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, February 20, 2014

Pelham Manor in 1883 and in its Early Years - Recollections of An Early Pelham Manor Resident

In 1941, The Pelham Sun published a series of six articles that, together, comprised the "Recollections of Old Pelham Manor," by Dr. Charles R. Gillett.  Gillett moved to Pelham Manor in 1883 and was an early member of the Pelham Manor Protective Club, a forerunner to the village government formed when the Village of Pelham Manor incorporated in 1891.  

Gillett's "Recollections" were published again in The Pelham Manor Story, a book published to commemorate the village centennial in 1991.  To facilitate search of that material and for ease of use, I have transcribed the six newspaper articles that together formed the series published in The Pelham Sun in 1941 below with citations to the sources of  each.

"Pelham Manor 1874"
Francoise DeBloise (1829-1913)
Oil on Canvas, 13" x 19"
Signed and Titled, Lower Left

Detail from Map Including Pelham Manor Published
by G. W. Bromley in 1881

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

The following interesting account of the early history of the Village of Pelham Manor was compiled by Dr. Charles R. Gillett who became a resident of the village in 1883.  Dr. Gillett, now a resident of Connecticut, is a frequent visitor to the village, occupying the residence of his son, W.V.K. Gillett at No. 1053 Prospect avenue, which is the house in which Dr. and Mrs. Gillett started housekeeping when they first moved to Pelham Manor.  They recently observed their 60th wedding anniversary.  Another son E. Kendall Gillett is also a resident of Pelham Manor.

Succeeding installments of Dr. Gillett's 'Recollections of Pelham Manor' will be published in The Pelham Sun in the near future.  This series of articles was inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the incorporation of Pelham Manor as a village which was observed by some old timers in the village on July 6, 1941.

*     *     *     *

Information in regard to the original Town of Pelham must be sought in the History of Westchester County, by the late Rev. Robert Bolton, of Bolton Priory.  A separate section of those volumes is devoted to the town, part of which is now included in the bounds of the City of New York, and the rest divided into four or five separate villages.

The territory was first known as the 'Prospect Hill Village, Town of Pelham' 1851, and later, after being taken over by the 'Pelham Manor Huguenot Heights Association' about 1875, as the 'Chestnut Grove' division of the lands of that Association.  Primarily it consisted of the land between the Harlem River division of the New Haven Railroad and the Boston Post Road, and from Pelhamdale avenue to Clay avenue.  

When the village was incorporated, the boundaries were extended to include the whole territory between Colonial avenue and the Sound in order to secure a sufficient number of inhabitants to meet the legal requirements.  It was a small section of the Town of Pelham, which extended from North Pelham to and including City Island and Hart's Island.

The entire town constituted one political unit, and was governed by officials of the whole town.  There was more or less rivalry between the sections, with the result of the elections sometimes determined by the votes of paupers from Hart's Island.  The shape of the town resembled an hour-glass, with Pelham Manor in the neck.  There were town meetings where the inhabitants gathered to transact business, and some of them were held in the brick building (still standing) on the westerly side of the Shore Road just beyond the former 'Bartow' station of the 'Branch' railway, and about one hundred yards to the south of the present junction of the Hutchinson River Parkway and the Shore Road.  I well remember one of these meetings, for at it I secured action annulling an assessment levied in my name on property which I did not own.  The division of the town into villages was of much later date.

When I came to Pelham in 1883 they accepted limits of Pelham Manor were those indicated above.  On the easterly side of the Harlem River Branch of the New Haven Railway there were only three houses and Christ Church.  One of them has been replaced by a more modern dwelling situated on a hill north of the Pelhamdale Road; the 'Roosevelt' house still stands, considerably enlarged, on a ledge of rock where the level of the road has been lowered to ease the grade.  

Besides the church, and some distance back in the woods, was and is the 'priory' where the Rev. Robert Bolton lived.  Later it was occupied by the late Frederick Allen and his family.  The Rev. Charles Higbee was rector of the church at the time, and queer stories were told about him.  On one occasion when one of his daughters was ill, he brought in a handful of garter snakes and tossed them on the girl's bed for her to amuse herself with.  After his resignation he planned a house for himself and family in the outskirts of New Rochelle.  But he made a serious mistake in his plans, for he failed to include any stairs.  

