Research Regarding "Greystones," The Elegant DeLancey Estate that Became Hunter Island Inn and Once Stood in Pelham on Today's Shore Road
During the early to mid-nineteenth century, Pelham Manor became the summer playground of the wealthy. Country estate and fabulous mansions were built along Long Island Sound from the mainland near City Island to today's New York City boundary with the Town of Pelham.
Among those mansions was one owned by the DeLancey family and built in the Second Empire style that was most popular between about 1865 and 1880. The Second Empire style evolved from 17th century origins into an eclectic mix of earlier European styles including the Baroque style, frequently combined with mansard roofs. See Copplestone, Trewin, ed., World Architecture: An Illustrated History, p. 310. (Publisher Paul Hamlyn, 1963). An early post card view of the mansion (see immediately below) showing it right after a rather crude "modernization" to turn it into an inn and restaurant, shows the Second Empire architecture of the lovely stone mansion fairly well.
In its earliest days, the DeLancey mansion (and the estate that surrounded it) was known as "Greystones." It was located in a place familiar to all Pelhamites. It overlooked Shore Road just within today's New York City boundary on a small hill just past the low spot on Shore Road at the small cove often referenced as "Plum Cove" where a small creek sometimes called Roosevelt Creek still floods the roadway occasionally. The roadway curved at that spot and, consequently, was the scene of countless automobile accidents in the early days of the twentieth century. The three map details immediately below (each followed by a citation to its source) show where the structure once stood.
Numerous sources indicate that the mansion belonged to Elizabeth DeLancey, a daughter of Elias DesBrosses Hunter. See, e.g., Cook, Harry T., The Borough of the Bronx 1639-1913: Its Marvelous Development and Historical Surroundings, p. 178 (NY, NY: Published by the Author 1913); Jenkins, Stephen, The Story of the Bronx: From the Purchase Made by the Dutch from the Indians in 1639 to the Present Day, p. 315 (NY, NY: 1912). Other sources indicate that the mansion belonged to William Heathcote Delancey, Jr., a son of the famed clergyman of the same name, the Right Reverend William Heathcote DeLancey (1797- 1865), who was appointed the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York in 1839. See, e.g., Fifteenth Annual Report, 1910, of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to the Legislature of the State of New York Transmitted to the Legislature April 19, 1910, pp. 63-64 (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, Printers 1910); Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity, p. 35 (NY, NY: F.W. Beers, et al., 1868) (plate entitled "City Island, Pelham Township, Westchester Co., N.Y. (with) Town of Pelham, Westchester Co., N.Y.").
Elizabeth DesBrosses Hunter, a granddaughter of John Hunter of Hunter's Island, Town of Pelham, was born about 1838 on Hunter's Island, only steps away from what later became her estate on the mainland known as Greystones. Elizabeth was a daughter of John Hunter's son, Elias DesBrosses Hunter, and his wife, Anna Maria Munro Hunter. On September 6, 1860, Elizabeth DesBrosses Hunter married William Heathcote DeLancey, Jr. in a ceremony held on Hunter's Island. See The New York City Society Library, New York City Marriage and Death Notices, Vol. III, 1857 to 1870, p. 22 ("MARRIED 1860: DeLancey-Hunter-At Hunter's Island, Westchester County, Sept. 6, by Rt. Rev. Dr. DeLancey, Bishop of Western New York, William Heathcote DeLancey, Jr., to Elizabeth DesBrosses, daughter of E. Des Brosses Hunter, Esq."). The couple soon kept house in the beautiful gray granite Greystones mansion overlooking Hunter's Island where Elizabeth was born and the couple was married.
In 1881, the second edition of Robert Bolton's two-volume history of Westchester County, released shortly after Bolton's death, described the Delancey mansion as follows:
"On the main, nearly fronting the causeway leading to the Island [Hunter's Island], is situated the residence of Mrs. Elizabeth DeLancey, eldest daughter of the late Elias DesBrosses Hunter, (who died on the 22d of March, 1865, aged 65.; son of John Hunter, Esq., the former proprietor of those lands and the adjoining Island). The building is of native granite, and commands beautiful views of the Sound and adjacent creeks and islands. Here is the original portrait of the Hon. Caleb Heathcote, Esq., Lord of the Manor of Scarsdale in this County. Surveyor General of H. M. Customs, and Judge of the Court of admiralty, and one of H. M. Council for the Province of New York. On the day of his death, Feb. 28, 1721, this excellent man went about doing good in procuring a charitable subscription. Adjoining this estate on the south, is the residence of John Munro, Esq., son of the late Peter Jay Munro, and grandson of Rev. Harry Munro, first Rector of St. John's church, Yonkers."
Source: Bolton, Robert, The History of The Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. II, p. 89 (NY, NY: 2d Edition, Chas. F. Roper 1881).
