Card Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island, Obverse

1881 Trade Card Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island, Obverse

One of the Favorite and Picturesque Resorts on the Sound.
The History of the Place - Colonel De Pauw's Residence and the Improvements Which Have Been Made by Mr. Starin - Fine Shelter from the Rays of the Sun - Balmy Breezes - Beauty, Symmetry and Exquisite Taste Displayed.

For the past two seasons, ever since Glen Island lifted its head among our Summer resorts, it has been constantly kept before the Brooklyn public, through the advertising columns of the EAGLE, and although this season the facilities for reaching there are very insufficient for the denizens of our city, thge place is largely patronized by them.  Last season the boats stopped at Jewell's Wharf, but in consequence of the enormous rates charged for landings by those having control of the pier, the Brooklyn public this year is put to the inconvenience of crossing Fulton Ferry, and thence across town to Pier 18, North River, which is at the foot of Cortlandt street, or of taking the elevated road to the foot of Thirty-third street, East River, where the boats are in waiting.  There are three boats, which make regular trips at intervals of two hours.  They are the Thomas Collyer, Laura M. Starin and the Sylvan Dell.  These excursion steamers are rapid, and look very attractive as they speed up the river, decked from stem to stern in their holiday attire.  The sail is delightful.  Upon boarding the steamer at the foot of Cortlandt street, New York, every convenience for the comfort of guests is found, and as the boat moves out into the stream you are soon rounding Battery Park on the left and Governor's Island on the right.  After making landings at the foot of Broome street and East Thirty-thrid street to receive passengers, the enjoyment of the sail becomes more apparent.  The cool breezes which fan the cheeks of the excursionist refreshes him, as he admires the scenery on either side, while the music of the orchestra on board the boat produces an inexpressible ccharm.  On the way to Glen Island you pass Blackwell's, Ward's, Randall's and Riker's islands, and after passing College Point and Willett's Point on the right and Fort Schuyler on the left you are speeding up Long Island Sound.  Here 


greets the eye on a fair day, the water being dotted as far as the eye can reach by the snow white sails of pleasure yachts and other sailing craft.  It is but a few minutes sail after passing between City Island and Hart's Island that the steamer denotes its arrival at Glen Island by the tooting of its whistle.  Here, the throng which retire from the boat, is critically scrutinized by members of Pinkerton's private detective staff, and if any suspicious character or inebriated individual appears, he is immediately given his money back and a free return ticket simultaneously.  

Glen Island is situated opposite New Rochelle, a distance of about twenty miles from the city.  It stands in the midst of the Sound, being connected with New Rochelle, in which township it is, by a ferry which runs as late as eight o'clock in the evening.  It contains about fifty acres of land and rock.  It was formerly known in history as Locust Island, and at different times was owned by several gentlemen of wealth who expended large sums of money and much time and labor in adorning and beautifying the grounds.

More recently it has been the residence of the Prussian Consul Colonel De Pauw, who entertained many dignitaries at his house, which is still standing.  Two years ago Mr. Starin purchased the property and christened it Glen Island.  Since then the work of improvement has progressed until now it resembles a mammoth park.  To a casual observer it would appear as though nothing had been left undone which would in any way please the eye or beautify the grounds; but according to the present plan two years time will be expended in completing the details of improvements already made.

1880 Pass for Admission to Starin's Glen Island

On arriving at the pier, on the right stands the 


which is as attractive in its style of architecture as it is neat.  It is painted a delicate hue with trimmings of decided colors, the effect being pleasing in the extreme.  To the left, only a few steps from the boat, is the parcel and package cottage for the accommodation of those bringing lunch baskets who do not care to be troubled with them while visiting the numerous places of interest.  The construction of this cottage is decidedly interesting.  It was of Chinese style originally, but has been so much enhanced in beauty by the artistic taste of Mr. A.A. Patterson, who is not only the architect of the island, but the superintendent in full charge, that its peculiar style has no precedent.  It is also decked in a pale shade of paint, which contrasts finely with the verdant foliage that makes up the background.  From here the visitor passes through the main avenue, which is a broad gravel walk edged with short cut grass and flower beds in full bloom, shaded by majestic elms and maples and adorned with statuary and other pieces of art, to where the various places of interest are.  In going to


which was formerly the handsome club house owned by the New York Yacht Club,, you pass a romantic rustic Summer house surrounded by trailing vines, towering away above you on a cluster of rocks.  Here a fine view is obtained, and the coolest of breezes everywhere prevails.  The pavilion occupies a prominent site overlooking the sound and is used almost exclusively for parties desiring dinners a la carte.  Every palatable dish imaginable can be had here and served in a manner characteristic of the leading hotels in the country.  Mr. Thomas J. Murray is the caterer, and it is needless to comment upon his ability.  He is evidently the right man in the right place.  He was formerly connected with the Continental and Rossmore hotels and Astor House in New York, and has written a book on cooking which meets with popular approval.  Mr. Murray is the caterer who got up the Biblical bill of fare last Winter which created much interest, and he is now engaged in preparing a work on 'Salad.'  The prices are not exorbitant on the menu, considering that a person expects to pay a little more for dinner or supper at a Summer resort than they would have to in the city.  This pavilion is three stories high, and is erected upon a solid rock.  The lower portion is divided into three separate compartments.  In the center is the wine cellar carved out of the rock.  It is exceedingly cool, and, to use a common expression, 'as neat as wax.'  This is in charge of A. Mayward.  On the side overlooking the Sound is the ladies' and gents' toilet rooms and parlor.  Opposite is the reading room, barber shop and bar.  On the second floor, over the dining room, are private supper rooms and parlors for special guests.  Above this floor are tables for refreshments.  They can accommodate 2,000 guests at one time here.  Since last season a wing has been attached to the grand pavilion, in which