On the westerly side of the railroad was the station, a wooden building containing a waiting room, a ticket office, the post office, with a freight room at the southerly end.  It was an unsightly structure, but it served its purpose.  Here 'Uncle Joe' English, a lame man, presided for a good many years selling tickets and caring for the mail, the freight and such express matter as came for any of the inhabitants.  For a considerable time he had in his office the only telephone in the place, and on one occasion, under the compulsion of a dire necessity occasioned by illness in the family, I broke in at night to avail myself of the instrument.  The station stood for many years until at length it was replaced by the present stone building, now disused since the cessation of passenger traffic to Harlem River.

West of the railway there were less than two dozen houses in 1883, within the limits indicated above.  On Pelhamdale avenue there was a small house near the railroad occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Hill and their son, Theodore, who later became Village Counsel.  The next house was occupied by Mr. English with his mother and sisters.  Behind the house was a large building used to house the only livery stable in the place, from which teams were rented and in which the horses of residents were cared for.  This building disappeared long since.  

Further up the street was a small house nearly opposite Black street, where the Rev. John Tatlock and family resided, and still further up the street and on the same side, was a tall building, that looked more or less like a tower, belonging to Miss Ann Maria Mitchell.  The owner kept well in mind the dictum of her mother that when a house is mortgaged the ownership has actually changed.  This house is now altered and it stands nearly opposite the present Presbyterian parsonage.  The only house on the other side of the avenue had been used as a parsonage prior to 1883,, and is now occupied by 'Ed' Hart.  Before our coming to the Manor, this house was occupied by the Rev. Dr. Henry R. Waite, who acted as pastor of the 'Little Red Church.'

On the eastern side of the Esplanade between the railway and Black street there were two houses.  One of these, now occupied by Albert Hopkins, was then the residence of of Mr. Cornelius Starr, of the firm of Black, Starr & Frost, and the other, which formerly boasted a cupola and was occupied by Tom DeWitt and family, later housed Dr. Arthur C. McGiffert, then a professor in Union Theological Seminary.

On the other side of the Esplanade were three houses between the railway and Penfield Place.  The first was occupied at the time by Dr. Charles A. Briggs, a professor in Union Seminary.  As his was the first house seen in leaving the railway station, he was called 'our first citizen - on the left.'  The house nearer Penfield Place is like the others already mentioned, still standing.  In 1883 it was occupied by Mr. Robert C. Black before Mrs. Black built the large house back from the main road on the large tract of land which at present is being cut into lots of moderate size, on which it is proposed to build a considerable number of small houses.  At the corner of Prospect avenue, and Penfield Place was a rambling structure known as the Lamberton Place.  It was torn down and replaced by a new building, erected by Mr. Jabish Holmes for himself and family.  After being occupied by various tenants, the house was razed and a parking place substituted.

On the Esplanade between the present Black street and the Boston Post Road there were only two houses, one a square structure next to the present Clubhouse, where Mr. William Allen Smith lived with his family, and nearly opposite was a small house, now torn down, at the corner of the 'Black Place' that was then occupied by Mr. Spilsbury and family.  All of the other houses on the Esplanade were built considerably later.  

On Prospect avenue, west of Penfield Place, there were five dwellings.  The first at the corner of the two streets was owned by Mr. John H. Dey, editor of the New York Evangelist, where Mrs. Edward P. Bacon and Mrs. William Currie now live, a daughter and a granddaughter of Mr. Dey.  The next house was built by a Mr. George W. Laine for his own occupancy.  As a carpenter, he had his workshop in the rear.  The place now belongs to my son, William Gillett.  Next in order was the square house where Walter Cook and his wife reside.  

An early occupant of this house was Mr. John R. Beecroft, elsewhere mentioned.  The family arrived late in the day, and Mrs. Gillett invited at least a part of the family for the evening meal.  Mrs. Gillett was shocked when Mrs. Beecroft fed her baby daughter with raw tomatoes in vinegar.  On the opposite corner was the house where William E. Barnett, executive secretary of the New Haven Railway lived with his family.  Mr. Barnett was slow to get a joke, like the Scotsman who had to undergo a surgical operation in order to get it through his head.  One morning while on his way to town he suddenly began to laugh.  He had just seen the point of a story that had been told twenty-four hours before.  This house is at present occupied by the O'Neils.  Further up the street was the house of Mr. Alfred L. Hammett, which was later moved to Clay avenue in the rear, to land acquired by a tax-sale title.  Opposite was the residence where Henry W. Taft lived until he built the large mansion near the junction of Edgewood and Prospect avenues, where the Pelham Day School was located until the building was torn down.

