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, May 05, 2014

Reminiscences of Pelham Manor in 1910, Published in 1931

It may seem unimaginable today, but there was a time not so long ago when stray cows blocked traffic on Pelhamdale Avenue, sheep and goats grazed on a hill overlooking Shore Road and the Long Island Sound, and every home in the area had its share of horses, pigs, chickens, ducks, guinea-fowl, pigeons, rabbits, bees, dogs and cats. 
During the depths of the Great Depression in 1931, the Pelham Sun published a brief and romanticized reminiscence penned by local resident Mary Hall Blymyer who described Pelham Manor from the Branch Line train tracks to the Long Island Sound in 1910.  Her recollections paint a lovely picture of an area that had not yet shed its rural character and had not yet become the suburban bedroom community that we know today.
Ms. Blymyer's recollections are transcribed below, followed by a citation to their source and a note about one of her references.
Detail from 1910 Map Showing the Area of Pelham Manor
About Which Mary Hall Blymyer Wrote in Her Reminiscences.
Source:  Atlas of Westchester County, New York, Volume
One, From Actual Surveys and Official Plans by George
W. and Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers, Plate 19 "Part
of the City of New Rochelle Ward 2" (Philadelphis, PA:
G.W. Bromley & Co., 1910).
By Mary Hall Blymyer

The beautiful view of the Sound to be had from the hill above the Shore Road, is seldom seen by residents of the Manor and few of them remember how lovely it was in 1910; the blue water seen over a foreground of rocks and dark Italian-looking cedars.  About that time the wreck of a schooner lay off Pass Rock, more picturesque than the bathing sheds which now cover it.  Stargin's [sic, i.e. "Starin's"] boats were then bringing crowds of east-siders to Glen Island where in summer they had picnics on the grass beneath the castle towers of 'Little Germany,' where today a thousand cars park while their owners disport themselves in Lido-like costumes on the fine Park beach.  Then, there were sail-boats on the Sound in summer and a few steamers, where now there is a nightly procession of steamers going to Boston and Fall River and scores of power-boats and yachts taking their owners from down-town New York, to their palatial homes along the Sound.

In those days, what looked like a forest stretched across Twin Island -- this was a favorite walk with the old residents who, as they sat on the rocky shore, congratulated themselves on having such a beauty spot so near.  The Shore Road was narrow and poorly paved, blocked in winter with snow-drifts; now thousands of autos crowd the road on fine days.

In 1910 Mr. Elbert Roosevelt with his mother and daughter lived on the hill.  The old Roosevelt farm house, where Roosevelts had lived for over one hundred years, still stood on the Shore Road, a row of stately pines marching up the hill along 'Roosevelt Lane' leading from it.  Two of the last of these giants came down in the recent storm.  Next to the farmhouse was the 'Field and Marine Club' -- 'a Field Club when the tide was out and the flats bare, a Marine Club when the tide was in.'  When the club languished, because Manorites were not sufficiently marine, the place was named 'Cove House' and rented to Mr. Dorrance.

The Roosevelt estate began to break up about this time; the first house was built by Mr. Brinkerhoff, another by Mr. Blymyer and later one by Mr. Kelly.  After the death of Mr. Roosevelt in 1911, the Lawtons came to live with Mrs. Roosevelt and her daughter, and in 1913 Mr. Cole bought the estate and made it one of the show places of the County, planting thousands of trees, shrubs, blubs [sic], and making a sunken rose-garden.  

In those days Pelham Manor had good train service from its handsome stone station:  we indulged in dreams of the time when the Harlem Branch would deliver us at the Pennsylvania Station.  Today there are no trains, the handsome station is boarded up -- the only way one can reach the other side is by crossing six tracks or walking down to Pelhamdale avenue.  Pelham Manor must now go to the Pelham station, own a limousine and chauffeur or use the humble Toonerville trolley.  In those days we walked to the Manor station, taking a short cut across what is now the Munro Hubbard place, then through a grove of giant beeches where, in the spring, the ground was covered with violets and anemones.  Where now Park Lane boasts two rows of handsome houses, one passed but two between the Randall's and the railroad:  the old Longley home and the house of Capt. Beach.

About 1913 Alexander Laing, author of 'End of Roaming,' came to live on the hill and could be seen riding round on a scooter or skidding down hill on a shingle.  Children came to the hill with sleds and skis from far and near, in wintry weather.  The two Dorrance children attended school with difficulty in the winter, climbing the icy hill sometimes on hands and knees.

For a time we were 'truly rural' on the hill.  Flocks of sheep grazed on the grass, there were lambs in the spring and city folk, driving out, sat on the rocks and watched them.  Besides the sheep, we had horses, pigs, chickens, ducks, guinea-foul [sic], pigeons, rabbits, bees, dogs and cats, who squeeled [sic], clucked, crowed and barked.  The rabbits ate the lettuce, the cats ate the birds and young chicks; the dogs chased the cats, bit the milkman, the postman and finally the policeman -- a singular lack of judgment on the part of the dog.  ('Die like a dog, march on' -- he said.)  Sometimes the pigs got out and all able bodied males on the hill gave chase.  When this singular animal is chased it becomes hysterical and runs fleetly, screaming wildly.  On one occasion a large porker ran between the legs of a dignified resident of the hill, who sat down suddenly while piggy sped away.  A boy scout meeting, being held at the Trowbridge's adjourned in haste; scouts leaped from door and windows and joined the fray and a sprightly scene ensued never duplicated in these dull days!

Well, well, those robust days are over!  Gone from our midst are Mr. Laing's cow, which blocked traffic on Pelhamdale avenue, Mr. Cole's pigs and sheep, gone are chickens, goats going are cats and pigeons, the 436 dogs of Pelham Manor would never dream of biting a policeman, whatever they might do to the milkman who comes before daylight.  Instead of those simple rural sounds we now have the neighbors [sic] 'loud speakers' which bellow, yelp, roar, squeal and bleat, so that our once peaceful village sounds like an annex to a lunatic asylum."

Source:     Blymyer, Mary Hall, OVERLOOKING THE SOUND IN 1910, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 17, 1931, p. 13, cols. 1-2. 

The reference at the end of the article quoted above to "the neighbors [sic] 'loud speakers' which bellow, yelp, roar, squeal and bleat, so that our once peaceful village sounds like an annex to a lunatic asylum" is interesting.  It clearly is a reference to outdoor loudspeakers that were installed in 1930 at "Hollywood Gardens," a restaurant, dance hall and speakeasy that was located on Shore Road in the old estate built by James Augustus Suydam.  The noise from those loudspeakers that were used by the establishment to lure patrons from other establishments on Shore Road was a major headache for Pelham Manor residents at the time.  For more information, see Broadcast Ends at Police Order, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 29, 1930, p. 2, col. 4.  See also Mon., Mar. 03, 2014:  The Suydam Estate known as “Oakshade” on Shore Road in the Town of Pelham, built by James Augustus Suydam.     

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