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, August 13, 2014

The Nineteenth Century Stage Coach Presented to Local Boy Scouts by Famed Illustrator Edward Penfield During the 1920s

The event seems, at first blush, quite uneventful.  In October, 1925, a local Boy Scout official approached a Pelham Manor resident whose husband recently had died and bought for the Boy Scouts an old stage coach that had belonged to the deceased.  The story behind this seemingly unimportant event, however, turns out to be fascinating.  

The deceased was Pelham Manor resident Edward Penfield (June 2, 1866 - February 8, 1925) of Jackson Avenue, one of the leading illustrators and artists of his day during the so-called "Golden Age of American Illustration."  Penfield is often described as the "father of the American Poster" and is considered a "major figure in the evolution of graphic design."  Penfield served as art director for Harper's Weekly and was very active in Pelham affairs for many years.

Penfield had an abiding love for horses and was fascinated by stage coaches, carriages and horse-drawn transportation.  Indeed, at the time of his death in 1925, he was working on an extensive series of illustrations for a book on "The History of Horse Drawn Transportation."

Penfield owned a number of coaches and carriages that he used as models for illustrations and for carvings that he created.  After his death, a local Boy Scout official named George La Branche bought one Penfield's stage coaches for use by Pelham Boy Scouts.

The stage coach was stunning.  It was believed to have been used on a line between New York and Boston in about 1830.  The coach was so lovely that in 1926, a Connecticut business known as Lyme Auto Service offered to trade a Ford station wagon for the stage coach.  According to one account, the "offer was declined with thanks" by a Boy Scout official.

The Boy Scout stage coach became quite famous.  Indeed, it was loaned to the New Rochelle Library for display on its grounds.  It was used during a major pageant attended by thousands along Split Rock Road in 1926 to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Pelham and the approval of the Declaration of Independence.  The Boy Scouts used it in parades and for other events.  It became a Pelham institution that represented not only Pelham Boy Scouts, but also the beloved artist who had owned the stage coach.

The Boy Scouts were permitted to store the stage coach in the studio used by Edward Penfield on Jackson Avenue before his death.  In 1930, however, the studio burned and the stage was destroyed in a suspicious fire.  Not long after, the remnants of the studio burned again in a suspicious fire of incendiary origins.  The remnants of the studio were razed.  The era of the stage coach in Pelham had ended.

Beneath the image of Edward Penfield below is the text of several articles that touch on Edward Penfield, his love for horses and coaches, and the Boy Scout stage coach that he once owned.

Edward Penfield at His Easel, Ca. 1900.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons, Citing "Edward
Penfield Accession Number:  1974:0056:0076 Maker:
William M. Vander Weyde (American 1871-1929)
Title:  Edward Penfield, Artist Date:  ca. 1900
Medium:  negative, gelatin on glass Dimensions:
8.5 x 6.5 in. George Eastman House Collection"

"Buys Stage Coach For Scouts

George La Branche of the general Scout committee has recently purchased an old American Stage Coach belonging to the late Edward Penfield who was an authority on American conveyances and their development.  La Branche bought the stage coach for the Scouts and to keep it in Pelham for pageants.  It came from Massachusetts although probably made in Concord, New Hampshire, the seat of the industry when stage coaches were in use."

Source:  Buys Stage Coach For Scouts, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 16, 1925, p. 8, col. 2.

"Along The Track
By 'The Commuter'

From the Lyme Auto Service of Lyme, Conn. comes an offer to trade a station wagon of the Ford variety for the Penfield model of a stage coach which recently was exhibited in front of the Public Library, New Rochelle.  The offer was declined with thanks, by Remington Schuyler on behalf of the Pelham Boy Scouts to whom the coach was presented."

Source:  Along The Track By "The Commuter", The Pelham Sun, Apr. 9, 1926, Vol. 17, No. 6, p. 2, cols. 2-3.  


FEBRUARY . . . . 

13--Historical stage coach in Penfield studio destroyed by fire incendiary."

Source:  CHRONOLOGY OF THE YEAR 1930 IN THE PELHAMS, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 26, 1930, p. 14, cols. 1-7.  

"Remains of Studio Will Be Destroyed
Chief Brennan Reports that Penfield Studio Will Be Razed.  Damaged by Two Fires.

Fire Chief John J. Brennan is authority for the statement that the remains of the Penfield studio, on Jackson avenue, will be razed.  The studio was the workshop of the late Edward Penfield who was America's foremost illustrator.  Mr. Penfield was an old resident of Pelham Manor and took pride in taking an active part in its affairs.  He was for many years street commissioner and was responsible for much of the beauty of the village plan.

Considerable damage was done to the studio in two fires which are believed to have been of incendiary origin.  A stage coach of revolutionary era was destroyed in the first fire.  The coach had been presented to Pelham District Boy Scouts of America, by Mr. Penfield."

Source:  Remains of Studio Will Be Destroyed, The Pelham Sun, May 29, 1930, p. 11, col. 3. 

