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.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Descriptions and a Brief History of the Village of Pelham Manor Published in 1913

On December 30, 1913, The Pelham Sun published a full page of articles on the history of Pelham Manor, recent developments in the Town of Pelham and a variety of related topics.  The collection of articles was truly an "ode to Pelham" and seemed as much an effort to encourage the purchase of real estate in the area as an effort to document local history.  Still, the articles offer a fascinating glimpse into the way our town and villages viewed themselves shortly after the turn of the Twentieth Century.

I have transcribed the articles immediately below, followed by a citation to their source.

"Village of Pelham Manor
The Village of Pelham Manor was incorporated as a village July 6, 1891.  At that time it had a population of 448, which has gradually increased until to-day it is about 900.

The first Board of Trustees elected was composed of the following gentlemen:  James M. Townsend, Jr., President; W. D. Baker, R. C. Black and R. R. Haydox, Trustees.  The following year, there was no change in the personnel of the board.  In 1893 W. D. Baker was elected President and E. T. Gilliland was added as a Trustee.  Mr. Baker continued as President during 1894, 1895, 1896 and 1897, Messrs. Black and Gilliland were re-elected Trustees, and E. C. Roosevelt and W. R. Gillette served as Trustees.  In 1898 Mr. Gilliland was elected President.  By that time, the village law had been changed and instead of, as theretofore, three Trustees, only two were permitted.  Gillett and W. B. Randall served as Trustees in 1898.  In 1899 Mr. Gilliland was again elected President and Charles H. Pond a Trustee, Mr. Randall holding over.  There was no change in the board in 1900.  In 1901 the board stood thus:  Mr. Gilliland, President; Messrs. W. B. Randall and C. R. Gillett, Trustees.  In 1902 Mr. Randall was elected President and C. R. Gillett and Charles H. Pond were the Trustees.  No change in 1903.  In 1904 Frederick H. Allen was elected President and C. .R. Gillett and James F. Secor served as Trustees; no change in 1905.  Charles H. Pond was elected President in 1906 and served during 1907, 1908 and 1909, when he resigned and Willard P. Brown took his place as President, which office he has since held and still holds.  Mr. Brown served as a Trustee in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1909; Mr. Lewis W. Francis served in the same capacity in 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1910.  In 1910 Mr. Walter Scott was elected a Trustee and still holds the office, having been re-elected in 1912.  Mr. J. C. Wilberding was elected as Trustee in 1911, re-elected in 1913 and is now in office, thus making the present board:  W. B. Brown, President; Walter Scott and J. C. Wilberding, Trustees.

Pelham Manor has 10 miles of public streets and 14 miles of sidewalks.  It maintains 138 Welsbach street lamps and 43 fire hydrants.  

Its police department consists of a chief and six police officers.

The street department employs a foreman, three laborers and a team and carts.  

the Manor fire department has three hose companies.

The assessed valuation for 1913 was $2,741,310, and the tax rate for the same year $1.3004 per $1,000.  The 1913 budget amounted to $35,700.

The bonded indebtedness of the village January 1, 1914, totals $133,000.

The automobile traffic on the Shore Road and on the Boston Post Road within the village is very heavy and necessitated the permanent improvement of these two roads, which was accomplished last year, the State and village sharing the expense.  An idea of the automobile traffic on the Shore Road can be gained by the mention of the fact that as many as 1,500 autos have passed a given point, going east and west, in the course of one single hour.


Landmarks in the Vicinity


'Tout change; tout fuit; l'amour aussi la vie.'