On Highland avenue there were three houses, all on the southerly side.  One was used as the Presbyterian parsonage, where the Rev. Daniel N. Freeland lived with his family and where Teddy Hill lived after he had bought the place from Mrs. Black, nearly opposite the end of Prospect avenue.  The next was at the corner and was occupied by a carpenter and his family, a Mr. Valentine, who built a number of the later houses in the village.  Still nearer the Boston Post Road was the residence of Mr. John M. Shinn.  He was originally a painter, but he later studied law and practiced here and in Mount Vernon.

(To be Continued)

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 25, 1941, p. 5, col. 1.  

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

(Continued from Last Week)

On the Boston Post Road at the corner of Pelhamdale avenue was the little 'Red Church' which was a landmark, and was mentioned on the trolley transfer slips for a considerable time, until the new stone church was erected.  Next door was the residence of Mr. George R. Reynolds, all on one story when erected, because he did not wish to have his wife die from climbing stairs.  Further mention of the house will be found later in this account.  Mr. Reynolds was an eminent engineer, one of whose accomplishments was in connection with Zalinski's pneumatic gun.  Trial showed that the projectile did not fly straight.  this defect Mr. Reynolds remedied by giving it a tail like an arrow, and then it flew true.  He also had much to do with the construction of the 'Monitor' which gave so good an account of itself later in Hampton Roads.  Within recent days the house was built to a third story, was largely consumed by fire and subsequently torn down and the ground destined to be a park.

Just back of the church was the Hitchcock house, which was afterward moved eastward and remodeled.  It is now the Presbyterian parsonage.  On the other side of the Boston Post Road on a hill was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their two sons, David and John.  It was nearly on the site where Mr. Martin J. Condon built his large and imposing residence, where Mrs. R. Clifford Black now lives.

Outside the region which at the time was considered Pelham Manor proper (that is the territory between the Boston Post Road and the Old Post Road, which is now called Colonial avenue), there were three other houses.  One was the dwelling of Mr. Henry Iden, still standing on Iden avenue, overlooking 'Iden Pond,' mentioned elsewhere.  The second was the large stone house near the Hutchinson River Parkway, from which it can be seen best.  It went by the name of the Rodman place, and it has been little inhabited during a large part of the intervening time, and is now occupied by a caretaker.  The third was at the corner of Colonial and Pelhamdale avenues.  It is still standing and in the early days it went by the name of the 'toothpick house,' so called from two posts shaped somewhat like wooden toothpicks, which stood by the entrance path. The posts were nearly twelve feet high, and made a notable feature of the premises.  

Nearly all of these houses were built by the Association which undertook the development or by Mrs. R. C. Black.  The entire enterprise was heavily mortgaged, and the association soon found itself in serious difficulties.  At all events the whole property was sold under foreclosure.  Mr. Silas H. Witherbee bought it, at auction, and deeded the whole to his daughter, Mrs. Robert C. Black, who was the only one of his children who would accept the gift with its responsibilities.  She sold off parcels of land from time to time, and gradually the gaps between the earlier houses were filled.  Unfortunately I do not know the precise boundaries of the land involved and therefore cannot be more definite.

But I can remember when there were no houses south of Clay Avenue, a territory now thickly built up, and when the region between that avenue and the New York City line was covered with woods and swamp.  It was a favorite hunting ground for Mr. Clifford Black and my sons, where they used to push their way through the underbrush in search of birds and their nests.  There they hunted quail, woodcock and rabbits.  Occasionally they also found ruffled grouse, a bird very rare in this region.  On one occasion my younger son spied a large red-tailed hawk flying overhead.  He had only a rifle which to shoot, but he pumped seven shots at the bird.  The final one found its mark and the bird fell to the ground. It was afterward stuffed and became a treasure to the boy and his family.  

Mrs. Black's land extended to include some of the low ground east of Pelhamdale avenue, where at one time Italians cultivated truck gardens.  It contained also a considerable part of the land on both sides of the railway, and there used to be a couple of ponds there which afforded opportunities to skate.  Today this land is all included in the property of the Pelham Country Club.

The layout of the original streets was peculiar.  All of them except the Boston Post Road, led to the railway station, as though that was the centre of things.  They were built with the particular purposes of facilitating the departure of the men to business in the city, and there were no cross streets for the convenience of the ladies who had to stay at home.  An idea of the street layout may be had by comparing it with one's hand:  the railroad station being at the wrist, the fingers being the radiating streets.  Penfield Place and Black street were cut through very much later, and the winding road from Prospect avenue to Clay avenue was an afterthought.