"Late Edward Penfield's Drawings, Water Colors on Exhibit in Pelham 
Illustrator's Wife Shows His Work at Display Sponsored by Manor Club; Was to Have Been Used in 'History of Horse Drawn Transportation'

Thirty-four of Edward Penfield's water colors and drawings, which were to have been part of a book on 'The History of Horse Drawn Transportation,' forms one of the finest exhibitions the Manor Club has sponsored in many seasons.

The famous illustrator was engaged in completing the book at the time of his death in 1925.  Mrs. Penfield has loaned the drawings to the club for the exhibit.  At her home on Jackson Avenue, Pelham Manor, she has many more -- including several drawings of coaches made to scale, so finely executed, and so carefully worked out, that replicas of ancient vehicles could be built from them.

Mr. Penfield introduced the art of the poster in this country.  The grace, clarity and exquisite authority of his work is effectively demonstrated in the exhibition now on view at the Manor Club, of which he was an honorary member.

Loved Horses

The artist's love for horses is clearly revealed in his sympathetic drawing.  The animals have a character, dignity, and clean strength of limb and line that could be depicted only by an artist who loved them.

Mr. Penfield collected and studied coaches as a hobby.  One, which was bought for the Pelham Boy Scouts, but which was destroyed when his studio on Washington Avenue, Pelham Manor, was burned, is shown in the current exhibition.

It is a gay yellow coach, which ran from New York to Boston in 1830.  Crammed with dignified travelers, it sits high above slander wheels, behind four fleet horses.  Red and green trimmings decorate its yellow body, and it is further adorned by the presence of a pretty woman who sits next to the coach-man, with a pink and white candy-striped hat-box held in her lap.

Green Chariot Shown

The exhibit begins with a Greek chariot, in red and black, delineated in the manner of figures in a frieze.  The charioteer and hiss two spirited steeds were used by Mr. Penfield on his letterhead.

An odd coach in the collection is titled 'The Football Type' -- period 1825.  It too, sits high on its wheels, and its football shape is highly suggestive of modern streamlined vehicles.  The coach for the ladies of Queen Elizabeth's court is shown in its quaint glory -- with five ladies sitting primly erect under its ornamental roof.  The Queen herself rides in another, which has waving royal plumes.

A voiture of the 13th century, a somewhat box-like affair, has the comment 'These were often condemned and called 'Devil Cars' because they furnished an opportunity for love-making.  The old buggy and present-day automobile still carry out this old notion.'

Others In Exhibit

A sedan chair, with two footmen waiting to carry it; a post rider, who rode in Revolutionary days, before the days of roads as we know them, and his horse; a 'flying machine' stage which travelled between New York and Philadelphia in 1759; a horse litter, carried by two horses, with riders on them, are among the other types shown.  

Details of the interior of an American stage coach of 1830, described as lined with brocaded velvet, with cowhide seats, and the interior of an English mail coach, of the same period, are indicative of the exceptionally careful research that preceded these drawings.

This detail is particularly striking in a drawing of the Concord Coach, which is shown full face, with two beautiful horses in the foreground.  The intricacies of the carriage wheels and other detailed parts of the carriage body are obviously products of painstaking study, drawn with such ease and grace that the technical accuracy serves to enhance the atmospheric charm of the picture.

Mr. Penfield was owner of three stage coaches and a 'one horse shay.'  His love of the quaint character of the ancient carriages he studied is brought out in one of the water colors in the Manor Club exhibit.

A London Royal Mail Coach, it has red wheels, and a red lamp at the side.  A lion and a unicorn are evident, looking very patriotic, on the door, and a jolly coachman grins back at the boy who rides in the rear, blowing a coachman's horn.


Source:  Late Edward Penfield's Drawings, Water Colors on Exhibit in Pelham, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Apr. 10, 1936, p. 23, cols. 3-4.  

"Memorial Exhibit Of Penfield Work At Manor Club
Two Hundred Sketches and Pictures Displayed in Chronological Series

The Edward Penfield Memorial Exhibit at the Manor Club on Friday evening attracted many of the artist's most loyal friends and enthusiastic admirers.  Over two hundred of his paintings and sketches were on display, giving a chronological series from 1897, when he was art editor of Harper's Magazine to 1924, when his passing was mourned by artists the world over.

Of especial interest was a group of Dutch pictures done mostly in 1901 while Mr. Penfield was a member of the artists' colony at Volendam.

A Spanish group included some twenty colorful sketches made during a trip through Spain on donkey-back.  Several bull-fight scenes, vibrant with action and color, were favorites.

A series of twelve calendar drawings were included in a group of coaching scenes.  The stage coach was one of Mr. Penfield's favorite subjects.

Billy, the Penfield's pet cat, who at intervals during a period of  eleven years had acted [remainder of article torn away and, thus, illegible]."

Source:  Memorial Exhibit of Penfield Work at Manor Club, The Pelham Sun, Jan. 29, 1926, p. 5, col. 1. 

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