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 04, 2014

Lyman's Pharmacy and Post Office Was Located in the Building That Still Stands at One Fifth Avenue in Pelham

The lovely building that still stands at One Fifth Avenue in the Village of Pelham was once both a Pharmacy and the Village post office.  It is the second building on that site.  The first burned in a major fire from which the occupants escaped with only the clothes on their backs.  Immediately below is an early post card view of the building that replaced the original structure -- the building we know today as One Fifth Avenue.  The post card was postmarked in June 1910.  The pharmacy entrance is the main entrance to the building, on the left.  The post office is on the right in the post card view below.

The structure depicted above was erected by Seth T. Lyman after a fire destroyed the original building right before the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The architect of the new building was Arthur G. C. Fletcher, a former president (i.e., Mayor) of the Village of Pelham.  The building was erected on the site of the original building that burned.  

I have written about Seth T. Lyman and the Lyman Pharmacy building at "Lyman's Corners" several times.  For two examples, see:  

Tue., Jul. 4, 2006:  Seth T. Lyman, Pelham's Own Medicine Man of the Late 19th Century.  

The Lyman Pharmacy Building At One Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 19, May 7, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

On March 1, 1945, the pharmacy founded by Seth T. Lyman celebrated its 50th anniversary.  The local newspaper, The Pelham Sun, published two articles that addressed the early history of the pharmacy and the building that housed it.  Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes the text of those two articles below.
"Pelham Pharmacy Was Founded 50 Years Ago

When a Pelham business celebrates its fiftieth anniversary you can depend on it that its history begins with that of the Pelhams.

The fact that Pelham Pharmacy at First street and Fifth avenue, is jubilizing this week in observance of its fiftieth birthday bears this out for many interesting matters connected with Pelham's early history have been brought to light and written by Gardner Minard, unofficial historian.  

Seth Lyman founded the business on March 1, 1895.  He selected the Fifth avenue and First street localities upon his arrival in Pelhamville as it was then called.  At the start he had only a vacant lot.  A building of his own design was soon erected.  But . . . 

The furnishings for this drugstore in a Republican stronghold came from the Roosevelt apothecary store in Pelham Manor owned and operated by one of the Roosevelts who were early settlers in Pelham -- we think it was Elbert -- anyway, he lived in the old Roosevelt mansion on the Shore road near Bolton Priory.  The apothecary failed while the store fixtures lived -- reincarnated in Seth Lyman's Pelhamville establishment.  

My informant writes me, and I quote:  'They say it was a Roosevelt who maintained the sale of all standard brands of the day -- however he perished in the whirlpools of neglect, thrust from the Scylla of outdoor attraction to the Charybdis of importuning creditors.'  Probably my informant had been compounding Latin prescriptions.

Today the proprietors, Clarence Russell, serving for 23 years and James Porcelly, for 13 years can exhibit records showing that 126,000 prescriptions have been filled for the men, women and children who have patronized the establishment.  

This appeals to us as a badge of merit for exemplary service to relief of suffering mankind, something to be regarded with honor and veneration.  

Seth T. Lyman, the founder, is now retired and living happily on Linden avenue, North Pelham.  Age does not wither him nor advancing senescence yet show its handiwork upon him.  He is as mentally alert as the majority of young men and if you ask him how come, he'll reply laconically:  'Used to be postmaster--sold stamps--like to stick around.'

The present proprietors are active participants in public affairs.  Mr. Russell is a member of the Lions Club and James Porcelly we knew as a medico in the 5th Regt. N.Y.S.G. a few years ago.

Fifty years of history for a drug store must mean one thing if no other--its service to the public has been satisfactory.  It also means that its stock is first class and its personnel pleasing--and that does apply today to the Pelham Pharmacy at First street and Fifth avenue.

Our congratulations on reaching its half century."

Source:  Pelham Pharmacy Was Founded 50 Years Ago, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 1, 1945, p. 3, col. 1.  

"Do you Remember?

Fifty years ago, March 1, 1895, the store on the corner of Fifth avenue and First street, Pelhamville, was vacant.  A young druggist, Seth T. Lyman, by name, arrived and looked it over.  He had recently graduated from the college of pharmacy and wanted to start in business for himself.  He took a long chance and leased it with the apartment above where he intended keeping bachelor's hall.  Those must have been anxious days for the new merchant.  When the sun went down an inky blackness spread over the town for there were no street lamps.  There was no police department in the town and the five town constables went to bed with the chickens.

The post office next door closed at 8 p.m.  At almost any hour of the day and night men singly and in groups could be seen walking the railroad tracks.  Most of them were hobos but there were many who had police records and were looking over likely jobs.  Although the Pelhamville post office was fourth class and little money or stamps were kept on hand, the moneyorder [sic] blanks were sought by robbers.  All Lyman's money was tied up in his venture.  I rented the apartment over the post office.  There was but one physician in town Dr. Charles T. Washburn, who lived on the corner of Pelhamdale avenue and Terrace place, but he was not always available.