Within a few years of Bolton's description of the mansion quoted above, New York City's efforts to acquire the lands encompassed by Pelham Bay Park intensified. Elizabeth DesBrosses Hunter DeLancey moved to the Washington, D.C. area, but later became involved in a lengthy litigation back in New York regarding underwater lands near City Island. I have written about that litigation on a couple of previous occasions. See:
Mon., Nov. 27, 2006: The 19th Century Ejectment of Henry Piepgras from Land Beneath the Waters Surrounding City Island.
Mon., Sep. 07, 2009: More on the Ejectment of Henry Piepgras from Land Beneath the Waters Surrounding City Island.
Soon the Greystones mansion and estate were owned by New York City and were under the oversight of the New York City Parks Department where they languished for a number of years. With the annexation of the area by New York City during the mid- 1890's, the former Greystones estate passed from within the boundaries of the Town of Pelham to an area within the boundaries of the City of New York.
In 1898 or 1899, New York City began to develop a tiny nine-hole golf course called the "Pell Golf Course" on some of the lands that once were part of the Greystones estate. According to the 1900 New York City Parks Department Annual Report, as the course was being built, the Parks Department removed stone walls and trees that once served as boundaries between various of the estates that previously occupied the land including the Greystones estate. The first hole of the Pell Golf Course was only a few short steps away from the rear of the DeLancey mansion. Indeed, a portion of the mansion served as the clubhouse for the tiny nine-hole course.
At about the same time, Jacob P. Schwind, who was the steward at the summer facility of the New York Athletic Club for several years, resigned his position and leased the DeLancey Mansion with the intent of developing "a modern hotel to be known as Hunter's Inn." Source: Hunter's Island Inn, New Rochelle Pioneer, May 5, 1900, p. 1, col. 4. According to the same article:
"The building is being refurnished and decorated and will be opened about the 15th inst. [I.e., May 15, 1900.] The hotel is at the entrance of Pelham Bay Park and is beautifully situated. A fine view of the Sound is afforded from the verandas and the hotel grounds cover a large area. Mr. Schwind will have the services of his chef and force from the New York Athletic Club. Mr. Schwind has an enviable reputation as a steward, and has a large circle of friends who wish him success in his new venture. Hunter's Island Inn under his management will be synonymous with courtesy and excellence."
Source: Hunter's Island Inn, New Rochelle Pioneer, May 5, 1900, p. 1, col. 4.
The decision to lease the mansion to Schwind was criticized as another in a series of "'graft' in renting buildings in city parks for trifling sums." See Ellison Shakes Up Brooklyn Offices, The N.Y. Press, Mar. 12, 1907, p. 3, col. 1. According to one report, although the City funded "several thousand dollars" worth of repairs to the DeLancey Mansion, "The Hunter Island Inn, Pelham Bay Park, brings the city $50 a month" in rent. Id.
Schwind converted the structure and operated it as a destination road house and hotel for those who wished to get away from New York City for a brief stay or merely for a lovely evening of good food and drink. Schwind only operated the establishment for a few years before his death on August 30, 1907. His obituary read:
"'JAKE' SCHWIND DEAD ----- -Jacob P. Schwind, proprietor of the Hunter Island Inn, on the Pelham Parkway, died yesterday at his home, after a lingering and painful illness. He was removed there sometime ago from a New York hospital, and his death was not unexpected.
Mr. Schwind was one of the most popular and well known hotel men in Westchester County. He came to this city [New Rochelle, NY] from the Lotus Club of New York, to fill the position of manager and steward of the New York Athlectic Club. Of late years he has been the proprietor of the Hunter Island Inn. He was born in Lohr, Bavaria, forty-one years ago, and was a widower. Relatives in this country consist of a nephew, niece and sister-in-law, who lived with him.
Deceased was an honorary member of Huguenot Lodge, F. & A.M., of this city, and a member of Majestic Lodge, 348, of New York City.
The funeral will probably take place to-morrow afternoon."
Source: "Jake" Schwind Dead, New Rochelle Pioneer, Aug. 31, 1907, p. 1, col. 6.
Following Schwind's death, a New York City police officer became the next proprietor of the Hunter Island Inn. According to an announcement published in 1911: "John F. Tappin, a captain in the New York City police department, it is reported, has purchased the business at the Hunter Island Inn and will continue that hostelry." Source: Town Topics, New Rochelle Pioneer, Apr. 15, 1911, p. 5, cols. 1-2.
