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.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Account of Devastating Fire at One Fifth Avenue in 1902

The building that stands today at One Fifth Avenue in the Village of Pelham housed Seth T. Lyman's pharmacy and the United States Post Office in the very early years of the 20th century.  Though the building is more than a century old, it is not the first building to stand on that site.  The first building on that site, known as "The Pelham Building" burned to the ground in a major fire from which the occupants escaped with only the clothes on their backs -- and an insurance policy rescued from the flames by one of the building's occupants.  

I have written about One Fifth Avenue and the man who built the first building on that site as well as the replacement building, Seth T. Lyman, on a number of occasions.  For a couple of examples, see:  

Tue., Feb. 04, 2014:  Lyman's Pharmacy and Post Office Was Located in the Building That Still Stands at One Fifth Avenue in Pelham.

Tue., Jul. 4, 2006:  Seth T. Lyman, Pelham's Own Medicine Man of the Late 19th Century

Bell, Blake, A., The Lyman Pharmacy Building At One Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 19, May 7, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

1910 Post Card View of One Fifth Avenue,
Designed by Architect Arthur G. C. Fletcher,
the Building Erected on the Site of the Original
Building that Burned.  Source:  Collection of the Author.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an article published by J. Gardiner Minard that recounts the devastating fire that burned down the first building that stood at One Fifth Avenue in today's Village of Pelham.  The text of the article is followed by a citation to its source.  


In these columns recently was noted the death of Thomas Duane who for thirty five years was starter at the New Rochelle terminal of the trolley line.  His was a life upon which fortune might have smiled; but instead, 'melancholy marked him for her own.'  Born in the Prospect Hill section of Pelham Manor, his father, the tall David Duane was for several terms elected town constable during the 90's.  Thomas, like his father, towered over six feet in height.  Built in proportion, good looking, quiet, good natured, he used neither tobacco nor intoxicants.  He secured a job as motorman with the Union Railway Co., predecessor of the Third Avenue Railway System.

In 1901 he married and took an apartment in the Pelham Building on Fifth avenue near First street.  Now, let us describe that building; it was a two story structure with four stores on the first floor facing first street with an apartment over each store.  To enter the apartment you mounted steps on the Fifth avenue side and along the rear was a porch extending the entire length.  There was a room in the rear of each store and stairs led from each apartment down into this room.  The entire lower half of the building was ceiled and lined with North Carolina pine, black with pitch and well seasoned.

On the corner was Seth T. Lyman's drug store and next was the Post Office.  Lyman, who succeeded Henry Iden of Pelham Manor as post master, occupied the two apartments above with his wife and child, his sister Mary and Mrs. Lyman's borther, Robert Birch.  Peter Talerico had a cobbler shop in the next store and Mrs. Mary Youchim, a widow, lived above him with her two sons, Lawrence and Rudolph; and two daughters, Adelaide and Virginia, the latter an infant.  Her oldest daughter, Tessie, was staying with her aunt, Mrs. Dominick Smith.  The last store was vacant and Tommy Duane and his bride had taken the apartment above.  

It was a February night in 1902.  A blizzard was raging and Mrs. Youchim had left the door at the head of the stairway open in order to get as much heat as possible from the big coal stove in the room below.  Just what happened no one will probably ever know; but it is surmised that whoever banked the fire for the night forgot to check the dampers and the stove became red hot.  There was no metal or asbestos to shield the pitch laden wall.  Just before five in the morning Mrs. Youchim was awakened by the smoke and getting up, rushed to the door at the head of the stairs.  It was the only exit.  Smoke and flames were coming up, She either could not or in her excitement forgot, to close the door.  Screaming 'Fire!' she rushed to the front and threw open a window.  The draft brought the flames roaring into the apartment.  Lawrence dropped out the window and she grabbed Adelaide and threw her out first and taking the baby in her arms, leaped out of the window.  

She had anticipated a snow drift in front, but instead, the wind had swept the flag stones bare and she sprained her ankle.  Adelaide lay unconscious with a deep gash in her forehead where she struck the stone.  Mrs. Youchim dragged herself and daughters to safety as the flames roared overhead from both store and apartment.  In the meantime Tommy Duane, who had come home from work and spent most of the night sitting up with his wife who was greviously ill, had lay down for a few hours sleep, was awakened by Mrs. Youchim's screams.  He went to the rear door and opened it to be met with a cloud of smoke and the sound of crackling wood.  He rushed to the bedroom and told his wife the building was afire.  Bundlng her in blankets he carried her down the stairs as little tongues of flame began shooting through the cracks of the partition beside him.  It was his intention to carry her to the residence of Thomas Hewitt in the rear of Fourth avenue.  While crossing the vacant lot on the north east corner of Fourth avenue and First street she gasped 'Tommy; get the insurance policy.'  He set her down beside a boulder and covered her well and hurried back.  Flames were sweeping up the stairs but he got up to the room; secured the policy and putting on an overcoat turned up the collar, took a long breath and closing his eyes, slid on his stomach down the stairs.  He took his wife to the Hewitt home where the same day she gave birth to a baby.  Mother and baby both died.

The first to come to Pelham to offer consolation was Edward A. Mahar, President of the Union Railway Co., who immediately after the funeral promoted Tommy to be starter at New Rochelle.  About three years ago Tommy sustained a stroke from which he never recovered."

Source:  Minard, J. Gardiner, THE OLD DAYS, The Pelham Sun, Oct.. 28, 1938, p. 10, cols. 3-4.  

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