As is well known, the three racial elements which entered most largely into the early colonization of this part of our country were English, Dutch and French, the very nomenclature of the region easily confirming this.  Pelham, Westchester, New Rochelle, East Chester plainly reveal the story of their origin -- Puritan, Patroon and Huguenot early left an impress upon the character and customs of the occupants.  In the early years of the nineteen [sic] century, when Washington Irving laid the foundation of an American literature with his Knickerbocker History, Sketch Book and other writings descriptive of the Hudson River region.  Wm. Fenimore Cooper also immortalized this particular vicinity in his famous novel of 'The Spy.'  Its scenes and action occur in that part of the country lying between the Harlem River and White Plains; many of the incidents taking place in Roosevelt's Woods, where Pelham Manor now stands, on and about Prospect Hill, Hutchinson's Creek and East Chester village below.

The story of Ann Hutchinson, famous among early colonial annals, from whom Hutchinson's Creek derives its name, is part of the history of this region; much revolutionary history, as we have shown, centered here.  Indian traditions, Dutch barter, French Protestantism, English allegiance marked the various periods of the section's growth until the Pelham of to-day would appear to possess little in common with that former Manor of Pelham so closely connected with the early struggle for American independence.

Every neighborhood, however, be its growth rapid or slow, retains some of the distinctive features of its primitive development, which, as time goes on, become the abiding landmarks of the locality.  An ancient church, an old mill, a house in ruins, a giant tree, a highway, a mouldering headstone may severally constitute the sources out of which tradition weaves its tales of a life that has goine, and from which romance clothes in the living garments of the present, forms that have long vanished.  The life of to-day is ever modified by that of yesterday; consciously or not, we are moved by the spirit of the past.  It would not be possible in these brief pages to consider at length the historical records wherein the early life of Westchester County developed, or trace minutely the evolution  of the particular vicinity now comprised in Pelham Township, in one corner of which pretty Pelham Manor came into existence about twenty-five years ago; we must proceed upon broad lines although in the midst of historical associations of vital and far-reaching interest.  Prior to the Revolution, we read that Pelham formed a portion of the old manor of that name which originally embraced nine thousand one hundred and sixty-six acres [sic], the Lordship and Manor of Pelham being the title under the original grant.  Thomas Pell, its first lordly owner, who was succeeded by his nephew, John, as second lord of Pelham, a descendant of these lords of Pelham (so-called) lived afterwards in what is now known among us 'The Old Pell House.'  This stands in picturesque decay just over the brow of Prospect Hill in full view of the Boston Post Road.  The house stands upon Revolutionary ground, and many a bullet has been taken from its sturdy walls, when under process of repair.  A gentleman living in the neighborhood tells of removing locks and keys, rusty and useless with age, from its doors, which bear evidences of having been made a century or more ago.  In early spring when the apple blossoms of its ancient orchard open their pink hearts to the sun and the moss looks greener on the surrounding stone fences, the old house seems to quiver responsively to the awakening throb of life without -- its gray walls take on the tender pinkish hue of the lilacs in its door-yard, its dormer windows seem less doleful as if the ghosts of those it had sheltered in the past, starting a moment from their long sleep, looked out regretfully upon the life they had once known and loved.  The blossoms of many springs, the snows of many winters have fallen upon the old house; its walls hold the secrets of a century; something human seems imprisoned in them -- faded, sad it stands, a figure of the past ere long to be reduced to the elements in the course of modern rehabilitation.  If one follow the shore road southward until the Bartow property is reached, and entering there wander at will over its green slopes and meadows, he will come at length to the burying ground of many of these Pells.  Surely a good place to sleep, where the salt breath of the Sound and gleam of snowy sails float softly across the mounds and occasionally a bat throws its weird silhouette athwart the stones.  We of to-day who journey so largely by rail can scarcely comprehend the relative importance of the old-time highway.  Then it was the open door of escape to the world outside, the sole means of communication with other districts.  The mail, the express, the traveling public came by that means into remote neighborhoods.  Life centered here, events focused on the public houses along its line; every tree, every bush, every turn had its uses or perils.  There was a personal and proprietary interest felt in the highway would would not be possible in these days of rapid and easy communication.  In this immediate vicinity the most famous of these highways yet in existence is the 'Old Boston Road or Kingsbridge Turnpike,' as it was first called.  