The new drug store became a sort of first-aid station.  Hardly a week but someone came to be patched up.  I do not recall anyone offering to pay for services or material.  He had a telephone installed.  It was fastened to the wall outside the counter and the residents regarded it as free lunch.  They all used it and no charge was made for calls to Mt. Vernon.  

Do not confuse the telephones of today with those of fifty years ago.  Then there was a box at the top containing the magneto, another at the bottom containing the cell battery and what resembled a camera in between known as the transmitter.  You yelled into the hole.  Telephone wires were not insulated then and like the radio serials of today gathered all the sound waves for miles around.

Two out-of-town doctors established 'out-posts' in the new store and placed their signs in the show windows.  They also hung on the wall silicate slates for the residents needing a doctor to 'sign the register.'  These doctors would arrive in the morning in their buggies, look over the calls, mark them down and make the rounds, after which they returned, looked again at the slates, erased the names and drove home.  Then the prescriptions would flow in.

Lyman kept a copy of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia behind the prescription counter which I studied daily.  I watched him fill prescriptions and he explained them to me and it was not long before I could read any prescription, translate them into English and might, in a pinch, have filled them.

Lest you think by this that the labor and material do not justify the cost, here is where skill comes in.  The doctors had come, made their rounds and departed.  Lymanas behind the counter filling a prescription and I was tending the store.  A woman entered and handed me a prescription.  I read it and told her to return in one hour.  I took it to the rear and placed it on the counter in front of Lyman who was working with mortar and pestle.  He continued to work while reading it but suddenly paused, his eyes opened wide and picking it up asked if I had read it.  I had.  Did I realize anything wrong with it?  I had not.  Then he pointed to two items, each of which alone was simple and harmless, but combined caused a chemical reaction harmful to persons.  

He went to the phone, called the physician's wife and asked her to have him call as soon as he reached home.  The doctor hurried back to Pelhamville, thanked Lyman, tore up the paper and wrote a new prescription.

Pelham Messenger Co.

Whether the telephone should have classified as a blessing or a curse is a problem.  To Lyman it was a boon to his customers who were commuters.  Before leaving for home night, they telephoned either from their place of business or the Grand Central station for him to get word to their wife to tell the coachman to meet a certain train at the Pelhamville station.  Lyman could not leave the store so I had to deliver these messages.  There were no street cars in the town then and often these calls were to points between Pelhamville and Union Corners,  Pelham Manor, Western New Rochelle and Eastern Mount Vernon.  

I hit upon a scheme; we would form the Pelham Messenger Co., and charge for delivery.  This would discourage them.  We would make the charge 15 cents for day calls in Pelhamville and Pelham Heights and 25 cents beyond.  After 8 o'clock at night the charges would be 25 and 50 cents.  We bought rubber stamps to mark envelopes.  Apparently this is what the people were waiting for.  The business grew.  Something puzzled us; after 8 p.m. we began getting many long-distance calls for sickness and death notice delivery.  How did these people get our telephone number?  We were not listed in any directory.  Also the voice at the other end often was the same and entirely too distinct for long distance.  We might have had our suspicions.  Charlie Merritt, the station agent, was also the Western Union agent.  A telegrapher, he had the key and sounder in the ticket office.  He closed the station at 8 p.m.  He probably notified the Western Union that calls after that hour could be delivered through us.  By the time the Spanish-American war broke out we were doing a thriving business.  After my return from that campaign, the Pelham Messenger Co. had become a memory.

Post Office Burglary

In January, 1898, I took the store in the other end of the building with the apartment above and in 1919 moved to Wolf's lane.  I therefore missed two of the greatest thrills in Lyman's fifty years in Pelham.  The fire that destroyed the building and the discovery by Lyman of the post office burglars, although I was on the spot in time to capture one.  The fire swept through the frame building so quickly that Lyman, his wife,, sister Mary, daughter Mary and Mrs. Lyman's brother, Robert Birch, escaped with only thin clothes covering them.  Lyman was postmaster at the time and the office and its contents were destroyed.

He rented a store in the Lyon Building, Wolf's lane, and for the first time the Pelham Post Office was actually located in the village of Pelham.  He purchased the site of the old building and erected the present building.  The architect was Arthur G. C. Fletcher, former president of the Village of Pelham.  It was in this building the burglary was attempted.

In January, 1896, both Lyman and myself [sic] signed the petition to the post office department to change the name of the local office from Pelhamville to Pelham not knowing that at the time there was a bill pending in the state legislature permitting Pelham Heights to incorporate as a village.  It was our expectation that Pelhamville would incorporate as the Village of Pelham, but Pelham Heights beat us to it.  In March, 1896, at the town election, a referendum on local option was taken and the result was that hotels, saloons and retail liquor stores were ordered closed for two years.  The fourth question; shall drug stores be permitted to sell liquor on a physician's prescription, won and Lyman had the only legal liquor license in the town.  In 1898 the wets carried the election and although the drys made several attempts during the next twenty years, they were never successful again."

Source:  Minard, Gardner, Do You Remember?, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 1, 1945, p. 3, col. 3.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home