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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Philip B. Schuyler and the Burning of the Schuyler Homestead in What Once was Part of Pelham in 1895

Philip B. Schuyler of the Town of Pelham was a grandson of General Philip John Schuyler of Revolutionary War fame.  He was the only child of John Bradstreet Schuyler and Elizabeth Van Rensaelaer Schuyler and inherited his grandfather's and father's famed estate in Old Saratoga, New York (i.e., Schuylerville).  

Philip B. Schuyler was born in Albany, New York on October 26, 1788 and died in Pelham on February 12, 1865.  Philip B. Schuyler married Grace Hunter, sister of John Hunter of Hunter's Island.  The couple lived for many years in the spectacular Schuyler home in Saratoga, New York until the Financial Panic of 1837 ruined Philip B. Schuyler.  He was forced to sell the family estate.  Thereafter he served for a time as the U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England until he was recalled in 1842.  He then settled with his wife in a beautiful brick mansion that he and his wife had built on what is known as "West Neck" not far from Bartow Station on the west side of the New Haven Branch Line tracks on which the Bartow Station sat.  While living in Pelham, Schuyler worked to rebuild his fortune through real estate investing.  Philip B. Schuyler and his wife, Grace, were friends of such notables as General Lafayette and U.S. President Martin Van Buren.  

Grace Hunter Schuyler died in the home on West Neck on December 24, 1855.  Philip B. Schuyler died in the home on February 12, 1865.  The home remained occupied by Schuyler family members until about the late 1880's or the early 1890's when it was abandoned.  The home burned to the ground in the early morning hours on Wednesday, November 6, 1895.

Detail of 1881 Map of the Town of Pelham Showing
The Schuyler Estate and Mansion at Lower Left of Detail.
Source:  Bromley, George Washington & Bromley, Walter Scott, 
"Town of Pelham, (With) Pelham-Manor. (From Actual
Surveys and Official Records by G.W. Bromley & Co., Civil Engineers,
Published by Geo. W. & Walter S. Bromley, 1881)" in Atlas of Westchester
County, New York, From Actual Surveys and Official Records, Pp. 56-57
(Washington, D.C.: G.W. Bromley & Co. 1881).

Philip B. Schuyler, 19th Century Resident of Pelham.
Source:  Brandow, John Henry, The Story of Old Saratoga and 
History of Schuylerville, pp. 305 
(Albany, NY:  Fort Orange Press - Brandow Printing Company, 1900). 

Grace Hunter Schuyler, Wife of Philip B. Schuyler 
and 19th Century Resident of Pelham.
Source:  Brandow, John Henry, The Story of Old Saratoga and 
History of Schuylerville, p. 303
(Albany, NY:  Fort Orange Press - Brandow Printing Company, 1900).

Below is a brief biography of Philip B. Schuyler published in 1900.  It is quoted in full, followed by a citation to its source.


Philip Schuyler, 2d, was seven years of age when his father, John Bradstreet [Schuyler], died.  His grandfather, the General, was appointed his guardian, who first placed him in a school on Staten Island, under the charge of Dr. Moore, afterwards Bishop of Virginia, and later he was sent to Columbia College.  During his collegiate course he lived in New York, and for part of the time in the family of his talented uncle, Alexander Hamilton; a rare privilege, that, for a young man in the formative period of his life.

Philip Schuyler, 2d, selected for his wife Miss Grace Hunter, sister of Hon. John Hunter, of Hunter's Island, N.Y.  They were married in New York, September 12th, 1811.  She was a beautiful and lovable woman, and she willingly left the charms of city life for the quiet scenes and more romantic life in the old historic home at Saratoga.[Footnote 135 - '135  Most of the above facts relating to J. Bradstreet, and Philip Schuyler, 2nd, were taken from the Schuyler MSS., in possession of Miss Fanny Schuyler, of Pelham-on-Sound.']

Being an only child, Philip inherited so much of the Saratoga estate as fell to his father, which ran for three miles along the Hudson River.  He also inherited from his father and grandfather a large measure of their public spirit, which manifested itself through an active interest in anything that tended to promote the public welfare, multiply common luxuries for the people, or increase the comforts of living.  He was an enthusiastic promoter of inland navigation, or the canal projects, which so stirred the public mind of this State from 1807 to 1825, at which latter date both the Champlain and Erie canals had been completed.  