In early days it was the direct stage coach line to Boston, and when running eastward it entered sleep [sic] East Chester village, the road turned sharply to the left, following the course of Hutchinson's Creek until it reached a spot where the water was shallow enough to ford, crossing where is now a well known quarry, then on by a second detour until it re-entered the present Boston Road near what is now known as the Reynolds property, and so on to New Rochelle.  In later times a bridge was built at East Chester and the distance shortened to the good town of New Rochelle, but in the old days there was no bridge; it was not needed.  With six horses, sometimes eight, well in hand, fords, too-gates, hills and dales counted but little on the journey.  No shrill whistle of steam or discordant jangle of bells disturbed the stillness -- only the cracking of the whip, the rumbling of the wheels or the chirrup of the driver woke the echoes as the coach tooled merrily on, following the well-lettered sign boards fastened to the trees along the highway.  The 'Old Boston Road' now marks the boundary line between Pelham Manor and Pelham Heights.  As we pass and re-pass there may not some echo of that rumbling coach of long ago reach us across the years?  Some smile or sigh perchance of occupant mingle with our own as we linger upon the ancient highway, fully realizing that it is now one of the few remaining links connecting the old life with the new, yet marking the more distinctly the separation which exists between the old order and the new one.  'The Split Rock Road,' as it is familiarly called by the residents of the Manor, can boast of an age equal with that of the Boston Road.  In the old days it was the sole highway of communication between this neighborhood and City Island, where numerous fishermen and pilots obtained a livelihood.  The road derives its name from the presence of a fissure in a huge rock not far from where one enters it by the Boston Road; through this fissure a tree has slowly forced its way as if veritably rending apart the solid rock by the working of those mysterious, unforeseen forces which forever baffle the comprehension of man.  The presence of this and kindred huge boulders throughout this section of country where ledges of rock are not numerous justifies the assumption of an age almost prehistoric -- perchance the far-off glacial epoch, at which period similar masses of rock were known to have been deposited over the earth's surface.  They are with us to-day -- in our door-yards, along our daily paths, by the wayside; nature's giant landmarks rolled into force by Titanic forces, silent, immovable, grim with the years, guarding their impenetrable secret as the cycle pass.  Before the first sail ever whitened in a new world harbor, before Spanish discoverer, Dutch trader, French refugee, English colonist ever departed from their separate shores these mighty stones were here where the Indian and wild animal roamed.  The dignity of age, the mystery of isolation hangs over the 'Split Rock Road;' there are sunny stretches in it too, and royal arches of interlacing boughs, then deepening shadows, while here and there in autumn a scarlet creeper twines itself about a branch as if some secret vein had suddenly overflowed and left a crimson trail.  It was along this road that Washington's army retreated after his defeat at the Battle of Long Island during the war of the Revolution [sic], so the old road has re-echoed the sound of marching feet and pointed a path of safety to the brave men who struggled for our independence in the early days.  Possibly one of the most interesting of the landmarks about us is St. Paul's Church at East Chester,, with its fading graveyard.  Here is something almost mediaeval [sic], quite out of keeping with the bustle of encroaching business interests now developing upon all quarters of the venerable enclosure.  This church at East Chester was founded over two hundred years ago, although the present edifice has not been in existence for so long a period; it is however over one hundred years old, having been erected in 1765.  The records in connection with its history are of great interest and value.  There are many tombstones in St. Paul's churchyard, bearing dates as early as 1710 and 1712.  The epitaphs, too, upon the mouldering headstones take one into an unfamiliar atmosphere of religious sentiment and expression; they are pedantic, painful, Puritan, oracular with warnings which somehow seem strangely accentuated by the old English lettering, almost undecipherable, in which they are cut.  As the daylight dies over St. Paul's and a purple haze floats upward from the marshes across the decaying tablets and moss-covered vaults of the churchyard, instinctively one recalls Gray's famous elegy and wonders if indeed 'some mute inglorious Milton' does rest here among the East Chester dead.  The old church shows few traces of the years that have passed over it, its bell-tower still guards the sunken slabs as faithfully as when the earth was freshly turned about them, its open door invites the present as it did the past generation to enter and worship there.  Symbol of life in the midst of decay, it stands a serene monument to the faith which has endured from the foundation of the world.  We leave it with regret, trusting that the requirements of an encroaching city will not too soon destroy so unique a landmark in our neighborhood.  Christ Church in Pelham Manor, too, must be mentioned here as one of the landmarks close at hand, in that, although founded as late as 1843, it was the 'first building devoted to religious worship and instruction ever commenced in Pelham.'