John F. Tappin seems only to have served as proprietor and operator of the Hunter Island Inn for a short time. In 1915, Arthur E. MacLean became the new proprietor of the Hunter Island Inn. MacLean seemed to reinvigorate the road house and even remodeled it, according to a story published in Variety magazine in 1915. That article stated:
"Hunter Island Inn is preparing for the summer season by having its interior remodeled. A new maple dance floor has been laid in the big room that runs at right angles. With the new arrangement Hunter Island has as large a dancing space as any downtown place. Along with the floor improvement Arthur MacLean, its proprietor, has refurnished the Inn. Everything from tables to the ceiling is in pure white. The scheme for a road house is a very pretty one and inviting. Hunter Island Inn has been about the most popular road house around New York this winter. Mr. MacLean says it is his best season. Hunter Island has taken the trade away from a number of places around Pelham Park and along the Boston Post Road. It has also built up an afternoon business. With anything like a break in the weather even in the coldest spell, Hunter Island does business. Located just above Pelham Park, it draws patronage from up and down the road."
Source: Cabarets, Variety, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, p. 8, col. 1 (1915).
By the Roaring Twenties, the Hunter Island Inn was roaring itself. It attracted national radio artists as performers and had its own nationally-renowned "Dinty Moore's Hunter Island Inn Orchestra." Henri Gendron served as Musical Director for the establishment. Dinty Moore served as Producer and Manager.
In the early morning hours of May 25, 1922, the Hunter Island Inn was saved from burning to the ground only through luck and a hard fight by local firefighters. Arthur E. MacLean and his family lived in the Inn and had closed the roadhouse for the night. There were half a dozen guests in the Inn. Two employees lived in an adjacent two-story frame building also used as a garage and storehouse a few feet away from the Inn. Shortly after the two employees retired for the night in the frame building, they were awakened by flames. They raced out and awoke the occupants of the Inn. They removed two automobiles from the garage. Directly across Shore Road, near the Hunter's Island causeway, there was a police booth manned by New York City policeman Edward Au. They alerted him and he telephoned an alarm. MacLean and employees began to fight the flames with a garden hose. According to one account:
"Many times the rear of the Inn smoked and cracked and all but burst into flames, but when firemen arrived from city Island three miles away, and from the Williamsbridge Road, five miles away, it was still safe, though badly scorched."
Source: Hunter's Island Inn Saved From Blaze After Hard Fight, The Evening World, May 25, 1922, Wall Street Final Edition, p. 25, col. 1.
In the 1920's, the Hunter Island Inn was extraordinarily popular with New Rochelle, Pelham and New York City residents. There was at least one important reason. It was the height of Prohibition and Hunter Island Inn had evolved into a speakeasy where liquor flowed freely.
Indeed, during a Federal bribery, graft and corruption trial in 1924 involving allegations that prohibition agents had been bribed to "look the other way," one defendant brewery owner took the stand in his own defense and was forced to admit that at a party at the Hunter Island Inn "there was 'plenty to drink'" and, during that party he passed a prohibition agent named Saul Grill a package containing $10,000 as a bribe. Grill disputed the allegation. He testified that "the sum was only $6,000". . . . Source: Katz Admits Paying Dry Agent $25,000, N.Y. Evening Post, Mar. 28, 1924, p. 2, col. 1.
The Hunter Island Inn was under suspicion of Prohibition violations as early as 1919 (involving War time Prohibition provisions) when a Federal Grand Jury was impaneled and began an investigation of potential Prohibition violations by an entire group of roadhouses including The Hunter Island Inn as well as the Pell Tree Inn, the Pelham Heath Inn, Shanleys and The Arrow Head Inn. Arthur MacLean was among those targeted in the investigation. See Dry Law Graft Hunt Grows as One Confesses - Federal Grand Jury Starts Hearing Men from Large Cafes and Roadhouses on Monday in Big Inquiry, New-York Tribune, Oct. 24, 1919, p. 3, col. 1.
Federal agents even raided the Hunter Island Inn on at least one occasion, in their quest to find and destroy demon alcohol during Prohibition. See Raid Inn, Dobbs Ferry Register, Jan. 4, 1929, p. 3, col. 2.
Though Federal agents were never able to bring the Hunter Island Inn to its knees, the Great Depression did. The company that held the lease for the Hunter Island Inn declared bankruptcy at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. According to one account:
"Hunter Island Inn Bankrupt
A voluntary petition in bankruptcy was filed Friday in United States District Court by Zitland, Inc., holder of the lease of Hunter Island Inn, Shore Road, Pelham Bay Park. Liabilities of $22,819 and assets of $13,225 were listed.
Among the creditors are John F. Curry Agency, Inc., 70 Pine Street, $1,600.73 for unpaid insurance premiums; Charles F. Zittel, $4,723, and Samuel Lanzer, $3,600. The Inn lease, which is due to expire in October 1934, is valued at $1,000. The Department of Parks of the City of New York is the lessor."
Source: Hunter Island Inn Bankrupt, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 25, 1933, p. 6, col. 8.
