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, May 21, 2014

The Story of Split Rock Road, Named After Split Rock, a Massive Glacial Boulder

Today, Split Rock Road is only a shadow of its former self.  It once was a beautiful, bucolic country lane that wound its way from Long Island Sound to the Boston Post Road past deep woods and lovely meadows.  Even as late as 1923, the area was so pristine and so heavily-wooded that hikers could become so lost that they had to be rescued.  See MISSING N.Y. GIRL -- Two of Party of Six Lost in Swamp on Split Rock Road Guided to Safety, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 21, 1923, p. 11, col. 1. 

Today, what once was Split Rock Road has been destroyed by I-95.  A small portion of the roadway exists in the Village of Pelham Manor.  Much of the roadway from today's Shore Road to the New England Thruway has been destroyed, and in some instances obscured, by the construction of the Split Rock Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park.  

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes an article published in 1965 that details a little of the history of Split Rock Road.  The history is long and beautiful.

Split Rock Which Once Stood Adjacent to Split Rock Road,
Named After the Giant Glacial Boulder.  Photo by the Author, 2005.

"Westchester Today!

Split Rock:  Siwanoys Blazed Trail

Split Rock Road, hundreds of years ago, was an Indian trail that extended from City Island to Pelham.  Today it has been largely swallowed by other roads, or has been permanently dissected.  One of these segments, now fully developed with homes, runs from Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor to the New England Thruway.  

The old trail, after following what is now City Island Avenue, turned east for a distance.  This portion is now part of Shore Road.  The trail turned north near the present entrance to the Split Rock Golf Course, went past Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor, turned slightly east and connected with Wolf's Lane.  It continued on to Colonial Avenue and there branched off in several directions.  

The entire area from City Island to the Pelhams was then inhabited by a tribe of Mohegan Indians known as the Siwanoys, or 'Water People,' because they lived close to Long Island Sound and were excellent fishermen.  [Editor's Note:  Were there Siwanoys?  See  Wed., Jan. 29, 2014:  There Were No Native Americans Known as Siwanoys.]  It was they who blazed the original Split Rock trail.  The wooded area around the trail was the scene of inter-and intra-tribe meetings and religious ceremonies.

Many modern roads and highways have similarly followed routes established long ago by Indian tribes.  

'Like today's road engineers,' says Edgar Browne, Pelham town historian, 'the Indians followed the routes of least resistance, and although modern highways actually do not cross the land whereon they trod, they still follow in the general direction that the Indian broke his trail.'

Scene of Famous Battle

It was along this trail from the Shore Road north to Colonial Avenue that a famous battle of the Revolutionary War was fought.  Washington had been forced to retreat from New York City toward White Plains in October 1776.  The British, hoping to cut him off, sent their warships under General Howe up Long Island Sound and landed their army at Pell's Point, near City Island.  

A small American brigade headed by General [sic] John Glover using the stone walls of the countryside for cover, kept firing at the enemy and then retreating to the next wall in a delaying action.  Under this harrassment, Howe and his troops took a whole day to advance from Pell's Point to approximately where the Pelham Memorial High School now stands on Colonial Avenue.

The British believed these local sharpshooters were the advance guard of Washington's army.  That night they encamped on Wolf's Lane near the site of the high school, and Washington slipped past them under cover of darkness.  Several days later Washington sent a letter to Glover and his men, praising them for their brave action.  

Rock a Glacial Boulder

Split Rock Road derived its name from a large glacial boulder which lies between Shore Road and Boston Post Road, just a few feet from the New England Thruway.  It is near the place where Anne Hutchinson, in 1642, founded the first white settlement in the valley of the river which bears her name.  [Editor's Note:  It is well-established that Anne Hutchinson settled in an area near today's Coop City -- not near Split Rock.]  The following year, incensed by the murder of 100 of their tribesmen by the Dutch, a usually peaceful tribe of Algonquins destroyed several settlements, killing all inhabitants.  Mrs. Hutchinson's settlement was among them.

The boulder is generally believed to have been split in two by glacial action millions of years ago.  In modern times the cause of the split has been the subject of many legends.  One of these is that the rock was split by a seed growing into a tree.  Possibly, though, this story arose because of the weeds and shrubs growing in the crevice.

The rock was for many years marked with a bronze tablet, erected in 1911 by the Colonial Dames of the State of New York.  Later the tablet was removed and installed on an outside wall of St. Paul's Church in Mount Vernon.  The inscription reads:  'Anne Hutchinson.  Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 because of her devotion to religious liberty this courageous woman sought freedom from persecution in New Netherland near this spot.'

Road Cut by Thruway

Split Rock Road became a dead end street in Pelham Manor many years ago when the Split Rock Golf Course was extended.  The recently built Thruway then cut it in two, leaving a short stretch in Pelham Manor.

A longer section over the New York City line winds through the golf course on the other side of the Thruway and is no longer a through road.  Other segments of the old trail from City Island to the Shore Road are now parts of modern roads, as are sections north of the Post Road.  

The rock itself is situated in a small triangular sector formed by the Thruway, the Hutchinson River Parkway and the ramp exit from the parkway to the Thruway, just a few yards away from one of the golf courses [sic] greens.

When the Thruway was under construction, it was at first planned to blast away part of the boulder to make room for the superhighway.  Mr. Browne and several other persons interested in local history asked the engineers if the old landmark could not be saved.  Mr. Browne doesn't know whether the plea was directly responsible, but the line for the new road was moved a few feet north, and the ancient rock remained untouched, an enduring reminder of a colorful past."

Source:  Westchester Today!  Split Rock:  Siwanoys Blazed Trail, The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Nov. 8, 1965, p. 22, cols. 1-4.

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For research purposes, below is the text of the article cited above detailing the search for young hikers who became lost in a swamp on Split Rock Road in 1923.

Two of Party of Six Lost in Swamp on Split Rock Road Guided to Safety

Two of a party of six New York girls who started out on a long hike last Saturday afternoon became separated from their companions and lost their way in the neighborhood of Split Rock Road last Saturday night.  Two members of the local troop of Boy Scouts found them and turned them over to the New York police who obtained transportation for them to their homes.  The two scouts spent considerable time in the woods trying to locate the companions of the two girls, who it was feared also had lost their way as darkness came on.  They found a lost sweater, the property of one of the girls, but after careful search of several hours failed to find the other members of the party.  It is believed they all returned safely to their homes."

Source:  MISSING N.Y. GIRL -- Two of Party of Six Lost in Swamp on Split Rock Road Guided to Safety, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 21, 1923, p. 11, col. 1.   

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