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 01, 2014

Why Do We Call It the Village of Pelham Instead of Pelhamville? Because We Were Duped!

For nearly fifty years in the late 19th century, the approximate area that we know today as the Village of Pelham was known by a different name:  Pelhamville.  The United States Post Office was designated the "Pelhamville Post Office."  The railroad officially designated the railroad station as "Pelhamville Station."  

Why, then, is the village named the Village of Pelham and not the Village of Pelhamville?  The short answer is that more than a century ago, the residents of the Heights pulled a fast one and duped the residents of Pelhamville.  Indeed, local newspapers reported that the residents of Pelhamville had been "made a laughing stock" by the residents of Pelham Heights.  As one newspaper headline reported in bold capital letters:  "ANGRY PELHAMVILLEITES.  THEIR POST OFFICE AND RAILROAD STATION STOLEN."

The ruse was simple.  During the winter of 1895/1896, a rumor began circulating throughout Pelhamville that the area was about to incorporate as a village as had Pelham Manor only a few years before.  At the time, the area north of the New Haven line railroad tracks, often referenced as Pelhamville, had about eight hundred residents and two hundred voters.  The area just south of the New Haven line railroad tracks was being newly-developed and only had about 20 residents.  That area was known, informally, as "Pelham Heights" or "The Heights."

Shortly after the rumors of incorporation began to circulate throughout Pelhamville, two petitions "mysteriously" began circulating throughout Pelhamville to change the name of the United States Post Office to Pelham and to change the name of the New Haven line railroad station to Pelham Station.  Pelhamville residents gladly signed the petitions because, as one article put it, "[r]esidents felt a new pride in their village, as it bore one of the oldest names in Westchester county, and they dreamed of incorporation, and many improvements that would be possible under a village government."  Indeed, Pelhamville residents were proud and happy when word came that both petitions had been granted and both the post office and railroad station would hence be known as "Pelham."

Pelhamville residents, however, failed to see the train coming down the tracks.  The tiny little development of "Pelham Heights," led by United States Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild, stole a march on Pelhamville and incorporated as the "Village of Pelham."  Pelhamville residents were shocked and angry.  They believed they had been duped.  They tried to determine who was responsible for distributing the "mysterious" name-change petitions that they had signed believing that Pelhamville would become the "Village of Pelham."  Some believed the petitions were nefarious in nature had been started by residents of the Heights.  Others disagreed and were of the view that the Heights had simply taken advantage of the situation.  All agreed, however, that they were angry and that their post office and railroad station had been "stolen" from them -- figuratively speaking.

I have written of this amusing incident before.  See Fri., Apr. 15, 2005:  How Pelhamville "Lost" Its Name!  In effect, it is one of the reasons for the name of today's Village of Pelham and why that village is not known as the Village of Pelhamville.

Map of Pelhamville Published in 1868.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity
from Actual Surveys By and Under the Direction of
F.W. Beers, Assisted By A.B. Prindle & Others,
pg. 36 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail from
Page 36 Map Entitled "Town of New Rochelle,
Westchester Co., N.Y. (With) Pelhamville).

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a lengthy article about the incident that appeared in The Daily Argus of Mount Vernon (reprinted from The New York Times).  It provides a fascinating glimpse into events that we can laugh about today, but which were particularly painful to the residents of the sleepy little hamlet known as Pelhamville in 1896.

Pelham Heights, incorporated as the Village of Pelham, Took Them Both by Having their Names Changed to Pelham -- Two Hundred Voters in Pelhamville and Scarcely Enough in Pelham to Fill the Village Offices.
[New York Times]

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y., June 28.--The residents of the hamlet of Pelhamville which lies between Mount Vernon and this village, are very angry.  They say they have been duped and made a laughing stock of by the residents of Pelham Heights, the newly incorporated village of Pelham, that lies just across the tracks of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railway from Pelhamville itself.