The streets were not paved, and the sidewalks were either of dirt or very meagerly made.  The results can readily be imagined.  The streets were filled with ruts, and the paths were sloughs when rain made mud everywhere.  Where there were any sidewalks, they were only one side of the road.  

The first church in the town was Christ Church, already mentioned.  In the early days the Rev. Robert Bolton was the rector, and he drew his congregation from the entire region.  Another church in the region was St. Paul's in Eastchester, which still shows the marks of British cannonades.  

The 'Association' built the 'little red church' already mentioned.  It was a wooden structure, and it served its purpose until the erection of the present stone building.  When thus replaced the structure was removed to a site on the Boston Post Road nearer New Rochelle, where it stands after having been altered for business and residential purposes.  The attendants at the church came from not only the village itself, but from places along the Shore Road as far as Bartow, and from Mount Vernon beyond the Eastchester Creek.  The church had some notable men as pastors:  the Rev. Charles E. Lord, D.D., the Rev. Henry Randall Waite, Ph.D., the Rev. Daniel N. Freeland, the Rev. Charles E. Robinson, D.D., the Rev. Harris E. Andriance, the Rev. Joseph H. Robinson, the Rev. Lewsi G. Leary, Ph.D., and the Rev. Dr. Willard P. Soper, D.D.  Dr. George W. Knox of Union Seminary also supplied the pulpit for a time.  For a time after 1883, the church was supported in part by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, until I informed the officers of the Presbytery of Westchester that the church was well able to support itself and the previous aid was withdrawn.

In recent years a building has been erected at the junction of the Old Boston Road, now Colonial avenue and Wolf's Lane for the Church of Christ, Scientist.  The nearest Catholic churches at the time, 1883, were those in North Pelham and New Rochelle, until the recent gift of the Carson-Baker property ont he Boston Post Road, just east of Pelhamdale avenue.

The first school to function in the village was in a small building on the easterly side of Split Rock Road.  I understand that it is still standing, having been altered into a dwelling.  It is near the 'dear end' of the road.  This was under the charge of Mr. John M. Shinn, and it was replaced by a structure of brick, called the Prospect Hill School at the northeast corner of Jackson avenue and Plymouth street.  It was a two-story building, and the superintendent was Edmund DuMond, a one-armed Civil War veteran.  He was a mild mannered man, well liked by the public generally.  

Later there were several schools for the younger children, taught by the Misses O'Neil, by Miss Lottie Cowles, and by Miss Lucy Tatlock, daughter of the Rev. John Tatlock, formerly of Hoosic Falls, N.Y.  Later the Pelham Day School was organized, and was operated in the Taft house on Prospect avenue.  It ran for several years with success, but was hit by the depression, and folded up.  Even the building has been torn down in order to avoid taxes.

Another school was started by Mr. Horace D. Taft, brother of the Hon. William Howard Taft, late President of the United States.  It was located in the Gilder House on Pelhamdale avenue opposite to the Black place.  It grew in numbers until it was necessary to secure further quarters, and several houses on the Manor were taken.  But Mr. Taft had his own troubles with the boys, for two reasons.  First, they were distinctly attracted by the girls in Mrs. Hazen's School at the end of the Esplanade at the Boston Post Road, and they played all sorts of pranks there.  Second, the nearness of the big city was a constant temptation to the boys to visit there.  Mr. Taft therefore removed his school to Watertown, Conn., where the institution at first had quarters in a large hotel, and where later, larger and more commodious buildings were erected, so that it has become one of the foremost preparatory schools in the land.

Mrs. John C. Hazen inaugurated a school of young ladies, in Pelham Manor and there it was operated throughout its entire career.  Mrs. Hazen had served an apprenticeship with the Misses Masters in Dobbs Ferry, and came here with the approval and support of Mr. Benjamin F. Corliss, a landowner in the Pelhams.  The original building of the school was at the corner of the Esplanade and the Boston Post Road but its quarters were eventually enlarged by the addition of two huge adjoining houses on neighboring lots.  The school was a great success and attained standing as one of the leading institutions for girls in the country.  

Pelham Manor boasts itself in having two large public schools.  One of them, the Prospect Hill School on Clay avenue, is intended for primary pupils.  The building is large and well equipped.  The second is the Siwanoy School, on what was formerly called 'Pelham Street,' but now Siwanoy Place.  After graduation from these schools, pupils proceed to the Memorial High School just outside of the limits of the Manor, toward Pelham.  From this account it is evident that Pelham Manor has been well supplied with institutions for the training of its youth.  

