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 22, 2014

Stories of City Island Bridge Published in 1892

Efforts have been underway for a number of years to design a replacement for the City Island Bridge opened in 1901 that currently connects City Island with the mainland.  The current City Island Bridge was erected in 1898 at a cost of $200,000 and opened to the public July 4, 1901.

Until annexation by New York City in the mid-1890's, City Island and today's Pelham Bay Park on the mainland were part of the Town of Pelham.  The New York State Legislature in 1804 authorized construction of a bridge to connect City Island to the mainland.  Although a subscription drive to fund construction began, the initiative failed.  The planned bridge was not constructed.  It was not until December 1, 1873 that a toll bridge erected by a stock company opened to the public.  It was one thousand feet long with a draw of one hundred and twenty feet.  The turntable draw was salvaged from the Harlem Bridge at Third Avenue (also known at the time as Coles Bridge) and was used on the new City Island Bridge. It had to be cranked by hand to open and close.  In addition, a large part of the materials used in construction of the bridge came from the old United States frigate North Carolina, which had been decommissioned and subsequently sold at auction in 1860.  According to one account:

"When the old United States line of battle ship North Carolina was sold at public auction in 1860, Mr. Carll purchased her, and from the live oak timbers in the old bulk he laid the foundation of the large fortune which he afterward amassed.  From these timbers he built the schooner yacht Resolute for Mr. A. S. Hatch and the Atlanta for Mr. William Astor.  In addition to these vessels he also found timber enough to build the bridge from City Island to Pelham on the main land."

Source:  Recent Deaths, The New Town Register [New Town, NY], Jan. 3, 1889, p.?, col. 4 (page number not printed on newspaper page).

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an interesting series of stories published in 1892 about the old City Island Bridge that the current bridge replaced.  More importantly, reproduced below is a series of sketches of various views of the old City Island Bridge that appeared with the published account in 1892. 

The World [The Evening World, NY, NY],
Aug. 23, 1892, Last Edition, p. 2, cols. 7-8.

Now the Bridge Between City Island and the Mainland.
How One of Uncle Sam's Old Cruisers Met an Inglorious End.
Story of a Tar Who Lives at City Island to Be Near His Old Love.

Walking along Pelham Park, from Bartow towards the Long Island Sound, you suddenly come upon a long, homely, old-fashioned bridge, built somewhat after the pattern of Julius Caesar's bridge across the Rhine.  It is the connecting link between the mainland and City Island where so many of America's fastest yachts are constructed.

There is nothing on the bridge to excite either the wonder or admiration of a beholder until he is made acquainted with its history.

Often things of no intrinsic value gain great importance from their connection with 'auld lang syne,' and rocking chairs and kettles which, from a modern practical point of view would at once be relegated to the department of useless junk, are cherished and admired for that something which is above and beyond them -- their history.  

And so also fares this bridge.

Who would heed or bestow a second glance upon its stout and seemingly commonplace planks, or its twenty-four invasive but rude stanchions -- twelve on each side -- unless he knew that these planks at one time constituted the deck and these stanchions the ribs of the erstwhile majestic but long since dismantled battle-ship of the line North Carolina?

And though the wood -- hard, seasoned oak -- has been battered by many a year of rain and hail and tempest, it is to this day as hard and firm as if it had grown in some Titanic forest where each tree was destined for eternity.

The North Carolina in her day was one of the greatest and most formidable ships of Uncle Sam's spunky little navy, but she has become such a vague tradition even with old-time tars that they remember only that she was a sister-ship of the New Hampshire, the Vermont and the Delaware, carrying seventy-four guts and having a speed that put the best of England's cruisers to the blush.  This, of course, was way back in the twenties.

An enterprising Yankee contractor of City Island was the lucky bidder to whom this great hulk of wood and iron was 'knocked down' at auction for the merest song in 1865.

At that time a clamor was raised for a bridge across the narrow channel between the Westchester coast and City Island, and the purchaser of the North Carolina bid much lower for the contract than any of his competitors.

By 1868 the bridge was completed and had a draw made from the metal of the old Harlem Bridge -- another piece of historic junk that this contractor bought [sic] in for almost nothing.

The draw is turned by hand, and the men who attend to this duty are indifferent to or ignorant of the traditions which cling to each plank of the turning-table.  

Mitchel Miller, once a 'tar' on the old ship, but now a waiter in a clambake establishment on the City Island side of the bridge, has determined to spend his life beside his old love, and he is one of the few persons in that locality to whom the bridge is something more than a bridge.  

'I shipped before the mast on the old North Carolina,' said he to an EVENING WORLD reporter, 'and served on her for a long time.  And whenever I look out over the bridge it seems to me as if I stood by the grave of a dear old friend.'

The 'tar' then spun many a yarn of mingled pathos and humor, but how much of these tales was reliable could not be measured after he said that he had one day while fishing from the bridge caught several sea-dogs and a shark.

'Sharks,' said he, 'abound in these parts, and I was not very much surprised when I landed one.  But I never dreamed of meeting sea-dogs here, although I often heard them bark at night.  They never show themselves by day.'

'How is it you caught one then?' he was asked.  

Jack Tar was puzzled but for a moment, and then replied:  'You see I fishing at night.'

There was another war vessel taken apart in City Island many years ago.  It was the Morning Star which served for a long time as a school-ship.  A cabin of this ship is still shown in one of the houses near the bridge, and serves as a dining-room."  

Source:  RIBS OF A BATTLE-SHIP, The World [The Evening World, NY, NY], Aug. 23, 1892, Last Edition, p. 2, cols. 7-8.


The World [The Evening World, NY, NY],
Aug. 23, 1892, Last Edition, p. 2, cols. 7-8.

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