The beautiful stone house known as 'The Priory,' now a private residence, was som fifty years ago a fashionable boarding school for New York girls.  The 'Priory' is a fine specimen of old English architecture and has many interesting associations connected with it.  There is, on the Boston Road, between the Esplanade and Pelhamdale avenue, a small brown stone bearing the mark '17 m.'  This stone is known to have been there over one hundred years, the marking indicating that it is seventeen miles from that spot to the City Hall in New York City.  It is without doubt one of the old Boston Road.  A venerable gentleman who once lived in the neighborhood, whose associations with Westchester County dated back to the opening years of the last century, recalled many unique features of the vicinity that had disappeared since his boyhood; the flour mill on Hutchinson's Creek, the toll-gates between here and New Rochelle, the old-fashioned houses, uon the sites of which to-day are modern ones.  He recalled also many interesting incidents of the old families of the county.  It was within his remembrance that Glen Island (now a pleasure ground) was the private residence of the Depan family, and here Louis Napoleon when in exile passed many an idle day in company of young Louis Depau and other congenial spirits; thus it seems an Emperor of France has traveled our familiar paths and breathed our air, and now he, too, is dust.

Echoes of this same illustrious French family come to us, too, from the old Coudert house near Wolf's Lane, whose one-time occupant was a member of the famous 'Old Guard' of the first Napoleon.  So the ears which once caught the terrible 'Ca-ira' of the Revolution, the arm which once upheld the bronze eagles of the great Emperor himself, feet that have marched beneath the fluttering fleur-de-lys of the French battalions, have left their lingering echoes here, in our very midst.  

The possession of these historic landmarks is of great value to a community.  They lend it dignity, solidity, a sense of being firmly rooted; let us preserve them about our neighborhood that it may not lack this mellowing influence in the midst of modern improvement.

Like our strains of blood are dying out among us, the old estates are decaying, the stone walls are crumbling [illegible] boundaries are changing here and there some ancient tree with hymns in its lofty top the grace and glory of the by-gone days, in this vicinity as in others nature's immutable decree is manifest.

'The old order changeth,
Giving place to new.'


Progress in Pelham Township

The advance made in Pelham Township during this period will certainly bear comparison with that made in other localities.  To begin, only a very small part of the town was settled.  In Pelham Manor between the Boston Turnpike and the Pelham Manor station there were but a few houses.  In 'Pelhamville,' now North Pelham, the number was greater.  The section now known as Secor Hill, Fowler Hill and Pelham Heights, contained not more than six houses.  The section between the Pelham Manor station and the Sound contained (including the 'Priory' and church) but three houses.  City Island and Pelham Bay Park were part of the town.  The small stone building on the Shore Road near Bartow Station was the Town Hall, where votes were cast at all elections, and where town meetings were held.  City Island, having the largest population, controlled the election, and hence the appropriations.  The 'Main Land,' as our part of the town was called, received but a small sum for the improvement of roads, although our part of the town paid the greater part of the taxes.  What changes have taken place in twenty-five years, the foregoing statement, contrasted with the present condition, will show.  New York City has annexed City Island and Pelham Bay Park.  The latter has been improved with fine roads, a golf links, and bathing beaches established, of which residents of the town have the same privileges as city residents.