(To be Continued)

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 1, 1941, p. 4, col. 1.

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

The social needs of the community were met by the formation of a society which, in the earlier days, met in turn at the homes of its various members and guests.  This was the condition in 1883 and it continued for a number of years.  Finally there was talk of the possibility and feasibility of erecting a clubhouse as a general gathering place.  The site was donated by Mrs. Black, at the corner of the Esplanade and Prospect avenue.  After much discussion and deliberation, I, as president of the club at the time, broke ground for the proposed edifice.  The plans were prepared by Mr. F.C. Merry, a member of the club.  The affair was a family concern, to which both men and women belonged.  But unfortunately the building was frequented mainly by the men, except on Saturday evenings, when young and old gathered for dancing, auction and 'duplicate' whist, and for other card games and billiards.  Besides the large auditorium and stage in the middle of the building were four additional rooms on the sides which were used for the billiard table, card tables, and on the other side of the house a large room for the ladies.  But as a family concern it was only a partial success, and finally the building was turned over to the ladies who made it 'go,' particularly after the erection of the present 'Manor Club.'

Sports also found a place in the community.  In the earlier days the men gathered on the vacant space where Mr. Taft afterward built his house, and there they played football and baseball.  Golf was also introduced in a very primitive fashion, on the pasture ground where Mrs. Riley grazed her cows.  It was a rough and uncared for territory, but it afforded some scope for the game.  It was followed by a nine-hole course laid out on the unoccupied ground adjacent to Fowler avenue toward New Rochelle.  It was a sporty little course, and was located on leased ground.  But with growth the end of the links was inevitable and search for another site was begun.  On one occasion I accompanied the late Francis Wilson, the actor, in making a search for a new location on North avenue in New Rochelle.  We failed to find what we were after, but later others were more successful in securing a tract of 180 acres, and thither the Pelham Country Club removed and there it assumed a new name, 'The Wykagyl Country Club' taking its name from an early Dutch map which had this as a local name in the immediate neighborhood.

There were also a couple of other clubs started within the village.  One of them was the 'Field and Marine Club,' located on the shore near the city line beyond the Shore Roard, just short of tide-water.  It was nearly opposite the west end of Travers Island.  Mr. Charles F. Roper called the name most appropriate for when the tide was 'in,' it was surely 'Marine,' but when 'out' the expanse of mud facing the house had the appearance at least of being 'Field.'  The location had the drawback that for half of the time the only outlook was over a level of mud, and the further nuisance that the shorefront was littered with banana skins and other floating refuse which drifted in on the tide.  The club functioned for a time, but evidently there was no such need of it as had been assumed, and the building becamse a private dwelling.

The other club was one that was started by Mr. George Phelps.  It was located at the southwest corner of the Esplanade and Wolf's Lane, and it included a clubhouse and tennis courts.  It continued successfully until it became the nucleus of the present Pelham Country Club.  

The water supply was a matter of growth and development.  In 1883 and for a number of years thereafter, each house had its own well or cistern from which the water for domestic and other purposes was drawn.  To insure the proper distribution of the water, each house had its own tank in the upper story, the circulation being by gravity.  The water had to be pumped up from well or cistern and for this work local help was employed chosen from residents in the neighborhood who depended upon their muscles for their living.  Among these men I may mention William Carson, father and son.  Personally, I had both a well and cistern the former of which tapped an underground stream and never went dry.  The cistern was supplied from a slate roof which afforded clean water when it rained.  Others who were not as well equipped suffered when the rain failed or in case of continued drought.

Later a system of municipal water supply was obtained from the small pond that may be seen beside the Hutchinson River Parkway in North Pelham.  But this soon proved to be inadequate, and was supplemented by the use of artesian wells situated in the low ground near the Sixth street bridge.  This improved matters considerably, but more water was needed for all sorts of purposes, and finally an arrangement was made with the Iselin Company, later the New Rochelle Water Company, which obtained its water from the series of lakes further up the Parkway.  At first a flat rate of about twenty dollars per house was levied.  When the meter-system was introduced it was feared that the house charge would be greatly increased, but this did not prove to be the case.  With the introduction of the municipal system, fire hydrants were introduced at all strategic points for adequate protection against fires.  