The residents of Pelhamville, among whom there are over 200 voters, are without a post office and without a railroad station.  Postoffice [sic] and station stand on the same site as usual, but their names have been changed to Pelham, to conform with the new Village of Pelham on Pelham Heights, in which there are about twenty voters.  [Editor's Note:  This "Village of Pelham" subsequently was merged with the "Village of North Pelham" to form what we know today as the Village of Pelham.]  So there is no Pelhamville Post Office or Pelhamville railway station, though both are in the hamlet that for a long time has borne that name.  All this has been brought about, residents of Pelhamville say, by those who quietly obtained the necessary legislation to incorporate Pelham -- the smallest village in the State of New York.  They say also that they were used as cat's paws to pull chestnuts out of the fire for their neighbors on the heights.

Pelham Heights, the home of Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, was incorporated last spring through special legislation.  It was a surprise to every one [sic], for no one thought that wooded fields, in which there were only a few houses, were about to become a village bearing the historic name of Pelham.  The thing was done, however, and the village had its election in due time.  There are nearly enough offices for each voter in the village to have one.  S. Cushman Caldwell was elected President.  John F. Fairchild, Congressman Ben L. Fairchild's brother, was elected Treasurer.  Ralph K. Hubbard, Howard Scribner, and G.C. Fletcher were elected Trustees.

The Fairchilds are large property owners in the new village.

The residents of Pelhamville were more astounded than any one else when Pelham Heights was incorporated under the name of Pelham.  They were almost speechless when they saw the village across the railroad tracks organize its government.  It then burst upon them with full force that the United States Government had changed the name of the Post Office that stands near the railway station from Pelhamville to Pelham.

But their cup of sorrow was not yet full, for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company the other day took down the old signs bearing the word 'Pelhamville,' and put in their places signs with the word 'Pelham.'  Now persons wishing to visit Pelhamville must get off at Pelham, and those writing to friends in Pelhamville must address Pelham.

There really is no Pelhamville.  It has been wiped out of existence.

It went around Pelhamville last winter that the place was going to be incorporated.  The hamlet is modest and unpretentious, but the idea of incorporation was pleasing.  Then a suggestion came from somewhere that it would be a good thing to have the name changed to Pelham.  This idea also was pleasing, and when, later on, papers were circulated petitioning the United States government to change the name of the Post Office to Pelham, and the railway company to change the name of the station to Pelham, almost every one in the village signed them.

Both requests were granted.  Residents felt a new pride in their village, as it bore one of the oldest names in Westchester county, and they dreamed of incorporation, and many improvements that would be possible under a village government.  Then came the cruel news that Pelham Heights had incorporated, leaving Pelhamville out in the cold, and, worst of all, had taken the name of Pelham.

Old residents, figuratively speaking, 'kicked themselves' when they thought how they had helped change the name of the postoffice [sic] and the railway station by signing the petition.  They wondered who started the idea of incorporating Pelhamville and put the petitions afloat.  Some are bold enough to announce that it was the residents of Pelham Heights.  Others, however, differ from this opinion.  They say that it was merely a fortuitous adjustment of circumstances that gave to the new Pelham the station and postoffice [sic].

Frank Lyon, Frederick Puckhaber, M.J. Lynch and a few other residents of Pelhamville refused to sign the petitions to change the name of the postoffice [sic] and railroad station.  They said that the old name was good enough for them and saw no sense in the change.  They now make sarcastic remarks to their neighbors whose names went on the petition.

Otto E. Stroetzel, President of the Citizens' League of the Town of Pelham, is circulating a petition with the idea of having Pelhamville incorporated.  The eight hundred persons who live there are not very enthusiastic about incorporation.  They feel that the place has lost its autonomy, now that Pelham, just next door, has incorporated and given its name to the Post Office and railway station.  They are very, very sore and suspicious of all petitions, anyhow."

Source:  ANGRY PELHAMVILLEITES -- THEIR POST OFFICE AND RAILROAD STATION STOLEN, Daily Argus [Mt. Vernon, NY], Jun. 29, 1896, Vol. XVII, No. 1297, p. 1, cols. 3-4 (from the New York Times).

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