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.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Earliest Telephone in Pelham? When and Where Was it Installed?

United States Patent No. 174,465 for "Telegraphy" was issued to A. G. Bell on March 7, 1876. For many years, however, the American population seemed largely unaware of the possibilities of the new-fangled telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell who was forced to lecture about his invention for pay as he fought -- and eventually won -- an expensive legal battle against inventor Elisha Gray. Gray claimed that he had invented the telephone and, indeed, lost the race to the patent office for his own invention by a matter of hours.

Residents of the Town of Pelham seemed to recognize the importance and value of the new invention very early.  In fact, 
I have tried, many times, to establish when the first telephone was installed in the Town of Pelham.  I have written on this topic twice.  Each time I have focused on what seems to have been the earliest telephone installed in Pelham Manor.  See, e.g.:

Tue., Mar. 29, 2005:  The Earliest Telephone in Pelham Manor?

Mon., Dec. 21, 2009:  More on What May Have Been the First Telephone Installed in Pelham.

Had I thought more critically, however, I would have focused on the broader area of the Town of Pelham during the late 1870's and early 1880's.  That area, of course, included City Island, Bartow Station, and the area along what we know today as "Shore Road."  

Interestingly, by analyzing whatever I could find on the subject, it turns out that there seems to have been a wave of telephone installations during the summer of 1884.  Indeed, in the Town of Pelham in 1884, it suddenly became fashionable (actually, a "fashion" as described in the press) to install the latest technology that we now know as the "telephone."  Members of the Executive Committee of the Pelham Manor Protective Club on the mainland of the Town of Pelham decided on June 2, 1884 to install a community telephone inside the Pelham Manor Depot.  That was the Branch Line train station that no longer exists but once stood near the end of the Esplanade).  

Residents of the Town of Pelham who lived on the mainland in the area then known as "Pelham Manor" were known as "mainlanders."  Residents of City Island (then also within the Town of Pelham) were known as "islanders."  There was a constant competition between the mainlanders and the islanders.  

In the early 1880's, the new-fangled telephone was sweeping the nation.   City Island residents (the islanders) were feeling the heat of competition.  A tiny report in a local newspaper clarifies the situation.  It reported:


-- Several of the tradesmen of City Island concluded that they may as well be buried alive as be out of the fashion, so they have put in telephones in order to keep pace with the times. . . . "

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, New Rochelle Pioneer Supplement, Vol. XXV, No. ?, Jul. 19, 1884, p. 4, col. 6.  

On the same newspaper page, under "LOCAL INTELLIGENCE," a related report provides a little more precision as to when the first telephone was installed on City Island.  Clearly it was installed between July 13 and July 19, 1884.  The related report states:

"--City Island has been connected with the outside world by the telephone during the week.  Manager Deveau has been quite active the past few days in putting up telephones."

Source:  Source:  LOCAL INTELLIGENCE, New Rochelle Pioneer Supplement, Vol. XXV, No. ?, Jul. 19, 1884, p. 4, col. 2.  

1884 Telephone, From a Newspaper Advertisement Published that Year.

It seems that the mainlanders may have won the competition to install the first telephone.  Although the issue cannot be determined with certainty, it appears that the community telephone installed in the Pelham Manor Depot may have been in place shortly before City Island tradesmen "put in telephones in order to keep pace with the times."  

First, as noted in my Historic Pelham Blog posting nearly ten years ago on March 29, 2005 entitled "The Earliest Telephone in Pelham Manor?", on June 2, 1884 the members of the Pelham Manor Protective Club authorized the Westchester Telephone Company to install a telephone in the Pelham Manor Depot on the Branch Line near the end of today's Esplanade.  On July 9, 1884, the Club authorized payment of the first bill from the telephone company in the amount of $20.20.  Although the bill likely was for use of the telephone, admittedly it is unclear precisely what the bill was for and whether, for example, it was for installation of the telephone at a later date.  

Second, a newspaper reference from the period strongly supports the same conclusion.  It states:

"The Protective Association of Pelham Manor, have connected themselves with the outside world by telephone."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], July 4, 1884, Vol. XV, No. 772, p. 3, col. 5.  

While Pelham Manor may have installed the first telephone in the Town of Pelham, it seems that the honor of installing the first telegraph line and telegraph communication system belongs to City Island.  According to one report, in June 1878, financier William Belden was involved in the installation of a telegraph line to an office in his home manned by a telegrapher:

"Mr. Wm. Belden is having the A. & P. Telegraph wire extended as far as his house, and has an operator and an office of his own at his private residence."

Source:  City Island, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], May 31, 1878, Vol. IX, No. 454, p. 2, col. 5.  

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A transcription of the complete news article from from which the excerpt quoted above is taken appears immediately below:


--Several of the tradesmen of City Island concluded that they may as well be buried alive as be out of the fashion, so they have put in telephones in order to keep pace with the times.

--The industrial school at Pelham bids fair to be a success, and the boys and girls of that vicinity will have an opportunity to learn something to help themselves during the coming winter.

--Thieves stold a horse and buggy from the stable of Dr. Burnett, at Mount Vernon physician, at half past 10 o'clock Monday night and the thieves were known to have made for New York with their plunder.  The rig was recognized by officer Conroy, proceeding down Third avenue, New York, and after repeatedly calling the driver to stop, he shot one of them in the back which had the desired effect.  The bullet did no other damage than raising a big lump, and the prisoners were locked up on a charge of theft."  

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, New Rochelle Pioneer Supplement, Vol. XXV, No. ?, Jul. 19, 1884, p. 4, col. 6.  

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