At first there was no provision for alarms of fire, and the wells afforded no adequate supply of water to quench a possible outbreak.  Fortunately there was no need of more water, as no fires occurred among the scattered dwellings in the Manor.  The original Town Hall was a frame structure on what is now Black street.  Therre were held the meetings at which nominations for village officers were made.  I remember one occasion when I presided over the meeting for such nominations which were speedily completed.  From the time when the meeting was called to order to adjournment, only seven minutes elapsed.

The first fire alarm system was devised by Dr. Harry Parker, the only physicial in the place.  Wires were run to the various houses and to convenient places in the Manor.  These wires ran to the firehouse in the Village Hall and the current supplied by cells of blue vitriol, which leaked more or less or overflowed so that the place took on a very untidy appearance.  In the building a small and very inadequate fire engine was housed, but to the best of my recollection it was never used.  Nothing need be siad of the present system, which makes itself heard every day to the annoyance of those living near by.

(To be Continued)

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 15, 1941, p. 5, col. 1.

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

The introduction of the telephone was a slow process.  It seemed rather needless in so small a community.  Mention has been made of the first instrument placed in commission in the railway station.  Aside from this the next to be installed was in the residence of Mr. Robert C. Black.  In order to avoid the expense of erecting poles for the wires, the company offered to Mrs. Black free service in her house as an equivalent for the privilege of stringing the wires on her trees.  It was not long before the rest of the people in the village arranged for the service, which speedily became a household necessity.

As already remarked the streets of the village were laid out for convenience in getting to the big city.  In 1883 and for many years thereafter, the most convenient way of reaching New York was by means of the 'Branch' of the New York and New Haven Railway, to the Harlem River terminal.  The trains started at New Rochelle and took a half hour to reach the River, where one changed to the Third Avenue Elevated.  The territory south of Clay avenue had its only exit at the end of that street near the railway.  The streets in this section were not laid out or graded until a much later date.  

The introduction of the trolley lines was a notable improvement in the village.  The Third Avenue Railway sought a franchise for a line from Mount Vernon to New Rochelle, passing through Colonial and Pelhamdale avenues, and the Boston Post Road.  In consideration of favorable action by the village authorities, the trolley people agreed to include in their franchise a line running from the Pelham station of the New Haven Railway through Pelham Manor on Pelhamdale avenue to the Shore Road.  The extension was never expected to pay expenses.  A single franchise covered both lines.  I happen to know considerable about the matter, as I secured the consents of the abutting property owners for the use of the streets.  The line through Pelham Manor was the original of the 'Toonerville Trolley which meets all the trains.'  The pictures of Fontaine Fox still continue to appear although the trolley has been replaced by a much better bus service.  

As already indicated 'Joe' English was the first postmaster in the village and when he was displaced, probably for political reasons, the office was moved from the railway station to a small house at about the middle of Terrace Place.  Later it was moved to the building opposite to the southerly end of the railway station, and there it remained until the office was discontinued and deliveries were made from the Pelham Post Office.  This was done when the villages were given the choice of points of delivery:  Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle or New York City.  The choice of the Pelhams was for New York, and that is the reason why the postage on letters to New York is the same as for local delivery.  

The lighting system for the streets was also a matter of gradual growth.  At first it was by means of kerosene lamps which had to be filled and trimmed each day.  Old inhabitants can still see James Burnett, father of Sergeant Burnett of the police force, mounted on his stepladder, with his leg wound about the lamp posts, doing the job.  Of course the illumination was very inadequate and insufficient.  An improvement was made when gas was introduced and the Walsbach mantle was employed, doing away with most of the drudgery.  It was not until the advent of electricity that the present conditions obtained.

(To be Continued)

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 22, 1941, p. 5, col. 6.  

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

Before the incorporation of the villages of Pelham, there was a town government with town meetings, in which Pelham Manor had very little voice or influence, against the combination of Pelham and City Island.  

In the early days all of the government which the Manor enjoyed was that of the 'Protective Association' which had charge of lighting the street lamps and the patrolling of the highways.  For the latter purpose a single watchman was employed, who had to punch a time clock with keys hung at strategic points.  The services rendered by the Protective Association were rather inexpensive, consisting merely of the wages of the lamp-lighter and the watchman, and the cost of the oil and other things for the lamps, which were mounted on posts at the edge of the roads.  When I was treasurer of the Association, I used to remark laughingly that I could carry all of its [assets] in my trouser pockets.

Unfortunately we have all forgotten the name of the watchman.  He was a short, stout chunk of a man, who could never in the world have overtaken an active offender.  From dusk until dawn he walked leisurely about the place proceeding from key to key to punch his time clock.  I am now reminded that my wife was in the habit of placing eatables on our porch during the evening, in order that the watchman might enjoy a midnight snack and incidentally afford us his protection during his eating.