It was through his influence that the great canal basin was built at Schuylerville and also the slip or back-set from the basin to the rear of the mills; and to guard against the evils of stagnant water he obtained a perpetual grant to tap the end of the slip and use the water for running a mill; the sawmill now operated by Mr. G. Edward Laing gets its power from this source.  This is the only place where the State allows water to be drawn from the canals to furnish power for a private enterprise.  This franchise was secured not only for sanitary reasons, but as part pay for the right to pass through Mr. Schuyler's estate.

He early became interested in cotton manufacture, and erected here at Schuylerville the second cotton mill in the State of New York -- the old Horicon, which still stands, though somewhat enlarged, as a monument to his enterprise.  

In 1822 his fellow citizens sent him to represent them as Assemblyman in the New York Legislature.  

Philip Schuyler, 2d, and his charming wife maintained the ancient family reputation for hospitality.  So long as a Schuyler lived here open house was kept for every one who could formulate a decent excuse for crossing their threshold.  During the summer season the old house was usually thronged with guests from everywhere, among which were sure to be a goodly sprinkling of notables of every type.


Perhaps during the whole stretch of the nineteenth century the Schuyler mansion was never more highly honored than by the visit of the marquis de Lafayette, the friend of Washington, the one Frenchman who made the greatest sacrifices for American liberty.  On his last visit here, in 1824, he was voted the nation's guest, and was everywhere lionized and feted as no foreigner since has been.  Though it was quite out of his way, he could not resist turning aside to visit the old Saratoga home of General Schuyler, whom he had greatly loved, and the scene of the humiliation of one proud army of France's ancient foe.

Such details of this interesting visit have been preserved we here give verbatim from a manuscript in possession of Miss Fanny Schuyler of Pelham-on-Sound, N.Y., a daughter of Philip Schuyler, 2d. 136 [Footnote 136:  'The facts which the MSS. preserve were given to her by her eldest sister, Ruth, now, 1900, 88 years of age.']  

'The general came in the coach-and-four which my father had sent to convey him from the town beyond.  His son, who was with him, had a round face and wore gold spectacles.  His secretary and another gentleman filled a second carriage.  Lafayette received the villagers, who had assembled on the lawn in front of the house, with very courteous bows, and spoke some appreciative words. 

'Being greatly fatigued from his journey, Lafayette was shown into the guest chamber (on the southeast corner, first floor) where, having stretched himself on the bed, he slept for several hours.  After a collation was served, and before his departure, he stepped to the sideboard, and while resting one arm on its polished surface, with the other poured a glass of Madeira, which he drank to the health of 'the four generations of Schuylers he had known' -- the fourth generation was represented by his hosts three little daughters (Ruth, Elizabeth and Grace).  Just as he was about to depart, Lafayette lifted little Grace Schuyler up in his arms and kissed her.  Afterwards, being asked how she liked General Lafayette, she said:  'I don't like that man, 'his face pricked me.' ' 137  [Footnote 137:  '137  The above-mentioned mahogany brass-mounted sideboard, together with the high-post bedstead on which Lafayette slept, are now in possession of the family, at Pelham-on-Sound, in the house occupied by Miss Fanny Schuyler there, as are also many other interesting pieces of furniture once used by Gen. Philip Schuyler, including a mirror, which is known to have reflected the faces of most of the Revolutionary notables, among which may be mentioned General Burgoyne and his suite; also General Schuyler's silver spurs, pocket sun-dial, gold pen and pencil case, double-cased gold-embossed watch, silver-mounted pistol -- all used in his military campaigns.  A high, mahogany hall clock, French white marble and gilt parlor clock, white silk vest, embroidered in gilt thread, etc., are also in possession of the family there.']


Quite early in the century Saratoga Springs became the most popular, indeed the one fashionable watering place in America.  Thither the blooded aristocracy, the merchant princes, the leaders in fashion and politics, flocked from all parts of the States.  One of the most popular drives in those days for those who had the entree of the mansion was from the Springs to Old Saratoga (Schuylerville).

Dinner parties were frequently given here by the Schuylers at the then fashionable hour of three or four o'clock;  the guests returning to the Springs in the early evening.  Among such, one might mention Martin Van Buren, President of the United States, who had become a warm personal friend of Philip Schuyler, 2d, accompanied by his popular son, 'Prince John,' as he was then called.


But changes came to the old homestead [in Saratoga] at last.  Perhaps the worst financial panic in our nation's history was that of 1837.  Commerce and manufactures were prostrate; hundreds of wealthy mercantile houses in every quarter of the country suddenly found themselves bankrupt, and the crash was consummated when the banks universally suspended specie payments.  Philip Schuyler, like thousands of others, was caught in this financial whirlwind and swamped.  To meet his obligations, the ancestral estate was sold.