Our town now has its own town government.  We have three separate villages -- North Pelham, Pelham and Pelham Manor -- also a portion still unincorporated, bordering on the Village of Pelham Manor and New York City.  Since the elimination of City Island we have by the fortunate selection of our town and village officials secured large amounts of money for improvements, also its honest and efficient expenditures, the result showing in our well paved streets of brick, asphalt and macadam, cement and flagstone sidewalks, sewers, water, gas, with electricity in our streets, and the lighting of the same.

We now possess a trolley service through the town and to neighboring cities, also transportation to New York City by trolley, or electric railroad, giving frequent service to Grand Central Station, and Third Avenue Elevated Railroad, from the three comfortable and artistic stations.  The town owns a fine Town Hall, situated in the Village of North Pelham, also a sewage disposal plant.  The Villages of North Pelham and Pelham ('Pelham Heights') have a modern and well equipped fire department and an efficient police force.  The Village of Pelham Manor has a fine Village Hall and efficient police force.  The town has one Free School District, and through liberal appropriations has erected three modern school buildings in which are maintained a fully graded grammar school and high school at Pelham Manor, a building at Pelham Heights (not in use at present) and in addition the old brick school building with one acre of land in Pelham Manor.  We also have in Pelham Manor an influential private school known as 'Pelham Hall.'  

The Township also has within its borders the new Pelham Country Club, the Manor Club, the New York Athletic Club at Travers Island, and an artistic building in North Pelham, housing the Masonic Lodge.  We also have five churches, the Priory (Episcopal), Hugenot Memorial (Presbyterian), Congregational, Catholic and Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal).

Contrast all these comforts and conveniences as factors of civilization with the former conditions of dirt roads, no sidewalks, no gas, no electricity, no running water, now sewerage, few trains, no trolleys, inadequate school buildings, no telephones, -- and it is most apparent that Pelham has progressed along material lines very greatly during the past twenty-five years.


Pelham Manor Village Hall in 1913.
Source:  The Beautiful Village of Pelham Manor 
[And Subsidiary Articles on the Page], 
The Pelham Sun, Dec. 30, 1913, p. 9, cols. 1-5.

Summer Home For Children

Twenty or more years ago, through the efforts of two well-known and charitable women, Mrs. Richard Emmett and Mrs. Charles Heywood, the Summer Home was started.  Mrs. Heywood became its first President and Mrs. Emmett its first Secretary.  The Home was located each summer in whatever unoccupied house the directors were able to secure in the surrounding neighborhood.

Through the ineterest of a gentleman in the community, an acre or so of land was purchased on the Split Rock Road where, later, the present house was erected, which, still later, was enlarged, so that to-day the organization owns a piece of property, unencumbered, worth at least $12,000, where four months of the summer season groups of children, thrity in a group, come for a two weeks' stay amid the cheerful, healthful surroundings of Pelham.  

In the year 1898, the organization was incorporated.  In 1910 the Board of Directors was increased from eighteen to thirty, the enlargement being commensurate with the growth of the community.  

The children come to the Home from the various nurseries, settlements and missions of New York City, and when we recall the fact that only seven little ones could be cared for at a time when the work first started, and that now thirty can be provided for, the progress of the charity can be truly realized.  The devoted women who have labored there many years in this good work feel the debt of gratitude they owe to this community, which has always so generously aided and supported their efforts.  No written words can fully tell the story of the Pelham Summer Home.  It lives in the hearts of the loving women who have given to it the unselfish service of the past twenty years and in the lives of the little children their labors have helped.

'Silently sat an artist alone, 
Carving a Christ from an ivory bone,
Little by little withca re he wrought,
'Til the work stood out a glowing thought.'"

Source:  The Beautiful Village of Pelham Manor [And Subsidiary Articles on the Page], The Pelham Sun, Dec. 30, 1913, p. 9, cols. 1-5.

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