The members of the association met annually, usually on New Year's Day, and frequently in the house of Mr. George H. Reynolds, already mentioned.  His parlor was large enough to accommodate a large number of persons.  There questions of policy and procedure were considered and decided after discussion.

It is not to be inferred that after the incorporation of the villages, there were no differences of opinion, although these certainly did not arise along party lines.  There were plenty of them in which I had my full share.  Without naming any names the following incidents may be mentioned.  'A' and 'B' were frequently at odds and they expressed their views in more or less forceful language, and they pulled no punches.  At length things came to such a pass that they did not speak as they passed by.  This continued for at least a couple of years.  When things were in this unfortunate condition 'A' received a telephone call from an opponent of 'B' asking him to nominate a school trustee to run against 'B.'  Now 'A' knew that 'B' had previously been a good and faithful trustee, visiting the schools and looking after some of the details of management.  He was convinced that 'B' should be continued in office.  'A' refused to do as requested and at once telephoned to 'B' stating that, if he and his friends approved, he, 'A,' would be glad to nominate 'B' as his own successor.  After a time 'B' telephoned that he would accept the offer of 'A.'  The nomination was made at the ensuing school meeting of the inhabitants of the town, and 'B' was elected by a decisive majority.  Afterward the relationships of the two men were restored to their previous condition, but without changing at all the estimate [sic] in which 'B' was held by 'A.'

On another occasion 'A' was asked whether he would serve as trustee of the village if elected to the Office.  He replied at once in the affirmative.  'A' was then asked if he wouls solicit the support of a neighbor.  This he absolutely refused to do.  The conversation occurred after dark on the night before the election.  It is reported that on the following morning those who favored the election of 'A' withheld their votes until near the time of closing the polls, when it was too late for the other side to summon their adherents, and 'A' was elected by a vote of three to two of all who participated.  After the closing of the polls 'A' was appraised of the election in a long telegram which was sent 'Collect.'  Afterward the two became the best of friends and became members of the Board of Trustees next year.

When I moved to the Manor there was a fire burning underground near where Mr. Arthur Retallikc's house now stands, in a bed of peet [sic] which had become dry on account of a drainage ditch which ran from Edgewood avenue across the Esplanade and Mrs. Black's property to the low ground beyond Pelhamdale avenue.  Fire had been set to the weeds and other rubbish on the surface and it had burrowed through the trunk and dry roots of a dead tree igniting the bed of peet [sic] below.  When visitors came to our house I used to take them over to see the sight.  I broke off a tall weed and thrust it down through one of the cracks at the surface.  When withdrawn the end of the weed was a glowing coal of fire.  After a time the fire burned out, although it burrowed under Edgewood avenue and burned for a time on the other side.

The ground was low and the growth of weeds was prolific, and in earlier days bullrushes grew in abundance.  David Johnson, who had lived within the limits of Pelham Manor for many years told [this portion illegible] Westchester County.  In later days, when the drain was unable to care for the water after a heavy shower, it used to collect in the depression, and at times was so deep that my dog, which stood nearly three feet in height, had to swim to get to the other side of the flood.

The ground along Edgewood avenue was low and the place where Mr. Corliss built his house next door to the present Galpin place was almost a swamp.  In order to remedy this condition, Mr. Corliss, who owned the land on both sides of the avenue, bought a small engine with cars and tracks to enable him to move dirt from the other side of Edgewood avenue toward the Boston Post Road, which he owned, and thus he raised the low level of the whole tract making the wet ground dry and solid.

Another low spot was near Wolf's Lane, down the slope on which the Iden house nows stands, on which was a body of water known as 'Iden's Pond' where the children used to skate.  It has now been filled in and houses built there.  Still another place which held little promise was the land bordering on Pelhamdale avenue on the New Rochelle side, from Colonial avenue toward the present Boston Road.  But the whole tract has been redeemed and is now almost solidly built up.

In my early days there used to be a town dock near the Shore Road, about opposite to the westerly end of Travers Island.  The water, when at high tide, was deep enough to float flatbottomed [sic] barges to the dock so that heavy items coould be landed there.  At that time when the water was in, there was good fishing for flounders from the end of the pier.  The dock gradually fell into disrepair, and has disappeared long since.  Of late years the place has been used as a village dump for things that will not burn for things that will not burn and which were unsuited for the incinerator at the other end of the village. 