The road house continued to operate in bankruptcy for a short time after its voluntary petition was filed. Its days, however, were numbered because it faced the expiration of its lease in October 1934. What seems to have sealed its fate was a move by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to shut down all parks concessions throughout New York City and to end all leases "except in cases where an investigation would show that such revocation would cause the public to suffer." See Park Concessions That Remain Must Cut Their Prices - Moses Says Profiteering on Public Will End - Many Permits to Be Revoked, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, p. 15, col. 8. In the case of the Hunter Island Inn, Robert Moses had particularly stinging words. He said Hunter Island Inn would be the first to be closed and the building would be demolished. According to Moses, "It was just a cheap, gaudy roadhouse" anyway. Id.
True to his word, Robert Moses had Greystones demolished with nary a trace. Today the area is wooded and silent except for the occasional automobile streaking along Shore Road. It is hard to imagine the magnificent grey granite Second Empire style mansion that once stood there, much less a Roaring Twenties roadhouse with music, dancing, drinking and the occasional raid by federal agents when, most of the time, all one can hear is the wind rustling the leaves of the trees above . . . .
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Below are transcriptions of references to the Greystones estate from a variety of sources to facilitate search for future research purposes.
"Another early public golf course was the Pell Golf Course was, opened in 1901. The bucolic countryside of Pelham Bay Park, established in 1888, provided the new links with a scenic, natural backdrop. The pastures upon which the Pell course was laid out had once been productive farmland. The estate had been known as "Greystones," and was owned by the De Lancey family who were descendants of John Hunter (for whom Hunter Island is named). In 1911, the course was upgraded to a full 18–hole course. . . . The 1900 Parks Annual Report notes that when the original nine-hole Pell Golf Course was built, Parks removed trees and stone walls that demarcated the estates that previously occupied the land. The De Lancey family were descendants of John Hunter (for whom Hunter Island is named); their second empire-style mansion was leased by Parks from 1898 until 1918 and operated as a popular roadhouse, the Hunter Island Inn, also serving as the golf clubhouse until it was demolished." "On the Link in Parks" (New York City Department of Parks & Recreation), available at http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/golf (visited Feb. 23, 2014).
Greystones estate is attributed to "Wm. H. De Lancey" on Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity, p. 35 (NY, NY: F.W. Beers, et al., 1868) (plate entitled "City Island, Pelham Township, Westchester Co., N.Y. (with) Town of Pelham, Westchester Co., N.Y." -- available via DavidRumsey.com).
"De Lancey Mansion: Almost opposite the twin gate posts of Hunter's island is 'Greystones,' the former splendid residence of William H. De Lancey. On the walls used to hang the original portrait of the Hon. Caleb Heathcote, lord of the manor of [page 63 / page 64] Scarsdale. This native stone building has been known as Hunter's island inn, and is situated at a sharp curve in the road that has provided such a thorn in the flesh to scorching automobilists." Fifteenth Annual Report, 1910, of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to the Legislature of the State of New York Transmitted to the Legislature April 19, 1910, pp. 63-64 (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, Printers 1910).
"Opposite the gate-posts [to Hunter's Island] is the Hunter's Island Inn, formerly the mansion belonging to Elizabeth De Lancey, a daughter of Elias des Brosses Hunter." Source: Cook, Harry T., The Borough of the Bronx 1639-1913: Its Marvelous Development and Historical Surroundings, p. 178 (NY, NY: Published by the Author 1913). NOTE: "(b) Elias Des Brosses Hunter (1800-1865) lived on Hunter's Island until his death, and is buried in a Desbrosses vault in Trinity Church, New York City. Helped his father John 2nd, manage the Island and their several farms. Elias received a life interest in the estate, but John 3rd, his son, was Executor and principal beneficiary under the will of John 2nd. Elias was a Supervisor from New Rochelle, 1837 to 1840, and again 1846-47." See Lockwood Barr, History of Pelham, p. 108.
"Opposite the gateway, on the west side of the Shore Road, are the property and mansion belonging formerly to Elizabeth De Lancey, a daughter of Elias Hunter. The mansion is now used as a road-house, and is known as the 'Hunter's Island Inn.'" Source: Jenkins, Stephen, The Story of the Bronx: From the Purchase Made by the Dutch from the Indians in 1639 to the Present Day, p. 315 (NY, NY: 1912).
"This view of the Hunter Island Inn was taken from the Shore Road in the early 1900s. A.E. MacLean served as its proprietor for many years. The inn stood along the Shore Road opposite the gateway to Hunter Island. The property and mansion formerly belonged to Elizabeth DeLancey, a daughter of Elias Hunter, a descendant of John Hunter." Scott, Catherine A., Images of America: City Island and Orchard Beach, p. 105 (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing 1999).