are served, under the supervision of W. S. Bosworth, for seventy-five cents.  This room has a seating capacity of 600.  The storehouse is a few feet back from the pavilion.  Here the members of the finny tribe are received alive, and, after being cleaned, are packed in ice in a huge tank.  The pavilion and store house are somewhat similar in the style of architecture, they both being americanized Swiss.  From these buildings, which are situated upon a separate island, you cross to the main land on the bridge which connects them.  You pass up the main avenue noticing the antique residence which was formerly Colonel De Pauw's, and suddenly come upon a massive stone building which seems to have stood there since the rebellion.  It is used now as a stable.  Back of this is the laundry and bakery, each building being a study in itself.  From here you take a zigzag course through pleasant pathways to where the water works are situated, and the visit proves quite interesting.  The cottage in which these are in operation is the most gaudy in appearance of any on the island, it being conspicuous in style and painted a bright orange, relieved with gray and red trimmings.  The water is brought from Pelhamville in pipes laid under the sound.  The entrance to the hothouse is ornamented by elegant statuary, and the interior is filled with rare plants and flowers.  Two banana trees, with huge leaves, in the center of the house, attract considerable attention.  K. Dickinson, the gardener, cultivates all the plants need in decorating the grounds, and wherever flowers can be placed advantageously, they are conspicuous.  The walk to the ladies' cottage, which is in the center of picturesque verdancy, is ornamented on either side by beds of choice flowers, the perfume of which permeates the atmosphere.  The cottage is built according to the style of 


and is especially attractive in its coat of lemon colored paint, relieved by shaded blue.  The bowling alley, shooting gallery and billiard hall are comprised in a large edifice with gabled roof and towers.  There are six alleys, each seventy-five feet in length, fitted up in the most elaborate manner.  The shooting gallery comprises targets of 200 and 300 yards range.  There is a zoological garden stocked with deer, buffaloes and other species of animals, both domestic and foreign.  Then there is the carrousel for the benefit of the juvenile visitor, and the swings for the enjoyment of all.  A grand cafe, circular in shape, artistic in design and brilliant in color, occupies a prominent position and is worthy of a visit.  The small lake which has been constructed for the little folk, is devoted to amateur yacht sailing.  Overlooking this lake is a stable where are kept eight Broncho [sic] horses.  Thee little animals make the chidren happy as they trot over the roads carrying their precious human freight.  A bridge at this part of the mainland connects it with the island reserved for Sunday school picnics.  Here a large pavilion has been erected in the centre of a grove of trees, where dancing and other forms of social amusement can be enjoyed.  Probably the first place of interest visited by the ordinary guest after he has supplied the demands of the inner man at the club house, is 


Undated Color Trade Card for Starin's Glen Island, Obverse.

Undated Color Trade Card for Starin's Glen Island, Reverse.

It is a decidedly attractive building, not only on account of its superior architectural beauty, but also its artistic ornamentation.  The style of its architecture is Swiss, with American improvements.  The main floor is devoted to refreshments, as is also the gallery, which extends around the interior of the entire building.  In a reserved gallery Joyce's Seventy-first Regiment band is stationed, and interprets two programmes daily.  The usual programme does not confine itself to instrumental music exclusively, but is punctuated by the songs of the California Vocal Quartet, comprising Messrs. Dixon, Wyatt, Roe and Frillman.  The Bent brothers who have won an enviable reputation as cornet soloists, add their ability to the concert, while Miss Louise Linden, who is considered one of the greatest saxophone soloists in the world, wins repeated encores, to which she always responds gracefully.  She seems to be a favorite at the island, and judging from the accuracy and sweetness of her selections it is not to be wondered at.  Charles Lowe is the xylocaime soloist.  His popularity has been attested at each concert by the applause which greets him.  The selections interpreted by the band educe much complimentary criticism.


as it is called, but which, in reality, is a triumph of American architecture, is conspicuous upon a high boulder on an adjacent island, and is noticeable for its patriotic attire.  It is four stories high, circular in shape and its cornices and roof are painted the national colors, the whole being surmounted by an immense gilded eagle.  The tower floor is occupied by a large gun weighing about 1,000 pounds, which is used for salutes on especial occasions.  Upon the second and other floors the visitors are entertained by the natural chiming of the bells by the breezes.  It is a romantic spot, as it stands alone, the tides rising and falling around it.  The bathing pavilion is another attraction.  Five hundred bathers can be accommodated at once and the beach is considered safe, as for 150 feet the water does not reach a depth of over six feet.  At this point, however, it is exceedingly dangerous, the ledge falling suddenly to a depth sufficient for the passage of steamers.  Adjacent to the pavilion is a grove which is secluded and much sought by amatory couples.  There is a boat house where steam launches, skiffs and gigs, both flat and round bottomed, can be hired at moderate prices.  

This island, in a word, is delightful, and Mr. A.A. Patterson, to whom reference has heretofore been made, has been chiefly instrumental in making it so attractive; for while Mr. Starin has supplied the means to carry on the enterprise, Mr. Patterson has worked assiduously in drawing up the plans."

Source:  Glen Island - One of the Favorite and Picturesque Resorts on the Sound, Brooklyn Eagle, Jul. 27, 1881, p. 3.  

1881, Trade Card Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island, Obverse.

1881, Trade Card Advertisement for Starin's Glen Island, Reverse.

I have written about Starin's Glen Island resort on other occasions.  Below are a couple of links to such stories.  

Fri., Sep. 25, 2009:  Pelham's Playground: John H. Starin Develops Starin's Glen Island in 1879.

Mon., May 01, 2006:  The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham.

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