Mr. Robert C. Black acquired title to the land 'beyond the tracks' being a part of the Roosevelt estate.  He developed the land and sold plots for prospective home-owners.  It is now one of the most beautiful sections of Pelham Manor as it is today.  Another pretty section is that on Pelhamdale avenue, which was the work of Bert Roosevelt.

In recent years a number of large houses in the Manor have been demolished with the obvious purpose of reducing assessments and taxes.

(To be Continued)

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 29, 1941, p. 4, col. 3.  

"Recollections of Old Pelham Manor
Dr. Charles R. Gillett

The blizzard of March 1888 became one of the times from which things were dated.  The storm of wind and snow began on March 12.  The snow drifted before the wind, and became very deep in places.  The termperature fell to six degrees below zero, and those whose supply of coal was low, suffered severely, for coal could not be delivered.  

The same was true of meat and vegetables, and it was not until the middle of the week that Mr. Joseph English and some of his men made the rounds of the village to take the orders of the housewives for the things that were needed.  After a toilsome trip to New Rochelle, the orders were filled and the goods delivered to the great relief of the housekeepers.  During the tedious and snowbound week we had only one caller, Mr. Henry E. Dey, who made his way on snowshoes over and through the drifts.  The wind blew open the doors of the 'little red church' and coated the pews and the whole interior in general, with a beautiful layer of pure white snow, a very wonderful sight.

Otherwise we were completely marooned for a week.  We were entirely cut off from places in the neighborhood, and after the second day no one attempted to reach any of the nearby towns.  I did not try to go to town until about a week after the storm broke, that is, until the following Friday.  A few Manorites tried to reach the city on Monday by the Branch Line.  The train reached the station at Westchester, but could not get further on account of the snow that had drifted into the cut just beyond the station.  There the train stuck, and the passengers, after burning all of the fuel available, began to break up the seats.  At that time there was no steam system from the engine, and the cars were heated by a stone at the end of each car.

Two of our men concluded that their only escape lay in an attempt to get back on foot through the drifts:  Mr. Henry W. Taft and Mr. Alfred L. Hammett.  How they ever crossed the trestle past the Baychester station, and the bridge, is beyond comprehension but in some way they succeeded to treaching the store of Robert Scott at Bartow.  They had already covered three of the five miles wheich they must accomplish in order to reach home.  They stopped at Scott's tore to get warm, but it would have been better to have continued their journey as they were, for the heat was soon dissipated by the gale that was raging, and they were weakened rather than fortified by the interruption of their struggle.  

They . . . began the final two miles along the railway's right-of-way.  Mr. Taft was the larger man and he carried a briefcase and a cane which he had been compelled to use ever since his days at Yale when he was injured in playing football.  After the present experience he threw away the cane and never used it again.

Whenever the men came to a deep drift Mr. Taft threw his briefcase across and went through the drift in advance.  He then stretched his cane to Mr. Hammett and pulled him through after him.  Mr. Hammett's face was frozen and it afterward turned quite black.  Finally after a terrible struggle the men reached the Manor, and proceeded to the corner near the Taft residence.  There he told his companion that he would wait for the light from the door of the Hammett house before going on himself.  Afterward Mr. Hammett said that if he had not known that he was watched, he would have lain down in the snow to rest.  If he had done so it would have been his end.

Then Mr. Taft took the few steps that brought him to his own door, and was welcomed by his wife who had a warm bath ready into which he was immediately plunged.  Afterward he suffered no ill effects from his exposure or his fight with the elements, but there [illegible] good result, although [illegible] that he thence [illegible].

This account would be incomplete without mention of three families which lived 'on the hill' south of the Manor.  One was that of Mrs. Riley, already mentioned, who supplied most of the resident families with milk.  Another was that of James Burnett, also previously mentioned, and the third was that of William Carson.  He and his son found employment in pumping water to the house tanks.  Two of his daughters also worked for Mrs. Gillett as cook and nursemaid.

As will be seen from this account, there were some notable people residing in the Manor when Mrs. Gillett and I joined the community.

Such are some of the recollections of one of the early dwellers in Pelham Manor which have been recorded for the amusement, and perhaps the instruction of those who come later.  The growth of the place has been gradual and its bounds enlarged.  The whole place has been 
largely built up, including tracts that in the early days seemed impossible."

Source:  Gillett, Charles R., Recollections Of Old Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 19, 1941, p. 10, col. 2.

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