President Van Buren ere long, having need of a man of Schuyler's calibre in an important position, unsolicited, sent him as consul to the port of Liverpool, England.  No better selection could have been made, if we can accept the judgment of the English press.  For example, the Liverpool Courier of June 1, 1842, has this to say, when it became known that Mr. Schuyler had been recalled:

'Among other removals we regret to announce that of Philip Schuyler, Esq., the late consul of this port.  The United States never had, nor never can have, a more efficient officer than that gentleman to represent their great nation; for besides the official capacities which are indispensable to the fulfillment of the multifarious duties of a consulate, he possessed in an eminent degree the no less necessary and agreeable faculty of ingratiating himself into the respect and esteem of our people.  Circumstances led us on several occasions to know these facts, and we feel it our duty, as it is our pleasure, to record them.'

He was recalled by President Tyler for purely party reasons, and that after he had been orally assured by him that he would be retained at the post.  

After his return from England, Mr. Schuyler was at one time on the point of repurchasing his old home and returning to Schuylerville [i.e., Old Saratoga]; but as their son John was in New York preparing for college, Mrs. Schuyler preferred to remain near him and so the project was abandoned.  They finally built a new house on a fine site, including seventy acres of land, at Pelham-on-Sound, a favorite residence of New Yorkers, and within easy distance of the city.  

As an indication that he retained an undying affection for the home of his fathers and the scenes of his boyhood, and that he was held in highest esteem by his neighbors, we here insert a paragraph from a letter of one of his daughters to the writer:

'One of my childish remembrances is a visit with my father to Schuylerville, on his return from England, when an ovation was tendered him in the evening, a serenade given and speeches made by the leading men of the place.  And there, surrounded by his early friends, and many of his former stalwart workmen, as he stood among them once more the tears coursed down his face, as well as down many other faces about him.  On another occasion, when present there, as one of the committee, with the Hon. Hamilton Fish, to select the position for the Saratoga monument, his son-in-law, Charles de Luze, Esq., of New York, who was also present, again saw him brushing away tears as he gazed over the old familiar scenes of his childhood.'

The departure of the Schuylers was an irreparable loss to the commercial, social and religious interests of Schuylerville.  In short, we have ever since had 'Hamlet' with Hamlet left out. 138  [Footnote 138:  '138  Grace Hunter, wife of Philip Schuyler, 2nd, died at Pelham-on-Sound, December 24, 1855.  Philip Schuyler died at the same place, February 12, 1865.']"

Source:  Brandow, John Henry, The Story of Old Saratoga and History of Schuylerville, pp. 302-310 (Albany, NY:  Fort Orange Press - Brandow Printing Company, 1900).  

The home that Philip B. Schuyler and his wife Grace Hunter Schuyler built 
A Fine Structure It Was, Built in the Style of the Olden Time.

The old brick mansion in Pelham Bay Park, which was owned and occupied by the late Philip Schuyler, grandson of Philip Schuyler of Revolutionary times, was burned Wednesday morning before daylight.  The place was commonly known as the old Schuyler homestead.  It was on property that belongs to the City of New York.

The house was large and mansively built of brick.  It was very handsomely finished inside.  It had been unoccupied of late years and the gutters had become leaky and the piazzas dilapidated.

The house stood a little way from Bartow station on the Suburban branch of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.  It was built on the site of the old house occupied by John Pell [NOTE:  No evidence this is accurate], grandson of John Lord Pell.  The locality is known as West Neck, a narrow strip of land rising from Pelham Bay on one side and salt meadows in the other side.  

The house burned like tinder and made a fine show for a few moments.  Showers of sparks rose high above the oak groves and burning embers were sucked up by the draught and fell, still blazing, among the trees.  The entire scene was pictured in the waters of the bay.  The park policeman who discovered the fire was powerless to do anything, and watched the old house burn.

The portions of the brick walls left standing show their peculiar structure.  Every other course of bricks was laid with the ends of the bricks outward.  This mode of building was common many years ago.  The Pell house, which stood originality on the site of the Schuyler house, was moved back a long time ago and turned into a stable.  There are fifty-six buildings in Pelham Bay Park.  There is but one policeman to look after the entire property at night.  The origin of this fire is not known."

Source:  SCHUYLER HOMESTEAD BURNED, New Rochelle Pioneer [New Rochelle, NY], Nov. 9, 1895, Vol. XXXV, No. 33, p. 5, col. 1.  See also OLD SCHUYLER HOMESTEAD BURNED, N.Y. Times, Nov. 7, 1895 (nearly identical text).  

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